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Contribution of Geographic Information Systems to the Development of Ancient Cities

Written By

Mustapha Nassir

Reviewed: March 3rd, 2022Published: May 4th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.104203

Geographic Information SystemEdited by Yuanzhi Zhang

From the Edited Volume

Geographic Information System [Working Title]

Prof. Yuanzhi Zhang and Dr. Qiuming Cheng

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The world has experienced a significant development of information and communication systems, new technologies, and basic infrastructure. The possession of integrated management systems would contribute to the consolidation of the functional performance of heritage buildings. This study focuses on the ancient city of “Taroudant”, located in central Morocco. The geographic information system (GIS) has helped draw maps that identified the geographic data of the city. GIS has also identified the population expansion from 1912 to 2006, which was the reason for the deterioration of heritage buildings in the city. Moreover, GIS has contributed to drawing maps that determine the location of the collapsed parts of the walls, along with the location of historical monuments in Taroudant, facilitating touristic visits and the identification of its features in a short period of time without the need for a tour guide. Presently, modern technologies and applications are among the most important elements supporting the successful transformation of traditional heritage buildings into digital monuments.


  • geographic information systems
  • ancient city
  • heritage buildings
  • geographic data
  • tourism
  • development
  • modern technologies

1. Introduction

The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a technological revolution in information and communication technologies (ICT), which contributed to the approximation of distances and the termination of geographical borders, making the world a small village. Modern technologies and media, such as satellites and the Internet, have facilitated the process of obtaining information from anywhere, bypassing the restrictions of time and place, contributing to clear and significant changes in human life.

In this light, ICT has contributed to changing the daily lifestyle of the people in terms of cultural, social, and economic aspects, especially among young people who have a great ability to deal with any new updates that arise in the field of modern technology, as it facilitates their daily affairs, and helps them to complete many tasks in a short period of time.

The use of ICT led to the progress of many countries and the development of their infrastructure. Therefore, in the face of this technological development that the world has witnessed, it was necessary for the science of cartography to keep pace with this progress by relying on modern technology as the main pillar that would contribute to achieving sustainable development for the domain. This chapter addresses the following problem: How can the applied capabilities and technical components of the GIS (geographic information system) contribute to the development of heritage buildings and to achieving sustainable tourism development?


2. The contribution of GIS to the development of historical sites and heritage monuments

2.1 Identification of the geographical location of Taroudant

Geography is considered among the most important auxiliary sciences to history, as there is a close connection between time and place. Earth is the stage on which the facts of history took place and directed human beings. Therefore, it has the same effect on the course of history, depending on the type of human interaction with the environment and their reaction to its circumstances. Hence, it is necessary for the historian to be aware of the geography of the region (s)he wants to study and the geographical conditions and influencing phenomena affecting it. As a result, and given the importance of geography, the theory of explaining the movement of history through geography emerged. Therefore, historians cannot dispense with geographical studies in all its branches, such as economic, political, and human geography.

The map was considered for a long time an effective tool for storing data related to the geographic area. It is a mean that implements a set of measurements to determine the status of a number of geographical phenomena. Also, maps constituted an essential means of communicating ideas, planning, and implementing projects. Drawing the map requires a long time and exhausting effort. In the face of these difficulties, GIS has emerged as a modern technological tool to overcome these intricacies, allowing geography to adopt a new research approach that focuses on automated data analysis as a new pattern in cartography [1]. This approach aims to provide high-quality services and invest in the intelligence of individuals, institutions, and technologies in order to promote the spirit of innovation [2].

The technological revolution led to many studies on the management of historical monuments, manifested in the use of computers and various programs, along with the prevalence of the GIS, which uses a set of data and information. Moreover, this revolution highlighted the spatial dimensions of heritage sites, identifying their characteristics and features, developing them, as well as planning and marketing them.

