Marrakesh

September 21st, 2019

Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in Morocco.  We have therefore visited all four of the largest cities – Casablanca, Fes, Tangier.  It was inhabited by the Berbers in ancient times but the city was founded in 1062.  Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.

We stayed in a lovely Riad.

We had a brief introduction to the Souk and The Square the first night.  “The Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. … It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The name roughly means “the assembly of trespassers” or malefactors. … Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history. … Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists, pickpockets, and entertainers in medieval garb still populate the square.”  (Wikipedia)  We saw some of this but very difficult to take photos.

Our two days in Marrakesh were packed with seeing many places.  We started with the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in the city.  It was built 1184-1199.  The Kasbah Mosque was originally built by the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansour in 1185-1190. It is located in the old kasbah of Marrakech. Along with the Koutoubia Mosque, it is one of the most important historical mosques in Marrakech.

The Bahia Palace, set in extensive gardens, was built in the late 19th century by the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh, Si Ahmed ben Musa. Bou Ahmed resided here with his four wives, 24 concubines and many children.  It is a beautiful place with extensive rooms.

We visited the beautiful “Museum of Confluences.”  It had been a majestic palace built in 1910 and used as a residence.  It is now brings together many of the influences of Moroccan culture and architecture.  When we visited they had a special exhibit of the influence of Yves Saint Laurent.  (Later we visited a special museum of Yves Saint Laurent’s work but no photos inside were allowed.)

Of course we visited the souk!.  It is always the heart and soul of the town.

We took a carriage ride to the Majorelle Garden.  It had been the home of landscape painter Jacues Majorelle.  Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the property and has a memorial to him.  The garden has a large collection of plants from five continents including many cacti, palms and bamboo.  It was a welcomed cool relief in the heat of Marrakesh.

We visited the old Jewish Quarter (Mellah).  During the 16th century, the Mellah had its own fountains, gardens, synagogues and souks. Until the arrival of the French in 1912, Jews could not own property outside of the Mellah; all growth was consequently contained within the limits of the neighborhood, resulting in narrow streets, small shops and higher residential buildings.  The Alzama Synagogue is located in the area.

Our last afternoon we went to The Secret Garden to relax and enjoy a lovely lunch.  It is a quiet spot with examples of Islamic art and architecture.

In the evening we had a Farewell Meal at a luxury restaurant.  We said good-by to most of the other travelers.  Only six of us are continuing on the post-trip to Essaouira and Casablanca.

Ouarzazate to Marrakesh

September 21st, 2019

This is a very short blog with only scenery photos.  We traveled through lovely mountainous scenery along winding roads.  We reached our highest altitude of 7,415 feet.

Ouarzazate

September 20th, 2019

We left our desert “home” and headed to Ouarzazate.  As usual we saw interesting scenery and made several stops along the way.  Our first stop was to see a subterranean irrigation water system built in the 14th century, to bring irrigation water from nearby mountains, and mostly abandoned in the 1970’s when a dam began to impact the water table.

Besides scenery, we were also interested in some signs.  “Allah, Country, King” can be found on many hillsides near towns—to show their allegiance.  We also saw the Berber “z” many places—here on the hillsides, but often in paintings, architecture, etc. and on the Berber flag.  It is a symbol for the Amazigh (Berber) language and culture.

We stopped at El Khorbat Oujdid, a ksar (fortified village) near Tinejdad.  It was built in 1860 and is still inhabited.  The ksar is walled and has a number of towers.  There was a small museum and some restored houses, a school, and a mosque.

Along the way to Ouarzazate, we stopped at a women’s cooperative that makes rose water.  Rose water is often used in Moroccan pastries but is also used in cosmetics.  (No photos of the actual production!)

OAT always has “A Day in the Life” when we visit a local family and participate in some activity.  It, hopefully, helps us understand the daily life of a “normal” family.  The family also gains as OAT tries to improve their lives.  We participated in this experience while at Ouarzazate.  On the way to the family, we stopped and saw an artist drawing/painting interesting pictures.  He used tea and another ingredient (which we forget).  He then held the paper/painting over a fire and part of it turned black.

