Deep into the desert and far up into the mountains of Morocco lies the sleepy but hard scrabble little town of Imilchil. Here, legend has it, that two star crossed lovers from different villages met and fell in love. But the Moroccan Romeo and Juliet were forbidden by their families to see each other and distraught. They ran off separately into the Atlas Mountains and died alone and in despair. It was decided that suffering like this was too much so instead they arranged a yearly festival where people from different local towns can meet and marry. Thus the Souk Aamor Agdoud N’Oulmghenni or Imilchil Wedding Festival was born. Steeped in pageantry, history, and tradition this ancient celebration is an amazing wonder to behold.
Each year in September, local Berber tribes gather in Imilchil for the most extravagant singles mixer in the world. Hundreds of young folks come in their finest attire to meet, flirt, and maybe even get engaged. Garbed completely in white and carrying silver daggers, the unmarried guys are easy to pick out. Single girls come dressed in magnificent hand embroidered capes with fantastical designs and wearing as much jewelry as their families can afford. The affair lasts three full days and includes as much music, dancing, food, and laughter as the day will allow. Interestingly, it is the girls who are the most forward at these gatherings, talking the hand of a handsome fellow and leading him about the crowds. If a match is made, the new couple goes to a special area with their families to formalize the attachment and set up wedding arrangements for a later date. The Imilchil Betrothal Festival is a wonderful opportunity for young people here who spend the majority of their lives in their own genetically narrow towns tending to flocks and fields to meet new, interesting people. And it sows familiarity and solidarity between the tribes resulting in greater cultural harmony.
For thousands of years, due to its remote location, Imilchil and its fantastic festival were unknown to the outside world. With the rapid growth of international tourism, the town was “discovered” along with its rich cultural history. Although foreign guests do bring in a much needed boost to the local economy, visitors to the Imilchil Wedding Festival should take great care not to intrude on the events. Despite the superficial charm of the spectacle, the festival is considered a sacred ritual, so respect of the proceedings is very important. Once advised of the proper protocol, the sights and sounds will be well worth the long trip there. So sit back, relax, and watch the beauty and the intrigue of the Imilchil Betrothal Festival.