Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Et tu Berber

Volubilis is a well preserved Roman ruin dating from 100 AD.   The Romans seemed remarkably active that year in Northern  Africa. They were in a two year siege of the Zealots in Masada, and were conquering Petra and building there at the same time.  Volubilis was a prosperous city with a temple, basilica and of course, baths.
The ruins remained of many rich homes with still vivid mosaics, further evidence of the prosperity of the Roman citizens.
Sight of the right facing swastika was startling.  Use of the swastika (the word is derived from Sanskrit) dates back over 10,000 years and is found in almost every culture.  The image is believed to have evolved from the appearance of a basket weave, and it is a symbol of good, or peace, or at least it was.  It was not until 1920, when the Nazi party adopted a left facing version of the swastika as their symbol, that it became a dreaded symbol of evil.

The settlement was large and housed merchants who served the people of the city and the Roman Legions housed there.  The shop signs were pictograms carved in stone so that illiterate customers could easily recognize the wares sold there.  Most of the signs were found in front of small shops on the main thoroughfare.
Looking at the signs above, you can see the first three, going clockwise from the upper right are for fowl, beef, and wine.  The fourth sign was located at a large venue that was well away from the main road.  Clearly the military leaders of Volubilis understood, as did Joe Hooker of American Civil War fame, what it took to entertain soldiers who are far from home.

The Romans held Volubilis until the 3rd century when they had trouble with the locals.  Their problem groups were members of what is today called the Imazirn, an independent group that is an amalgam of peoples of North Africa who have lived in the region for thousands of years.  

The Romans called them barbarians and the coast of Morocco became known as the Barbary Coast.  Sultan Moulay Ismail used pirates from the coast to capture European slaves to build Meknes.  The English changed the name to Berber.  Although it was originally an insult, Berbers today are proud of their heritage and the fact that neither the Romans, and in modern times the French were ever truly successful in dominating them. 

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 caused significant damage to the Roman structures, which until that time were largely intact.  Further damage was caused when the site was looted to provide material for the construction of Sultan Moulay Ismail’s fortress city of Meknes.  Below is a picture of one of the Volubilis columns that is part of the Bab el Mansour.
The sun was sinking lower as we started to leave Volubilis.  As it shown through the Triumphant Arch, an older couple stood and discussed the ruins.  The woman had trouble walking, and her spouse took her arm as the sun shone around them.  There is a draw to places like this that appeals to so many different people.  I wondered what they discussed as they continued their journey.  They made a pretty picture.
We left Volubilis and headed toward Fes, traveling through large farms that looked too big to be family operations.  The terrain began to change as the hills became more pronounced and the countryside drier.  The sun painted the hills with a rosy glow. 

It was a good day.  Tonight we will see Fes.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

500 wives and 12,000 horses

There was no good estimate of the number of children the Sultan Moulay Ismail had, but it is clear that he owned a lot of property.  He made Meknes his capital and built a fortress city in the 17th Century that remains impressive today. 

Our drive from Rabat to Meknes took us away from the coast through beautiful farmland.  The road was well developed and maintained, and the farms were small family operations.  As we passed through them, everywhere, we saw men working, a site that would not be as common later in the trip.

It was a brilliant day that made the green grasses glow and the pink houses seemed warm and welcoming.  Meknes was also a glowing city that day.  The gate of El Mansour, Bab el Mansour, is a beautiful and intricate, but no longer an entrance.

We went to the entrance of Sultan Moulay’s city and toured the vast compound he had built.  It was of a magnitude that astonished, but then he was a man of great appetites.  It took a lot of stores to support a family the size of his, and 12,000 horses take up a lot of room, then of course you have to keep your prisoners somewhere.  The granary was cool and dry, but the stables were what drew me.  Their size and symmetry was beautiful, almost joyous in the bright afternoon sun. Of course, the prison where the European slaves (who built the complex) was not as cheerful.

We went next to the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.  Although he was a brutal leader who enslaved many and killed thousands of his own subjects, he is revered and his mausoleum is a shrine.  The tile work was beautiful and it is a serene place.  We took off our shoes to enter the mosque joined a collection of tourists and people seeking baraka (blessings) by touching spots designated as holy.  The tile work glowed when it was caught in the sunlight.

Heading to lunch we saw a man flogging wool to prepare it for spinning.  Then we had a nice tagine of chicken for lunch.

It has been a busy day, but not over yet.  On to Volubilis.  Hope you are enjoying the trip.

Link to Shutterfly album on Meknes:


Monday, November 12, 2012

A Morocco state of mind

Casablanca to Marrakesh, a trek complete with camels and camping in the desert and hikes in the Atlas Mountains.  The image is there in your mind as the plane lands.  The song keeps playing on my head:  “Da dai de dai de dai..”.  The reality of Casablanca as an urban industrialized city clears that mirage, but the romance of the place is still indelibly imprinted in my heart.  Not being fools, the Casablancans built the elaborate Hassan II Mosque to draw tourists.  It is the only reason (other than the romance of it) to start a trek there.  As one of the newest, most expensive mosques in the world, smaller only that the mosques in Mecca and Medina, it is worth a few pictures:

The finest materials were used, local stone, mosaics from Fes, and cedar wood from the Atlas.  It used the best concepts from older mosques throughout Morocco and craft techniques preserved through the centuries.  Built in 1992, it has succeeded in its mission to give tourist and Moroccans a reason to stop in Casablanca.  Enough said, let’s go look for the old, beautiful, romantic Morocco of my imagination.  On to Rabat.

Driving to Rabat gave us our first glimpse of the countryside.  We stopped just outside The medina (old walled city) for lunch overlooking the Atlantic, near where the Phoenicians and Carthaginians first settled in 300 BC.  Then we walked along the beach to the old fortress walls.  From the entrance we had a view of the city, including the Hassan II Tower, an incomplete mosque abandoned in 1199 when the sultan died.  Near it is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, a modern king. Below are pictures of the walk to and through the medina finally arriving at our hotel for the night:

After a night in Rabat, we visited the unfinished Hassan II Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, then headed out of town.

So far, Morocco has been a beautiful country with a long history and exotic sites, but it has not yet hit the mark of my expectations.  It is early in our trip, however, with much ahead.  We are heading out of town to our next destination, in sha'Allah (Arabic for God willing, and always said about plans for the future). 

For some reason, we keep seeing people, both here and in Casablanca, with live sheep.

[Note:  My blog is in the form of a travel log, taking you through my Morocco trek.  Bear with me as I discover my impressions of what was for me a journey of many dimensions.  In a later post, I will include a link to a web site with many pictures from this trip.}

Here is a shutterfly link to more Pictures from Casablanca:


And to pictures from Rabat:

If you want more pictures, click on the link