Automated maps have contributed to locating many historical cities and archeological buildings. The archeologist records spatial information about the archeological site through maps, which are among the most reliable tools in excavations as they reflect the real value of the archeologist in the context of fossils. Through these maps, the archeologist evaluates the hierarchical order in the formation of the sites [3]. Modern archeologists rely on maps, as they place data from a site within the archeological context by mapping the spatial dimensions and stratigraphy of the site.

In the city of Taroudant, as the focus of this study, GIS contributed to drawing a map about the city’s strategic geographical location. Taroudant is located in the center of the Kingdom of Morocco, 80 KMs from the city of Agadir, between longitudes 8° and 49 minutes west of Greenwich, and between latitudes of 30° and 30 minutes north of the equator. The city is located in the middle of a triangular plain (Sous plain) whose summit narrows to the northeast to form a separator between the two chains of the Anti-Atlas in the south and southeast, and the High Atlas in the north. Then, this triangle expands to open to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Thanks to its positioning, the city of Taroudant and its surroundings are centered in a semi-closed field in the form of a ravine. The city is a lowland confined between the southern margins of the High Atlas and the northern end of the Anti-Atlas. The city is penetrated from the south by valley Souss and from the north valley El Wear [4].

Mapping also contributed to determining the terrain of the region, as it is characterized by the presence of the High Atlas chain, and this is the result of violent elevation movements that caused the formation of the heights of the High Atlas, and this chain is connected to the Small Atlas at the volcanic complex of Sirwa. The terrain takes a hilly character, which becomes more complex when connecting to the Souss plain. Furthermore, starting from the inner Argana lowland, the terrain becomes agglomerated and takes on a mountainous shape that gradually increases in height to reach 4165 m at Toubkal, which is one of the peaks of the mountains N’dern. It is considered the highest summit in this chain and the second highest in Africa [5].

As for the region, there are the Anti-Atlas Mountains, which are mountain blocks with low altitudes that do not exceed 1100 m near the foot of the Sous plain, taking the form of a flat hilly belt in the middle of this chain, as their height increases in the east direction to reach 2531 m (Aklim peaks). The Anti-Atlas is a structural unit with an ancient base that dates back to the pre-Cambrian era and is composed of subterranean rocks covered by primary limestone and schist rocks that take a sloping structural position, allowing them to suddenly sink under the formations of the Sous and Massa plains [6].

Between these two mountains (the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas) is the Souss plain, which spans an area of 16,100 km2 and opens to the Atlantic Ocean from the west. Its average height does not exceed 300 m, with a general slope west-wise. Regarding the structure of the Souss plain, it can be traced back to the interaction between the Anti-Atlas and the structure of the Atlantic field, ending with the creation of a multi-parameter cumulative structural unit (Figures 1 and 2) [7].

Figure 1.

The geographical location of the study framework (Taroudant city) within Moroccan territory.

Figure 2.

The location of Taroudant within the Souss plain.

These maps enabled us to identify the strategic location of the city of Taroudant, where the geographical and nature conditions of the city contributed to determining its history. Its location behind the Atlas Mountains, which is a natural defensive barrier, made it among the influential cities that control the affairs of the region.

2.2 Identification of the most important monuments in the city of Taroudant

The city of Taroudant is one of the ancient Moroccan cities, which has known many developments throughout ancient historical times in numerous economic, social, and political fields. It is one of the most important cultural and scientific centers in the Souss region, and is considered a link between northern and southern Morocco. Furthermore, Taroudant, being a living proof of the grandeur of the history of this city and its majestic monuments, bears witness to the ingenuity of the craftsmen who constructed its buildings.

We have adopted the GIS framework in drawing a map that pins down the most important military landmarks in the city, such as the historical wall, which is about 7.5 km long, and its height ranges between 7 m and 8 m at the level of the wall parts, along with about 10 m to 12 m at the level of the towers, while its thickness is between 50 cm and 1 m [8]. The Taroudant wall was supported by a dense group of towers of about two hundred and thirty towers. They are diverse, and some of them are rectangular in shape and numbering about one hundred and sixty-five towers, and others are square and hollow (empty) from the inside, amounting to sixty-five towers, most of which are located on the side next to the kasbah. In addition, the height of the towers of Taroudant city varies between 8 m and 12 m, while the width of the square towers is 5 m, and the width of the rectangular ones is about 10.50 m. The distance between each tower varies according to the walls and is between 6 m and 20 m [9].

