SMARA (also written as Es Semara), once an important caravan stop, is today a garrison town, occupied by the Moroccan army (so be careful where you point your camera). Otherwise, it’s a small, sleepy old place, with not a lot going on, though there’s a souk every Thursday, and a festival every April featuring musical and other entertainments. Because accommodation options are so dire, it’s wise to avoid spending the night here, by making an early start from Tan Tan or Laayoune to get here, and heading off before transport dries up.
Smara’s only link with its past is the remains of the palace and Great Mosque of Ma el Aïnin, the “Blue Sultan”, a local ruler who tried to oust the French colonialists at the beginning of the twentieth century (see The Blue Sultan). The palace, near the oued, contains the residences of Ma el Aïnin’s four main wives, one of them now occupied by the gardien and his family. The attached zaouia is well maintained, but usually closed, except on Fridays. If you knock on the door, however, someone should open up and show you around, usually for a fee. Though plastered over, the zaouia is, like the rest of the palace, built of black basalt from the local hills. What’s left of the Great Mosque, a separate building further away from the river, is less well preserved, but you can still see the mihrab, and rows of basalt arches.