Category Archives: Morocco Travels

Volubilis, Meknes, & Fez

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This weekend I journeyed through Morocco on a whirlwind tour of Volubilis, Meknes, and Fez and learned about different periods in Morocco’s history.

Volubilis (called “Wallili” here) is a city of Roman ruins, dating from ~200 BCE to ~300 CE, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Most fascinating to see there are the well-preserved ornate mosaic floors, with themes ranging from water nymphs and Roman gods to animals, everyday life, and even an acrobat riding backwards on a donkey.

Meknes is known as the “City of a Hundred Minarets,” and indeed on a rooftop there, one can spot multiple minarets in different directions, all decorated with green tiles. Most impressive to see there was a beautiful, medeival-era madrassa, like the Islamic version of a monastery for monks. Other important sites are the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, his palace, and gardens (now a golf course). Meknes had actually been the capital of Morocco (1672-1727) under the reign of Moulay Ismail, and he sought to model his contemporary Louis XIV of France in beautifying his city with elaborate monuments, earning Meknes the name, “Versailles of Morocco.” Moulay Ismail was known for marrying/ taking as concubines about 80 Berber women from all the surrounding tribes in order to solidify alliances with his Arab-Islamic monarchy and the Berbers, and was said to have fathered some 1,000 children. He is also said to have murdered tens of thousands of people during his sometimes harsh reign, though he is very much still revered. In Meknes, we also travelled to a silver workshop, where we were told the craft has long roots in Morocco, originating from gold and silver craftmanship brought by the Jews. We ended the trip to Meknes with an evening in Lahdim Square, to experience the ever-busy, present day city-center.

Finally, it was off to Fez. First, we passed by the 17th century Royal Palace and nearby Jewish Quarter. It was interesting to see the structure of the houses in the Jewish Quarter with craft stores on the ground floor and open air balconies on the top floor. Our guide told us that the open balconies differed from Muslim ones, because Muslim households had to have closed balconies so their women could not be seen from the outside, whereas this did not apply to Jewish women. Next, we saw al-Karaouine, the world’s oldest university (and still functioning!), dating from the 9th century. Then we toured the Medina of Fez, which is thought to be the largest urban area in the world without cars. Many “streets” of the Medina are barely wide enough to allow more than one person at a time to pass through, so obviously one could not use motorized vehicles there, though I did see a few horses. I’m glad we had a tour guide, otherwise I definitely would have gotten lost in the Medin’as labyrinth. In the Medina, we visited various craft shops/ factories, including the leather tannery, the potters, mosaic-makers, weavers, and beauty-products/perfumes/ cooking spice mixers. (Please see previous post for pics of people working in these crafts). Overall, a wonderful trip.

Roman mosaic in Volubilis

Meknes is also known for its olives

Evening view of Lhadim Square, Meknes

 

Typical green minaret of Meknes

Fez: Father and son on horseback in ceremonial celebration before boy's circumcision

Fez: Calligraphy and decoration on wall of world's oldest university, al-Karaouine (founded in 9th c.)

Touring Rabat: The Main Attractions

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This past weekend I finally got to play tourist in the city where I now reside, Rabat. When you live in a place and get into the routine of daily work and activities, you sometimes forget to discover what more it has to offer.  Well, the truth is that it’s pretty easy to see all of Rabat’s tourist attractions in a single day, so I really don’t know why I waited until I had a guest visit me to get to them. Anyways, we hit up the three main tourist areas: 1) Old Medina with market and Oudayas leading down to the sea. 2) Hassan Tower and Mausoleum, and 3) Chellah fortress. We also dined out in Agdal, a classier area. And, I owe a big thank you to my host family for their hospitality in treating my guest and me to a wonderful, traditional Moroccan tea and dinner Saturday that extended late into the night.

Hassan Tower

Me at Hassan Tower

Chellah

Me at Chellah

Settling in… and Casablanca

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Wow, this week flew by fast. School has kept me busy – in a good way. I had a presentation and exam, and can say with certainty that my Arabic has already seen substantive improvements. For my presentation, I chose to speak about Rotary International, and I think it went quite well 🙂 I’ve also started studying a bit of the local dialect, Darija. It’s wonderful to be able to make use of what I learn in the classroom in conversations with people I meet. And I’m fascinated by how Darija mixes Arabic with several other languages, especially Berber and French.

My health has improved, though my digestive system hasn’t entirely returned to normality. And I’m still learning to adapt to the different way of life here. The school’s orientation handbook was spot on in warning: “Please be aware that the Western concept of spending money on non-essential items such as air conditioning or hot water heaters are against the traditional way of thinking in Morocco.” I’m just going to have to get used to the cold showers and hot rooms. I also have to start decreasing my energy consumption, given complaints from my host family about the bill. I’m fairly certain this is mainly due my extensive laptop use. (While my host parents seem to keep the TV running all the time, I don’t think they have a computer and are very careful about the lights.)

I’ve also done a bit of traveling. During the week, I went on a school trip to neighboring Sale, and I spent today in Casablanca with a couple friends. First, we lunched at the famous Rick’s Café, modeled after the café in the movie, “Casablanca,” and met the owner, Kathy. Then we wondered through the marketplace of the Medina, before making our way to the grand Hassan II Mosque.

Rick's Cafe, Kathy and dog

The owner Kathy on the terrace of her famous "Rick's Cafe" in Casablanca. The restaurant is modeled on the set of the movie "Casablanca."

Moroccan dress

Trying on the Moroccan garb I bought at the Casa marketplace today.

UPDATE (9/18): My host family just told me they do have hot water. They don’t use it now to save electricity, but as the weather is getting colder, they will show me how to turn on the water heater.

Staying healthy in Morocco: Watch what you swallow

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I had hoped to write this entry about riding camels, visiting some small Moroccan towns, and camping out in the desert. Perhaps there will be a future post about all that. Unfortunately, my news is more somber: I fell ill the first night of the school-organized trip to the Sahara. My cold seemed to worsen, while my stomach became perturbed, most likely due to something I ate. (A word of advice: Only eat at established restaurants. Don’t buy a sandwich on the road. I was fine in Jordan, but Morocco is on a whole different level.) Luckily, that night we stayed in a nice hotel so I was able to remain there while the group continued on the journey.

I am grateful for the many people who helped me in moments of pain. My German roommate at the hotel fetched me bottled water in the middle of the night, and the hotel staff were exceptional, checking on me every couple of hours and catering to my every need. And they also brought me a doctor with whom I could communicate in French.

The only problem was that I’m not too sure about the quality of the doctor, though he was very nice. After the check-up, I was provided with five different medications. I suspect this is a case of the “over-medicating” I was warned about by a friend who studied here last year. In a state of desperation, and considering I don’t recall ever having bad reactions to medicines, I decided to do as the Moroccans kept telling me: listen to the doctor and take my drugs.

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