The city walls of Taroudant are interspersed with five historical gates surrounding its four sides. The gates were constantly and heavily guarded by watchmen assigned to monitor the arrivals to the city. These gates were closed in the evening and only opened in the morning [10]. These gates retained the same names they were known by. However, the shape of their architecture differs from one gate to another. The five gates are: Bab LKhamis, Bab Targount, Bab Zourghan, Bab Ouled Bounouna, and Bab Salsla.

A number of civil landmarks, such as Riads, hotels, traditional baths, and waterways, were also localized on the map. Also, many historical religious monuments such as mosques, shrines, and marabouts that represent the icon of Islamic civilization are identified on the map. This invaluable heritage is still vibrant is observed in the most important buildings built in the city of Taroudant thanks to the map that helped facilitate access to these monuments, especially since the city’s road network is intertwined and complex (Figure 3) [11].

Figure 3.

The most important archeological sites in Taroudant.


3. The role of GIS in diagnosing the engineering condition of the heritage buildings in Taroudant and the reasons for their deterioration

3.1 Diagnosing the engineering condition of the heritage buildings in Taroudant

Most of the heritage urban monuments scattered in the ancient city of Taroudant suffer from destruction and deterioration, as many of the heritage monuments in the city have perished as a result of neglect. The rest of them have been subjected to a major distortion in their architectural features, due to the use of modern materials (cement and iron) in the restoration work. Also, the use of inappropriate and extraneous modifications and techniques did not mostly take into account the cultural and civilizational privacy of these monuments. As a result, these monuments witnessed an architectural pollution that spoiled the original architectural style which was based on respecting the natural and cultural privacies of the region. Hence, this authentic cultural capital is threatened with vanishment [12].

The historical wall of the city of Taroudant is among the archeological monuments that have been subjected to deterioration as a result of natural and human factors. The factors and causes of damage to archeological buildings vary according to numerous circumstances. To understand the process of deterioration that led to these problems, the most important factors of deterioration must be studied. To study the current situation of the archeological wall of the city, a map was drawn that showed its architectural condition, and it is clear from the map that there are some sides of the wall that are deteriorated and not subject to restoration, while others are in better condition due to restoration. Thanks to this map, the work of restorers in maintenance operations is facilitated as they quickly identify the damaged parts. Moreover, this map will also help tourists coming to the city to know the fragile areas in the wall, which will help avoid any accidents that may be caused by the collapse of some of the wall’s components (Figure 4) [13].

Figure 4.

The current engineering condition of the wall.

3.2 Diagnose the causes of deterioration

Among the factors that lead to the deterioration of the heritage monuments in Taroudant are the polluting activities that excrete several gases such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen compounds that turn into acids when certain conditions are present, leading to changes in the color of the walls’ coating, in the form of black layers. These factors resulted in the decomposition and loss of components of the walls’ building materials. Regarding the building materials that are most susceptible to damage by acid pollution gases in historical buildings, we recognize gypsum and limestone, in addition to some sandstone and marble [14].

The GIS contributed to drawing a map that showed the spread of craft activities that harm the environment inside the ancient city of Taroudant. It is clear from the map that most of the contaminated shops are located near some historical gates, specifically at the historic city (Taraghont and Zorghan, Lkhamis), and in separate ancient neighborhoods in the city. Furthermore, some black spots of grease as well as paint on the sides of the wall are noticed, as craftsmen place and paint metal pieces on the walls, causing distortion of the urban view of the archeological wall surrounding the city of Taroudant [15].