We stopped at our selected home and met the wife, father, and young baby.  (The older children were at school.)  We helped make bread.  We then carried small stools out to the family’s olive grove and had tea and bread.  On our return to the house, the father showed us how he makes bricks for building.  While we were gone the helpers made couscous, vegetables, and chicken which we ate.  It is customary to eat gender-segregated so we did.  It is also customary to eat with your fingers but our group has a hard time with that, so the family provided spoons.  The children arrived home from school with some of their friends and sang for us.  We also had the children and mother join us in “Do The Hokey Pokey.”

We said goody-by to the family and then stopped in town and visited a women’s cooperative that Grand Circle/OAT is supporting.  There is a group of about 15 women who have started this cooperative which now includes about 40 women.  They run a small bakery and with the help of Grand Circle are moving into a bigger building so that they can expand their activities.  They will begin weaving, run a café/gift shop, and have a nursery for the children of the women.

One woman showed us how to make couscous.  It is basically flour and water, mixed with your hands and pressed through a sieve.  They also painted henna on our hands.

Ouarzazate has been used for a number of movies.  Atlas Studios was founded in 1983 and by acreage is the world’s largest film studio.  According to Wikipedia some of the movies that have been filmed here are: The Jewel of the Nile, Aladdin (2019 film), Gladiator, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Game of Thrones, Atlantis, The Amazing Race 10, and many more.  Our hotel in Ouarzazate has been used by many movie stars.  Artifacts were everywhere in the hotel, including a throne from The Ten Commandments.

Desert Experience

September 19th, 2019

We headed towards our desert experience from Erfud but made several stops first. Our first stop was to fossils.  Paleontological research shows that the area of Erfoud was a seabed where many types of marine animals existed – about 380 million yeas ago.  There are many mines and quarries where the fossils are embedded in huge boulders.  We stopped at a workshop where they were making various items from these fossils.  We question the ethics of this but they were beautiful pieces.

We stopped at a ksar (fortified village) to visit a woman.  A ksar is a village of attached houses and other structures, often with a wall.  They are usually built of adobe.  The woman is a widow and lives with her two school-age sons.  She has a couple of children who are living in the city, have jobs, and help support her.

We stopped at one more place to watch a camel being milked and to taste the camel milk.

Then off to our desert encampment in 4-wheel drive vehicles.  We found the camp quite luxurious.  (Especially when compared with our visit to a nomad.)

We visited a nomad and his family.  It was a bit depressing.  The father of the family (76 yrs old) had been a truck driver but was away from his family too much.  He returned to nomadic life and was very happy because he felt free.  However, he admitted that his wife was very unhappy and only one son remained with him to help him.  The rest of his children came to visit only a couple of times a year and only one day at a time.  The father ruled the family!

Our first evening we drove from our camp, climbed a sand dune to watch the sunset.

The next morning we got up at 5:30 to watch the sun rise!

We then took a 45-minute camel ride.  What fun!

After the ride, we saw a very old Berber cemetery.  One the way home we stopped at a place where we had an introduction to gnaoua music (gnawa),  an ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms.  It is characterized by using castanets, a 3-stringed lute, and a drum.  It is usually a few lines repeated over and over.  We also participated in the dancing to the music.

Our last visit while in the desert was to a very enterprising farmer.  This farmer’s father started the farm in 1985 and he has now taken it over.  He grows 5 species of dates plus a variety of vegetables.  He needs to pollinate the dates by hand which means climbing the palm tree.  He dug a well and built an irrigation system.  He has one son helping him and the other sons are in town helping to support him.  Date trees take about 5 years to produce.  In a good year he can make a good income; but he may only have 3-4 good years in 10.

When we returned to the camp, we took a short walk around the camp, found some bleached camel bones and enjoyed another lovely sunset.

It was extremely windy our last night.  Sand was everywhere–even on our bed!  But the next morning–our last–was beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

Fes to Erfoud

September 18th, 2019

We had a long bus ride from Fes to Erfoud—about 9 hours.  However, we made several stops along the way and the scenery changed drastically.  We went from fairly green to desert dry.

 

We start with a photo of our bedroom in our lovely Riad in Fes.  We will end this post with a photo of our bedroom in our extravagant hotel in Erfoud.

We stopped briefly in Ifran, sometimes called “Little Switzerland,” for a stretch break.  It was at 5600 ft altitude so lovely temperature.  However, so very, very different from what we have seen so far.  (The King and the Saudi’s like to come here to go skiing in winter.)

