At the end of the Spanish Protectorate in 1957, there was no north–south route across the Rif, a marked symbol both of its isolation and of the separateness of the old French and Spanish zones. The Route de l’Unité, a road cutting right across the range from Ketama to Fez, was planned to provide working contact between the Riffian tribes and the French-colonized Moroccans.

The Route (more prosaically known as the R509), completed in 1963, was built with volunteer labour from all over the country – Hassan II himself worked on it at the outset. It was the brainchild of Mehdi Ben Barka, first president of the National Assembly and the most outstanding figure of the nationalist Left before his exile and subsequent “disappearance” in Paris in 1965. Ben Barka’s volunteers, fifteen-thousand-strong for much of the project, formed a kind of labour university, working through the mornings and attending lectures in the afternoons.

Today the Route de l’Unité sees relatively little traffic – travelling from Fez to Al Hoceima, it’s quicker to go via Taza and the R505; from Fez to Tetouan, via Ouezzane. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive and very beautiful road, certainly as dramatic an approach to Fez as you could hope for. However, see the warning about driving through here.

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