The following pictures are provided courtesy of Richard from Trailquest Adventure Motorcycle Centre and come from their Adventures in Archeology Legion Project. He was kind enough to share some hi-res photos his team took while on their last expedition conducting archeological research into French Foreign Legion forts and French military ruins in Morocco. The pictures show structures located in two locations in the upper Oued Guir basin. The first pictures are from the team’s survey conducted on the location of the Bou Denib blockhouse that was located just to the south and across the river from the French garrison town of Bou Denib. The blockhouse appears to be almost all withered away now with just some remaining wall sections, a tall corner pillar/tower section and a partial room with several windows/firing ports left standing. The Foreign Legion built this in 1908 out of hastily formed mud bricks and it’s a wonder that it has survived this long. Every rain storm erodes more and more of these mud structures throughout North Africa. Fortifications that last longer and appear in better shape usually have have had an outer coating of plaster, cement or more mud applied over the brickwork. (For more information on Bou Denib see this previous post)
The second location is about 15 miles northwest and further up river from Bou Denib. For lack of a better name I’ll call it Bordj Tazzouguert as that term seems to bring up several references to it on the internet. This is a more complete structure than the blockhouse since it appears to be constructed out of more solid materials (most likely the plentiful local rock) which were “cemented” in place with mud. In several of these pictures one can see where this mud has eroded away between the bricks. There is also evidence that an outer coating was applied to various parts of the walls. Richard reports that the fort is perched right on the eastern edge of the cliffs of the Oued Guir and continued soil erosion could begin to affect the western wall. The construction date of this fort is likely 1921 as this date was found inscribed on the fort’s stonework. Other forts are located further north near Atchana (constructed just before WWI) and to the west along the Oued Ziz. (In fact, this whole area seems to be an archeologist’s theme park as there are also numerous older Berber constructions and historic sites from centuries of Moroccan history.)
There is a watchtower located some distance to the east of the main fort and another to the south. They are very similar to the one in the fort. The towers look to have been part of the fort complex and are connected by roads. They are also likely to have been set up for housing a poste optique, the French system of communications used extensively during the time that these forts were constructed. Notice the lack of stairs. Access to the tower was provided by a ladder which could be swiftly pulled up if the position came under attack. Numerous firing ports provided the defenders with the means to fight back from all sides of three upper levels. Both towers are reported to be in better condition than the rest of the main fort. This basic blockhouse concept can be found all over former French colonies. As a means of securing communications the blockhouses and poste optique towers were effective but they were not so good as a defensive tactic or as a means of occupying territory. The Foreign Legion frequently garrisoned these positions and often were the ones who built them in the first place. The French found out about the viability of small outposts in 1925 when they lost 44 out of 66 of these positions to rebel attacks during the Rif War.
The Trailquest team excavated several artifacts from the areas they surveyed including bullets, shell casing, possible artillery shrapnel, sardine ration cans, buckles, buttons, and other objects. They also provided some great maps and sketches of both sites. Located on their website is more information about the expedition and as well as a Field Report and several other pictures and videos. I believe their next expedition will be looking at some of the forts associated with the French defensive line along the Oued Ouerrha that was the scene of much fighting during the Rif War 1925-26. They did some really great work and I eagerly look forward to future reports.
- Orientation Maps (.pdf)
- Bou Denib Blockhouse (Pictures 1-17 below)
- Bordj Tazzouguert (Pictures 18-42 below)