As we continued climbing the High Atlas Mountains it became more desolate.  We stopped along the road at a small community to visit a nomad farmer.  (Our guide had bought some food at a small village (bread, yogurt, sardines, tea) which we gave to some of the residents of the community.)  The farmer lives in one area about 4-6 months and then moves to another.  He has been married about 10 years.  When we arrived his wife was off collecting firewood.  By the time we had had tea with him and his young son, she had returned.  Such a life!  It is hard to reconcile our luxury with this life.

We continued on to Erfoud, enjoying the scenery.  We saw rain coming but managed to avoid it.  There has been more rain recently with even some flash floods of which we saw evidence. Some places even reminded us of the U.S. southwest.

Our hotel in Erfoud.

Volubilis and Meknes

September 16th, 2019

We took a day trip to Volubilis and Meknes from Fes.

Volubilis is a partly excavated Berber city, considered as the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauretania.  It  developed from the 3rd century BC onward as a Berber settlement.  It grew rapidly under Roman rule from the 1st century AD onward and expanded to cover about 100 acres with a 1.6-mile circuit of walls. The city had a number of major public buildings in the 2nd century, including a basilica, temple and triumphal arch. Its prosperity, which was derived principally from olive growing, prompted the construction of many fine townhouses with large mosaic floors.

The city fell to local tribes around 285 and was never retaken by Rome because of its remoteness on the south-western border of the Roman Empire. It continued to be inhabited for at least another 700 years, first as a Christian community, then as an early Islamic settlement.  By the 11th century Volubilis had been abandoned after the seat of power was relocated to Fes.

The ruins remained substantially intact until they were devastated by an earthquake in the mid-18th century and subsequently looted by Moroccan rulers seeking stone for building Meknes. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that the site was definitively identified as that of the ancient city of Volubilis.

(Previous three paragraphs taken mostly from Wikipedia!)

Meknes is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco. Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, it became capital of Morocco (1672–1727).  It is noted for its Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, and a blending of the Islamic and European styles of the 17th century still evident today.

Interesting side note: Bab al-Mansour gate, named after the architect, El-Mansour. It was completed 5 years after Sultan Moulay Ismail’s death, in 1732. It has mosaics of excellent quality. The marble columns were taken from the Roman ruins of Volubilis. When the structure was completed, Moulay Ismail inspected the gate, asking El-Mansur if he could do better. El-Mansur felt compelled to answer yes, making the sultan so furious he had him executed.   ( Two paragraphs taken from Wikipedia)

That evening at our Riad we had a demonstration for making pastille – a type of Moroccan meat pie.

Fes

September 13th, 2019

Our drive from Rabat to Fes was about 5 hours.  We stopped about halfway along for drinks and to visit a local souk (market).

Fes is the second largest city (after Casablanca) in Morocco.  It was founded in the 8th-9th centuries.  During the 11th century, the city gained a reputation for the religious scholarship and the mercantile activity.  Fes reached its zenith 13-15th century, regaining the status as the capital. Numerous madrasas (Arabic educational institution), mosques, zawiyas (Islamic religious schools) and city gates were constructed which survived up until today. These buildings are considered the hallmarks of Moorish and Moroccan architectural styles. During this time, the Jewish population of the city grew as well, with the Jewish quarter attracting the Jewish migrants from other North African regions. After the overthrow of the Marinid dynasty, the city largely declined and was replaced by Marrakesh for political and cultural influence.

The medina of Fes is listed as a World Heritage Site and is believed to be one of the world’s largest urban pedestrian zones.  It has the University of Al Quaraouiyine which was founded in 859 and is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. It also has Chouara Tannery from the 11th century, one of the oldest tanneries in the world.

In Fes we are again staying in a lovely Riad.  In the afternoon we experienced a traditional Moroccan hammam, a public steam bath, similar to a Turkish bath.  The hammam are a central part of daily and religious life in Morocco.  It consists of public bath house separated between men and women with multiple dry or steamed rooms and attendants who scrub visitors with a black pigmented soap using cloth mitts that feel like sandpaper.  It was an experience!!

We had a day-long tour of the city – part by bus but most by walking.  We began at the Royal Palace and then entered the old Jewish quarter.

