Middle Atlas Mountains
Fes - Meknes Region
Sefrou Cherry Festival (Heb Lemlouk Moussem) (4)
'The festival is a source of pride and belonging that enhances the self-esteem of the city and its people and constitutes a fundamental contribution to their local identity' (1)
One of the oldest folk festivals in Morocco, the Cherry Festival takes place each June in the city of Sefrou, some 30 km southeast of Fes. A festival is also held in neighbouring Ain Leuh - its surrounding area producing a large proportion of Morocco's cherries.
Cherry trees, as a cultivated crop, were introduced by the French during the colonial era and Sefrou has become famous as 'the cherry capitol' of Morocco, producing cherries, dark in colour and with a sweet taste that are considered to be some of the best in the world (2).
Traditionally held at the end of the second week of June, at the end of the cherry harvest (the end of May to the beginning of June) (3), and established in 1920 to celebrate the fruit, the event was recognized in 2012 as an example of the 'Intangible Heritage of Humanity'.
Lasting for three days, the festival includes displays of fruit, tastings, folkloric dances, workshops, exhibitions and games among a range of cultural and recreational activities. The highlight is a street parade in which performers and dancers accompany floats representing the regional producers of different varieties of cherries, which are given out to spectators.(3) (4)
The festival incorporates a beauty contest in which women from all over Morocco compete to be crowned the Cherry Queen (or 'Miss Cherry'), on the final day, a prestigious award, entitling the winner to become involved in all aspects of cherry collection, consumption and sale (2). The newly crowned Cherry Queen, who will process around the town and throw cherries to the crowds, is ornately dressed and wears a kaftan specially embroidered for the occasion with green and red designs to symbolise the colours of the cherry and its stem. The town of Sefrou has a long tradition as a centre of weaving, with a specialism in silk buttons.(4)
Now attracting a large number of visitors from all over Morocco and beyond, the festival has become an important opportunity to promote and publicize the quality of regional cherries, as well as tourism and trade.
The 99th festival was celebrated in 2019 but cancelled in 2020 due to Covid.(4)
Morocco produces some 15,000 tonnes of cherries a year, ranking 25th in world production in 2019 (5).
The Green Moroccan Plan (GMP) has promoted an increase in recent years in cherry production. The GMP is a national long-term strategy launched by the Moroccan government in 2008 to promote social and economic development by protecting and promoting the marketing of locally produced foods distinguished by particular qualities linked to their region of production.(6)
The cherry is seen as a symbol of the natural and cultural beauty of the region and the fruit celebrated during festivals held both in Sefrou and Ain Leuh are held in high regard by the people who grow them:
' The cherry trees represent a key part of people's lives ...they are deemed to be extremely sacred in some areas, especially in Ain Leuh. Children oughtn't play carelessly around the trees nor should adults commit unseemly acts around them. The people of the town spend countless hours of the week tending to the trees as a sign of care'.(7)