Also, among other main reasons that led to the disappearance of many monuments in Taroudant is the urban expansion, and it is clear from the map that the ancient city knew during the colonial period a slight urban development that included at first its eastern side and the roads leading to the Kasbah Gate. However, after Morocco gained independence in 1956, the urban expansion began to rise exponentially, as new neighborhoods have appeared, centered mainly around the center of Asarag Square and the northwest side of the old city.

The residential blocks began to expand near the historical wall in a horizontal and vertical manner, and the reason for this urban expansion is due to the high population growth in the city (838,820 people) [16], according to the figures of the General Population and Housing Census for the year 2014. This expansion led to the creation of new residential blocks and the demolition of old neighborhoods and archeological buildings (olive presses, hotels, and Riads) These expansions led to a distortion of the general landscape, due to the construction of modern buildings at high altitudes, which contributed to visual pollution in the areas and neighborhoods in the ancient city (Figures 5 and 6) [17].

Figure 5.

Shops of polluted activities in the ancient city of Taroudant.

Figure 6.

Urban expansion in the ancient city of Taroudant from 1912 to 2006.


4. GIS and its contribution to sustainable tourism development

In recent years, global attention has focused on cultural tourism, due to the great economic value that it plays in providing jobs and bringing in important revenues as well as being the main source of national income in some countries [18]. Museums, historical sites, and products of traditional industry, in addition to the elements of intangible cultural heritage consisting of customs and traditions, represent an essential component of tourism activity and cultural heritage. They provide multiple and diverse resources that constitute basic products that fall within the tourism offer. According to statistics conducted by the World Tourism Organization in 2007, cultural tourism constituted about 40% of the total international tourism [19].

Heritage sites are one of the most important aspects of cultural tourism, and attract tourists from different countries of the world. In the face of the increasing demand for cultural tourism, traditional heritage buildings have become unable to provide good services to tourists, which has led to a decline in their competitiveness. Nevertheless, advanced means and applications, such as GPS technology, mobile communication system (5G–4G-3G-UMTS), and automatic maps, will help improve tourism services [20].

These advanced means facilitate touristic visits to heritage sites along with short quick identification of monuments without the need for a tour guide. They can also download in the Play Store or Apple Store an automated map that contains basic information about the site and heritage buildings located in the city, which will enable tourists to access these historical sites easily and in a safe, uncrowded road, at low cost and in a short period of time. Automated maps allow the identification of dangerous heritage sites that are at risk of collapsing, as well as those that are difficult to reach or that have been destroyed. The application of these technologies will enable the provision of an advanced and sustainable tourism product, based on flexible knowledge bases. In addition to that, it will provide high-quality services to tourists with minimal effort and cost, which will raise the level of comfort and luxury for all, and will positively affect the movement of investment and the economy [21].


5. Conclusion

The GIS contributed to drawing accurate automated maps that identified the strategic location of many historical cities, and this system also helped to localize the most important military, religious, and civil monuments in the ancient city of Taroudant on automated maps that have contributed to accessing these historical monuments easily especially in light of a complex road network. In the city, GIS also helped in diagnosing the engineering condition of the heritage buildings, where a map was drawn showing the architectural condition of the historical wall of Taroudant, which will facilitate the work of restorers in maintenance operations, by quickly identifying the damaged and vulnerable parts.

The GIS also contributed to the development of a map of the settlement of craftsmanship activities that pollute the environment, which caused the deterioration of some sides of the walls and distorted its urban landscape and the city’s monuments. The automated maps that can be loaded into Android system applications will help tourists to visit archeological sites easily, and avoid dangerous areas that may lead to dangerous accidents that threaten the safety of tourists.



Many thanks to Dr. Ahmed Chaib for supervising this work, Dr. Miloud Talibi (GIS Specialist) for designing the maps used in this work, Nourddine Binij (researcher) for correcting and proof-reading, and the Regional Delegation for Tourism in Taroudant for providing maps.


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Written By

Mustapha Nassir

Reviewed: March 3rd, 2022Published: May 4th, 2022