a khettara’art cura

edouard sors
/ architect & photographer
photographs and texts by edouard sors
coordinates 31.53,-4.29 / fezna / errachidia district / morocco / africa
youssef / care keeper, tayeb / projector & al walid / sidi seers


Escape the blazing sun and hole up instead inside the only khettara in Morocco made accessible by the people for the people; catch a glimpse, thanks to the oracle, of how every single invisible watery foundation is a miracle in the struggle for survival of groundwater dependant inhabitants.

The barren environment of the khettara mine field of Fezna allows for a rapid overview of the surroundings: in what looks like a no man’s land, the horizon is blurred by heat or dust but the dozen of outstanding parallel ranges of hundreds of earth heaps don’t go unseen. They are respectively too regular and too distinctly shaped to result from some sort hazardous rubble dumping: the cautious climbing of any of these in-line hut-sized mounds reveals truncated cones, most of which are hollow.

These shafts and their earthen copings at the surface of the desert result from the digging of the khettara galleries below the surface: the excavation material dates from the 16th century and from later maintenance works. These subterranean aqueducts were designed to drain and channel ground-water over more than 3 km from the 15 m deep aquifer of the Oued Ghries river basin to the network of seguia channels that irrigated the oasis of Fezna. As in many other khettara hot spots in Morocco – more than 5000 were dug from the 9th till the 19th century - the galleries dried out during the second half of the 20th century as the aquifer lowered as engines pumped always more and always deeper, and as the oasis shrank, the rural population fled for the cities and those who remained witnessed or were struck by pauperisation.

The khettaras of Fezna served no more purpose until a small group of inspired individuals asked the permission to the community council to set up camp – just a tent - between the suburban khettara field and the close-by 2nd rate touristic road from Erfoud to Tineghir and Ouarzazate. Their initial idea was to sell refreshments and maybe some souvenirs to the passenger who stopped by: but: climbing the copings or reading some torn pages of a scientific paper about khettaras in Morocco, foggaras in Algeria, qanats in Iran or kariz in China was not enough to quench the curiosity of those who felt the true wonders stayed unravelled below their feet. They wanted to see more.

So the self claimed guardians of the field of khettara decided to show more. A first care keeper asked the owners’ authorisation to dig a stairway to the dried-out subterranean gallery in order for people to visit it. In such an enterprise, the return on investment is uncertain and the risk of bankruptcy in case of non-frequentation is as certain as the collapse of the khettara gallery can be in case of non-maintenance. But the venture was a success and soon all the other ‘guides’ imitated that entrepreneurial feat: assisted by friends and families, they dug their original stairways, cleared the tons of sand in the tunnel that accumulated during decades under the shafts and finally built their original aedicule to protect and control the access to the underground.

Presently, 5 iconic vernacular gate-ways appear in the landscape. A foot beyond these solitary doors is one step inside spaces where gradients of light fade to black as acoustic mirages of long gone water rise from the unknown, every step down the flight of barely eroded stairs is a degree closer to the into the silence and freshness of the underground. Since the site first opened to visitors a decade ago and prior to Morocco’s shutdown to international tourism due to the COVID19 sanitary crisis, the gallery received dozens visitors some day and sometimes none: purchases (tea, souvenirs, etc.) and tips for the visits (the entrance is free) provided the gallery keepers with some minor income. But these freelance curators are presently cast adrift on the fringes of the Sahara while we write these lines or you read them...

So what is it we flickers and art mediators can do? Should we allegedly expect that the return of the demand – i.e. the tourists – will suffice to save from the odds the extraordinary space of the only accessible dry khettara of Fezna – that is, the only walkable dry khettara in the western world?  Or could we not instead imagine that, in a near future, an unprecedented offer of original exhibitions shall be hosted in this unique structure that shall subsequently welcome art driven newcomers, that curatorial teams shall use this gallery to exhibit tangible, virtual and sensational material?

Edouard Sors had observed the site of Fezna on satellite images as early as 2006 but he didn’t visit it until 2016 when he reported about khettaras for the COP 22 that was held in Marrakech. He returned to Fezna in 2018 to carry out his photographic project Regards For The Aïns (Regards for the Sources) and collect his first testimonies. He is presently writing the script for a video assisted participative play – a halqa – featuring the Mirror holders and their ‘magic realism’ deeds to give the khettaras of Marrakech a second life, to encourage viewers to act, to become seers.


Galleries in Fezna are exhausted while the khettaras of Jorf, on the other side of Regional Route 702, have been revived...
In Marrakech, almost all the khettaras have been buried, while in Yazd, a homeland to diggers, qanats are being taken care of... 
In some places sources Aïns dry out while elsewhere, resurgences mazhars are well and still deliver water
"Qanats are quantic ! " poet and singer Mehdi Krüger simply stated after I had gone into great detail to explain what khettaras were and what I was up to in 2018 with my series of portraits Regards For The Aïns.
I recall his words and I only wish he had paraphrased mine:
These entities are connected with water, earth, air and light...  A khettara can be at the same time dead and alive... Every gallery is an 'in between men and territories'...
This so-to-speak quantic nature of qanats had struck me as early 2002 even if I hadn't put a name to it.
In 2006, as a young architect, I designed a plan to upcycle the dying khettaras of the largest barren minefield in Marrakech's palmgrove...
This 'qanature' still drives the photographer in me and in the people I meet who know about it and who accept to address their regards to waterscapes,
to reflect on their dakira memory and their oumnia wishes to envision a khayal imagination of what they could be.
With the MIR protocol and the mirror they hold as a reflective mask, individuals share their point of views, offer their mindscapes and try to overpass the principle of locality... 
So you can see what they see.


ARTICLE_Les khettaras du Tafilalet @