HUMA’s Architectural Design for Morocco’s Grotte du Chameau
Morocco’s recorded history dates as far back as the 6th Century BCE. It is one of the countries in Africa with a rich history, diverse geographical features, a culture enriched with multiple influences, and architecture that has been of interest to African architects and internationally renowned architects across the globe.
Morocco has a largely mountainous terrain. Some of the mountains have caves, such as Grotte du Chameau, also known as the Camel Cave. This cave is found in the Zegzel gorges situated in the mountains of Beni-Snasse.
Architects have for years tried to find ways to merge the natural phenomena in Morocco with modern building concepts that will highlight the landscape and history of caves, such as Grotte du Chameau.
Features of Cave Came
In December 1953, Cave Camel was recognized as a National Heritage Site. This cave has not just been of interest to African architects, but archeologists and geologists have expressed an interest in studying this cave.
Recently, researchers found prehistoric rock art in the caves. This discovery draws more attention to Morocco’s rock heritage, with studies aimed to discover the origins.
The sensitive nature of these discoveries has forced Morocco to close these caves to the public several times over the years. The risks have also been heightened by floods that usually occur a few times a year. This cave has numerous domes on the upper side and a temporary river that dries out during the dry season.
The river has two inlets. The lower one has a larger mouth which allows water to flow out during floods. This area is not open to the public. Instead, a conditioned access path has been created through the upper entrance.
This entrance is smaller, has a cemented path and stairs to allow visitors easy access into the cave. As visitors enter the cave through this point, they get a glimpse of a camel silhouette, after which this came is named.
Architects, such as Jose Amoros Martines of HUMA Architects, believe with the right African architecture design, the cave, discoveries, and other natural can be preserved, and at the same time, allow the public to experience the historical and picturesque attraction of the Camel Cave.
The Design concepts.
The team at Huma Architecture came up with a design that incorporates the natural landscape. At a glance, the African architecture seems to be a gateway into the mountain through the cave, rather than a modern building replacing the existing structures.
Some of the facilities in the design concept submitted by HUMA Architects for this project include a large gallery accessible through the upper entrance of the cave. The ceiling of the gallery will have large convection domes. From this point, visitors have an amazing view of the river below.
This site has multiple galleries at different levels connected by metallic stairs. The galleries are at least 20 metres high. Some galleries have been in existence for years. However, some, like the Nadia gallery, are currently closed to the public.
On the second floor is another gallery, the Amélineau gallery. Visitors can access this gallery using the metal stairs installed. At the bottom of this gallery is an old mouth that has been sealed with rocks on the outside.
The team at HUMA recommends opening this entry point for visitors once again, at least during the second phase of the development of Cave Camel. This entry point will give visitors who can’t use or wish to avoid the metal stairs access to the galleries.
To the south of Amélineau gallery is another gallery. To the north are other small galleries with access to the lower floor. Another large gallery with a balcony that is just about 5 meters from the river base is found East of the Amélineau gallery. This is the last room where tourists can explore various facets of Morocco’s history and culture.
The strategic location of each of these galleries will leave African architects amazed at the space use and the different views of the cave. Each gallery offers a unique view of the river flowing through the cave.
Perfect as this design is, it still faces a challenge during heavy rains. Floods make access to the galleries impossible. A lake that takes the water overflow from the lake circulates the gallery, which adds to the incredible vies within the gallery. The water then flows northwards. This access is closed to the public at the moment.
Various architects and other specialists from France, Spain, and Morocco are studying the various cavities and how best to handle floods so that this cave can remain open to the public all year long.
Camel Cave is not just an attraction on its own. The surrounding has so much to offer tourists and locals. If the floodwaters are directed to a reservoir, the residents of Zegzel valley will have water to irrigate their crops.
Other potential activities that will draw more tourists to Cave Camel are mountain biking, hiking, and other nature-infused activities.
A few kilometres from Grotte du Chameau are Saidia and Berkane. Saidia municipality is only 45km from Grotte du Chameau. It is one of the destinations in Morocco that attracts close to 100,000 tourists annually. These visitors would undoubtedly include Grotte du Chameau in their itinerary when it is fully operational and open to the public.
It is expected that when Grotte du Chameau fully opens to the public, it will open up tourism activities in this region, with the ripple effect that is likely to improve the lives of those living around Zegzel valley.
HUMA architects included modern features to upgrade the galleries and other facets in this cave. LED lighting, audio guides, an indoor fiber optic, and interactive exhibits are some of the concepts included to make visits to cave Camel livelier. The audio guide is in multiple languages, making the visit informative for tourists who speak different languages.
Besides the galleries, the design also includes spaces reserved for research. Grotte du Chameau is the first cavity in Morocco with an underground laboratory. This space allows researchers, both local and international, to continue studying the archeological and biological aspects of the cave yet to be discovered or understood.
So, as the architects designed the Grotte du Chameau, they still had to consider the movement of researchers in and out of the cavity. The design ensures the seamless movement of tourists without interfering with the work of the researchers.
When complete, Grotte du Chameau will be the most modern and accessible cavity in Morocco. It is also likely to be a reference when discussing African architecture in North Africa.
Saidia municipality is only 45km from Grotte du Chameau. It is one of the destinations in Morocco that attracts close to 100,000 tourists annually. These visitors would undoubtedly include Grotte du Chameau in their itinerary when it is fully operational and open to the public.
Besides the galleries, HUMA architects proposed an external recreational complex that houses kiosks, bathrooms, restaurants, parking areas, pedestrian paths, and vehicle access roads. These facilities are all found when one enters the building, away from the exploration areas and galleries.
An open area with explanatory panels is also at the entrance to give tourists an idea of what to expect when they go into the cave. While this building has several modern facilities, the materials used blend with the environment.