Every year thousands of people gather in Kelaat Mgouna, a small city between Ouarzazate and the Sahara Desert to witness the roses bring the valley to life. With the Rose Festival of Kelaat Mgouna having drawn to an end for this year, we thought we’d share a visual insight into some of the faces and scenes behind the celebration. While we wish we could tell you exactly when the festival will be next year there’s no way to tell. It’s based on when the roses come into full bloom and can be anywhere from mid-April to mid-May.
The Dades region of Morocco lies in between two large mountain expanses covering the south; the Atlas mountains and Jebel (Mnt) Saghro. Home to dusty mountain roads which wind their way through towering gorges, sandy kasbah’s left to slowly erode along the roadside and stunning prehistoric rock formations, Dades is one of Morocco’s most spectacular destinations.
While in the midst of dry, rocky terrain which see little annual rainfall, the Oued (River) runs through the Dades valley and brings life to the region, forming lush green oasis inside the valleys and gorges. Water is so treasured here that famers are allocated an annual share by leaders of local tribes and ancient irrigation systems mean they survive by cultivating produce as seasonally and efficiently as possible using what rain each year brings. Figs, walnuts, almonds, apples and various vegetables are all farmed in the region, but the most special harvest for the Dades region is the rose season.
Roses are mainly farmed to produce and sell rose water, a bi-product of making rose oil through the distillation of pure, fresh rose petals. High in vitamin E, rose water is popular in Morocco and internationally for both its cosmetic and culinary use. The rose season and harvest is so important to the Dades region that a special festival celebration is held each year in Kelaat Mgouna – a small town in the Dades region which is named the valley of roses. During full bloom it’s not hard to see how it got its name; its possible to smell a strong rose fragrance to the air even when passing through the main town.
Farmers, co-operatives, tribes, and performers from across Morocco visit the otherwise sleepy town to join in the festival celebration. Large tent areas display artisanal products made by co-operatives from across the country, while music and entertainment is performed throughout the festival. Honey and bee pollen from the wild herbs of the Sahara, saffron from the mountains of Taliouine, argan oil from the groves of Taroundant & Essaouira, carpets from Tazenakht, ceramics from Tamegroute – artisans from across Morocco bring the finest of their products to sell at the festival – with of course, rose based items being the centre of the celebration.
Rose farmers like Sofia & Touda (seen below) and her extended family own a patch of land inside the valley of roses and farm as a family livelihood. When the roses begin to bloom and the picking season begins, people from all around the region secure work harvesting the flowers in the fields. Pickers who do not own their own land and need work during the harvesting season can expect to be paid 13-15dh for each kilo of roses and it is possible to earn 100dh in a day, if few breaks are taken.
The picking season lasts for around 3 weeks and while the roses are in full bloom the entire valley of Kelaat Mgouna quite literally ‘smells of roses.’ Stepping down into the rose valley, only a short walk from the main roadside, feels like a different world to the nearby festival celebrations in the town centre. No noise or pollution from traffic, only birdsong and a gentle calmness in the air as the day breaks and the locals peacefully go about their work.
After picking for a few hours, the farmers take their harvest to be weighed at a local scale, and then head back to the fields to pick a new load. The weighing scales are often located besides small boutique shops inside the villages, with communal water drinking cups for the workers to take a break. While some flowers will be dried for sale as decorative items and added to dried fragrant perfume mixes and teas, the main bulk of the harvest are used to make rose water. High in essential vitamins like vitamin E, A, & B3, as well as being rich in anti-oxidants, flavonoids and tannins, rose water is thought to have have many natural healing properties and is mainly known for its benefits to skin care.
After the flowers have been picked petals are separated and sold to local distilleries who make rose water and rose oil. The Association Feminine du Dades is a small womens co-operative located inside the rose valley of Kelaat Mgouna and works to help local woman in the region find employment as well as create sustainable and ethical trade for rose farmers and pickers in the region. Here Zahra, a member of Association Feminine du Dades, shows a group of tourists around the distillery and talks them through the process of how to make rose water.
Using the rose water they produce through distillation, local co-operatives are able to make cosmetic product ranges to sell to shops across Morocco and also sell bottles of good quality water for culinary & cosmetic use.