We traveled out of the city walls to visit a kasbah (fort) where we had a good view of the city.

We stopped at a pottery production area where they explained the making of Fes pottery.  The steady hands of those decorating the pottery and of those cutting the very small pieces to make mosaics were impressive.

We returned to the city and entered the medina.  Fascinating!

We visited the well-known tanneries.

We visited a weaving shop.  And ended our tour at the Blue Gate.

In the evening we split into small groups and were hosted by local families.  Ron and I went to different homes.  The two of us went to the roof of our Riad for one last view over the city at night.

Rabat

September 8th, 2019

Rabat is the capital of Morocco. Rabat was founded in the 12th century by the Almohad ruler.   (Almohad Caliphate is a Berber Muslim group.) The city grew steadily but went into an extended period of decline following the collapse of the Almohads. In the 17th century Rabat became a haven for Barbary pirates. The French established a protectorate over Morocco in 1912 and made Rabat its administrative center. Morocco achieved independence in 1955 and Rabat became its capital.

We loved the theme of our hotel in Rabat.  A library was painted on the wall behind the registration desk and another wall displayed many books.  Outside was a bicycle carrying books!

We only had one day in Rabat.  We saw some interesting places near our hotel and then toured several historical spots.  We visited Dâr-al-Makhzen, the primary and official residence of the king of Morocco.  It was built in 1864.

Near the Palace is the Chellah which is a medieval fortified Muslim necropolis.  The Phoenicians established a trading emporium at the site. It later became a site of an ancient Roman colony.  It was rebuilt in the 13th century.   A complex of mosque, minaret, and royal tombs was built.  There is an eel pool where barren women used to come to bathe and expect to be able to conceive.

 

The Mausoleum of Mohammed V is located on the opposite side of the Hassan Tower.  It contains the tombs of the Moroccan king (Mohammed V) and his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah.  A reader of the Koran is often present, having his assigned seat. (Not there when we visited.)  Its construction was completed in 1971.

Hassan Tower is the minaret of an incomplete mosque in Rabat.  Commissioned in 1195, the tower was intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with the mosque, also intended to be the world’s largest.  When the caliph died in 1199, construction on the mosque stopped. The tower reached 44 m (140 ft), about half of its intended 86 m (260 ft) height. The rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 348 columns being constructed.

Our companion at lunch!

We visited the Kasbah on the coast.  It is at the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Bouregreg River. Besides providing protection, it held a large slave trade – both black and white slaves.  On a street leading into the Kasbah, our guide stopped to talk with a young man repairing shoes.  He was from Senegal and had been here several months.  Senegalese do not need visas to come to Morocco.

In the evening we had our Welcoming Dinner (this is the start of the main trip).  It was held in a beautiful Riad (former home) Restaurant.  We had a fabulous meal.

Tangier

September 5th, 2019

We left Chefchaouen to drive to Tangier.  However, before we left, we just had to photo more of the beautiful sites in Chefchaouen!  Also, as we were leaving an old woman walked by.  Our guide talked with her; she said she was 100 years old.

We had another glimpse of the Mediterranean beach.  It was even foggier than the previous day!  We stopped along the road to see storks and their nests.

We saw Ceuta.  This is a 11-sq mile piece of land that belongs to Spain but is located in Africa.  We had heard about it in the 2000’s as a place which African immigrants try to enter in order to get passage to Europe.  Moroccans who live within a certain distance (40 km?) from the border of Ceuta are allowed in without visas.  These Moroccans go to buy goods cheaply to bring back to Morocco and sell.  When we stopped on a hill overlooking the area, we could see the fence built around Ceuta.  There is a Spanish garrison in Ceuta; Morocco is building one on the opposite hill.

Tangier is second largest port in Morocco.  Young boys/men wait in roundabouts to try to hitch on to a container truck and be smuggled into the port and thus into Europe.  We stopped near a roundabout and our guide talked to two young boys—one was 18 and one was 21.  It was heartbreaking to hear their stories.  They live on the streets and try to find free food.  The one had managed to hide on a container truck but the police caught him in the port.  They beat him and took him back to the entrance.  These boys feel they have no future in Morocco and all they can think about is getting to Spain.  There they would probably be hired for very little money to work in the gardens and vineyards.  However, they have no papers and could be found in Spain and sent back.  (Does this sound familiar?) Earlier in the day, our guide had asked each of us for 5 cents.  He took the money and disappeared.  Later he came back with bread, cheese, tuna.  It was this food that he gave the boys.

