Aug 11, 2023
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Gara Medouar Crater, the Portuguese Prison, Morocco

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Gara Medouar is an impressive rock formation in the shape of a circus that acts as a natural fortress, located in the Moroccan region of Draa-Tafilalet. Gara Medouar is one of the most impressive places among those that can be seen from a road in Morocco. Also known as Jebel Mudawwar (“round mountain”), Gara Mdouar , is a horseshoe-shaped geological formation (“erosion cirque”) near Sijilmasa, Morocco.

It is a limestone massif that rises 160 ft (50 metres) above the desert and consists of fossiliferous beds from the Pragian to Frasnian. The entire area measures about 50 hectares. Most of the perimeter consists of vertical rocks with scree at the bottom. In the south/southwest, the circular formation is broken by a ravine, which continues into the formation as a wadi, providing entrance into the heart of the massif. Gara Medouar is 2.800 ft (850 metres) above sea level. Despite looking like a crater or a volcano, the formation is eroded rock from millions of years ago.

Gara Medouar seen from the sky

Gara Medouar history

Gara Medouar was developed into a fortress with a military garrison in the 11th century. It likely protected the nearby trade city of Sijilmasa, where gold coins were minted, and the trade routes from the south. The fortress was abandoned in the 17th century. In the 19th century, Gara Medouar was used as a prison for Portuguese prisoners of war. This is how it got its nickname, the “Portuguese Prison.” The prisoners were forced to work in the local mines and quarries. Many of them died from disease or exhaustion.

Gara Medouar from the sky

Gara Medouar from the sky

Gara Medouar today

Today, Gara Medouar is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can hike to the top of the massif and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding desert. They can also explore the ruins of the fortress and the prison. Gara Medouar is of unbeatable natural beauty, and after climbing the narrow track that leads to the top of the formation, we come to a natural viewpoint with panoramic scenes. Here are some interesting facts about Gara Medouar:

  • It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Morocco.
  • The place is unusual and photogenic and several films have used it as a location: James Bond’s Spectre 007 (2015), The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2000), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) or “Spectre” (2015) were filmed at Gara Medouar.
  • It is a popular spot for rock climbing and hiking.
  • It is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the Portuguese prisoners who were once held there.

How to get to Gara Medouar, Google Maps

It is located 7.5 miles (12 km) to the west of the principal tell of Sijilmasa, in the Tafilalt region. The mountain of land and sand of Gara Medouar, which can be seen from afar, is 4.3 miles (7 km) west of the town of Risani and can be seen from the same road (Moroccan N12) that heads southwest. Once on the N12 (paved and in good condition), you have to take a 3 kilometers dirt track that takes you to the slope of the circus. It is possible to take the road with a 2WD car driving with care, although, after a storm, the road softens and may be difficult to drive, even for a 4WD.

Risani is 310 miles (500 kilometers, about 8 hours away) east of Marrakech, following the N9, N10, and N12; 60 miles (95 kilometers, 1h30′) from the provincial capital Er-Rachidia, and only 25 miles (40 kilometers) away from the tourist dunes of Merzouga. In fact, driving to Merzouga from Marrakech, you have to go through Gara Medouar. So, if your plan traveling Morocco goes through Merzouga, you will see it.

Front of Gara Medouar

Front of Gara Medouar

Photos: Piefke La Belle

Spanish Version: Gara Medouar, la cárcel portuguesa

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Africa · Morocco

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