11.02.2016 Moroccan Field trip
Over the summer I headed overseas to explore Morocco, a country has intrigued me for decades regardless of my superficial knowledge of the country beyond its general geographic location, key cities and perceived fondness of cobras!
My journey commenced in arriving in the austere 1950s era Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport after a protracted journey. I was immediately bombarded with an abundance clichés. Mustachioed passport officers, mosaic tiles, large white 1980s Mercedes Benz taxis and their requisite mustachioed drivers. For the next two weeks I dedicated myself to growing my own glorious mustache despite the futility of the cause.
I have tried to summarize the highlights of my tour from an architectural and urban design perspective.
Walking through narrow medina lane ways bustling with fruit sellers, brick kilns, rowdy children, livestock and kiosks and bakeries one arrives at the pristine Hassan II Mosque (Michel Pinseau (France) 1993). The contrast between the two environments is severe on several levels. The scale, density of people, order and opulence are all heightened after walking through the cacophony of the medina.
On most peoples itineraries here is the palace and government complex. There is no doubt about the significance and beauty of these buildings but due to security it is hard to get close to the action and the presence of security and military gives an overwhelming feeling of unwelcomeness. The cities Kazbah (Kasbah of the Udayas) that clings to the cliffs along the Atlantic ocean affords a much more intimate albeit rugged experience. The narrow white and blue painted alley ways all lead to the only common outdoor space within the walled city high above the beach.
A relaxing botanical garden planted within the ancient citadel. The gardens are contained within the original walls and the area also contains Roman ruins and a large flock of storks who have made their homes amongst the ruins.
Mausoluem of Mohammed V. and Hassan Tower – This Mausolem was constructed next to the ruins of the Hassan Tower, an incomplete minaret intended to be the worlds largest commenced in 1195. The site has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Status.
The archaeological site of Volubilis (UNESCO World Heritage Site) are the remains of the Roman city that peaked in the second century. Our witty and knowledgeable guide took us across the vast complex pointing out the various preserved mosaic floors and explaining/decoding their symbolism, the largely intact Basilica, Capitoline Temple and grand triumphal arch, Arch of Caracalla, not to mention the mandatory brothel. After visiting other cities of Roman antiquity for instance Pompeii, Rome and Caesarea (Israel) these were well beyond my expectations.
Known as the blue city, Chefchaouen is a small city nestled into a hillside in the Rif Mountains. Immediately enchanting with its dense multistory urban fabric in shades of blue varying from pale sky blue to deep indigo. The terrain of the city also adds to the charm presenting unexpected views across the rooftops to the surrounds hills and mountains.
Together with Marrakech and Rabat (current capital), Fes was once the capital of Morocco. As such it is spoilt with many architectural treasures (and UNESCO World Heritage Status). The medina is still home to over 100,000 people and many traditional industries are still maintained within the medina. The highly ornate Royal Palace’s brass gates, the Bou Inania Madrasa (Abu Inan Faris, 1351) are also not to be missed.
On route to the Sahara Desert for some sand and star gazing was a stop in a small rural village called Ait Izdeg. Although the purpose of the visit was ostensibly to meet a village elder in his home, the walk through the apple orchards past primitive irrigation channels revealed how new families are moving out from the traditional home and building new modern concrete dwellings for themselves.
The last stop on the tour, Marrakesh was bigger bolder and more Moroccan than the other major cities visited or at least it felt that way. The famous Jemma el Fna is the sprawling open space at the edge of the medina. Known for its snake charmers and soothsayers and less for its orange juice and date stalls this is the gateway to the medina. The terracotta coloured stucco that has been richly applied to buildings of all descriptions becomes the wallpaper of the city. This colour has also been cleverly adopted by the cities buses to enhance this distinctive urban character and icon.
Heading to the rooftops of one the many riads reveals views of the 2 large minarets that dominate the skyline of the medina. The Atlas Mountains that ring the city are also a striking backdrop.
Outside the medina walls is the relatively new Majorelle Garden (Jacques Majorelle 1920-1930). These private gardens were designed by artist Jacques Majorelle. The gardens are famous for the intense cobalt blue house hidden within the grounds. The gardens were purchased by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge in 1980 saving the gardens from development. Through their investment the gardens have been restored and the blue house was transformed into a new museum dedicated to Berber culture and featuring the personal collection of Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge.
I left Morocco feeling inspired to discover more about this country, its rich history and its people. In such a short and compressed trip it was only possible to touch the surface.