We visited a lovely lighthouse on Cap Spartel.  It is pictured on the 20 dirham note (Morocco money).  We visited the Hercules Caves.  The cave has two openings, one to sea and one to land. The sea opening is known as “The Map of Africa.”  According to mythology, the Roman god, Hercules, stayed and slept in the cave during his labors.  (See myth.)   According to history, it is said that Phoenicians created the sea opening.  The Berbers used part of the cave, cutting stone wheels from the walls to make millstones.  We also visited the “point” where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea.

Scenes along the streets as we traveled from the coast to our hotel.  And then the view from our hotel!

Tangier has been influenced by many civilizations and cultures since before the 5th century.  It was a strategic Berber town, a Phoenician trading center, known to the Greeks, Romans, etc. etc.   Beginning in modern history (15th century!) it was administered by Portugal, England, Morocco, Spain, International, Morocco.  During 1924-56 it was considered as having international status by colonial powers and became a destination for many European and American diplomats, spies, writers and businessmen.

In the medina we visited the former sultan palace which is now a museum of Moroccan artifacts.  The museum includes some very old items from Roman times and also many mosaics.  One fascinating display was of a map from the 14th century with a south to north orientation.  Morocco is on the right side of the map while Egypt is on the left.

From the 18th century Tangier served as Morocco’s diplomatic headquarters.  The U.S. dedicated its first consulate in the 1780’s.  In 1821, the Legation Building in Tangier became the first piece of property acquired abroad by the U. S. government.  The building is now a museum which includes items about the famous author Paul Bowles.  (We did not have time to visit the museum.)

We walked through the medina.  We stopped at a bakery and bought fresh bread.  Yum!  And more interesting scenes through the medina.

It was time to travel to Rabat.  We went by bullet train which at one point reached 220 mph.  It was a fast, smooth ride.  To go by car, takes about 4 hours.  The bullet train took just over 1 hour. The U.S. has something to learn!

Tetouen

September 4th, 2019

Tetouan, nicknamed White Dove, was settled in the late 15th century by Muslims and Jews from southern Spain.  Tétouan was expanded when it became the capital of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco between 1913 and 1956.   We heard more Spanish here along with French and Arabic. Tétouan is famed for its fine craftsmanship and musical activities. Within the buildings the ceilings are often carved and painted and the tile work of the floors and columns is in Spanish Moorish designs reminding us of the Alhambra of Granada.  It is sometimes called “little Granada.”

We made a day trip from Chefchaouen to Tetouan.  We walked along a pedestrian walkway noting the Spanish influence in architecture.  On the plaza we saw the Nuestra Señora de las Victorias Catholic church along with the royal palace.  There were a number of boys carrying wooden slates with some Arabic written on them.  Our guide said they were showing that they were learning the Koran and wanted money for their work!  He talked with one boy who did quite well in reading what he had written and then recited it.

We toured the medina with all its wonderful foods and crafts and again noting the Spanish and Jewish influences.

We stopped at a technical school.  We had hoped to see the students in action, but it was their first day and they were just getting organized.  The school is free to students who have dropped out of ordinary school.  A program requires 4 years of study.  The students learn a craft and then are apprenticed to a professional worker.  We saw the classrooms for those in wood carving and talked to two students who are in their second year.

Our lunch was in a restaurant along the coast.  We picked out the fish we wanted and it was grilled and brought to the table.  Good!

Our route back to Chefchaouen was first along the coast and then through mountains and beautiful gorges.  The coast was very foggy but still nice.

A lot of “weed” is grown unofficially in northern Morocco.  We saw fields and fields of it interspersed with corn and beans.  At one place we stopped and our guide talked to the farmer.  Our guide went in the field and picked some and brought it on the bus for us all to see.  The picture many of us will remember is of the farmer doing his prayers beside his truck while our guide talks to his helper about the plant.

We gathered for an evening meal in a nearby restaurant. (Only 7 of the 9 are visible.)