The image I had of Morocco was very much drawn from movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile and of course Casablanca. But many people told me there was so much more to this ancient country than appeared on the silver screen. I’d met many people who had travelled there and one descriptive word kept cropping up when relating tales of their visits; ‘colourful’. I just had to see it for myself, so I joined a group of other curious travellers and set off across this fascinating land.
After a little investigation, I discovered that Al Maghrib, the Arabic name for Morocco, means far west, or where the sun sets. When Arabs first arrived in northern Africa in the seventh century Morocco was believed to be the westernmost point in the world.
We started in journey Casablanca. When I read our itinerary I wondered why we were only spending a part of one day there. Surely this legendary place was worth more than that. But it soon became clear. In a way, it is a shame we started there because I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed with the beginning of a holiday as I was right then. It’s a mixture of run-down old and ugly modern. Its streets are choked bumper to bumper with fuming traffic. I saw no one who vaguely resembled Ingrid Bergman or Humphrey Bogart! It’s one saving feature was the subject of our only visit in Casablanca; the amazing Mosque of Hassan 11 opened just 20 years ago. Some say when you have seen one mosque you’ve seen them all! But this is different. It’s huge. In fact, there is only one larger and that’s at Mecca. From its massive roof which can be slid open, to its titanium decorated walls it’s truly a modern work of art. The cost of building it has never been disclosed; it’s thought it may about four times the already mind-boggling official figure due to anonymous funding.
My initial disenchantment was swiftly reversed when we went to the capital of Morocco, Rabat. We started high up on a hill from where we got our first view of this amazing place.
Once inside the city, we saw numerous Arab monuments and the remains of the citadel in the area known as Chellah with its magnificent gardens and squawking storks.
We wandered around the walled quarter known as the Kasbah des Oudaias. Suddenly I was surrounded by the colour I’d heard so much about!
Volubilis was once a provincial Roman capital. It sits atop a high plateau near Meknes and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We chose an exceptionally hot day on which to visit somewhere which is completely exposed with no shade whatsoever and miles of walking and climbing to be undertaken! 42c. it was or 108 in old money. But my goodness it was worth every bead of sweat. I’ll let the pictures do the talking (and the walking) It makes me hot just writing about it!
Back in Meknes, we wandered through the charming narrow shaded streets of the old medina. It was quiet and relatively cool. At its centre, we spent some time at the Bou Inania Medresse, a religious school where the intricate wall carvings and its colourful patterned tiled square were quite remarkable.
No matter which way you look in Morocco, your eyes are assaulted by the bright colours of decorated tagines and patterned carpets. We watched artisans applying pigments in intricate patterns, and weavers throwing bobbins back and forth. We saw metalworkers sitting on some steps making pots and pans
Fes is the spiritual heart of Morocco. Medieval Fes was once one of the world’s most important centres of education and culture, both Islamic and Jewish. This was what really what I’d hoped to see and I wasn’t at all disappointed. It’s noisy, vibrant fascinating and overwhelming – a visual and pungent assault on the senses. We were based in the elegant French influenced Nouveau Ville area. We visited the old city known as Fes el Bel which is arguably the planet’s most fascinating and confounding old city. We strolled through its traffic-free streets, just stepping aside now and again to avoid being run down by a donkey transporting goods to one of the hundreds of little shops. We walked past historic khans, medresses and looked out over its famous leather dye pits and tanneries.
Fes is on the Atlantic coast and its beaches are packed with people and sunshades! My lasting impression will however be the amazing sand filled air which hangs above the sea.
Whilst alcohol is freely available in large restaurants, it is not so in the smaller and far nicer cafes that spread out onto the street. But they are an enterprising lot and in places we chose to eat on a couple of occasions, a request for a cola accompanied by a tap on the side of the nose produced of a bottle of red wine in large Coke bottle!
The next morning we boarded the famous Marrakesh Express for a days’ train ride.
On arrival in Marrakesh we settled into our accommodation which was a beautiful Riad, and we had it all to ourselves. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. Ours was on three levels with spacious rooms surrounding the centre area. The four slender palm trees which stood in the cntre reached up into the bright blue yonder!
On our first afternoon we paid a visit to Jemaa el Fina, one of the largest public open spaces in the world and home to snake charmers, story tellers, fire eaters and musicians.
One of the most bizarre market stalls I’ve ever seen was one selling made to order sets of false teeth!
The following day we set off to the old medina where we visited the stunning Bahia Palace with its inner courtyards fragrant with orange blossom and delicate flowers. The rest of the day we meandered through the narrow streets of the medina, strolled through the ancient bazaar and returned to Jemaa el Fna to watch the sun set.
We ate some wonderful food; Moroccan fare is far more varied than I could have possibly imagined. Of course, tagine and couscous abounds, but so many other dishes share the exotic fragrant spices. The smell of cumin, smoke and mint waft on the breeze around every corner.
I took hundreds of pictures, and deciding which ones to use has been a bit problematical! I can’t finish without including a few more.