The man laying on the rich carpet welcomed me into the the Hamadcha zaouia in Essaouira. After determining my nationalty he proceeded to tell me in English about the psychological and spiritual healing role the Hamachda confrere traditionally enjoys within Moroccon folk ethnology.
Just several hours before he had been one member of a collective of musicians and dancers performing in the Place de l’Horlage as part of the 2019 Gnaoua Musiques de Monde festival in Essaouira, Morocco. In the small square under the old clock tower the ensemble performed for forty minutes in front of a enthralled mostly Moroccan audience. Approximately 2 minutes of the early part of the performance is captured below.
The woman in the worn green jellaba and distinct Amazigh features is in her early forties. She cuts a striking figure as she moves from person to person in the cafes around Place Moulay Hassan clutching a bunch of curling papers in her right hand. She insists that everybody view these papers; they are her art works and her raison d’etre.
Kadisha, born locally in El Hanchane, says she has always lived in Essaouira. She tells me that she paints most days, buying paint and paper for 2 dirhams from the local stationers. Her art is always on A3 paper, is always portraits and often from her imagination.
At the furthest southern edge of Essaouira a large marabout tomb is becoming increasingly suffocated by creeping modernity. Once isolated it is now hemmed in by a sewage works, a complex of roads, industrial buildings and several large modern houses. This cacophony of progress diminishes much of the visual sanctity of the shrine.
I have visited previously on several occasions, walking firstly alongside Essaouira’s modern concrete beach promenade towards the small lighthouse before cutting a little inland where the shrine is found. Its green dome and grey crenellated walls, suggestive of a fortress rather than a shrine, manage to still be seen within the urban chaos around it. On the two occasions I have visited previously I had not managed to gain entry to the building from the family living at the site; this time I resolved to be a little more assertive.
Fes el-Jdid, the newer part of old-Fes established in 1276 by the Marinids and commonly called ‘New Fes’, is known mostly for its proximity to the Jewish mellah and cemetery, the first specifically Jewish area to be developed in Morocco. Fes el Jdid, standing well outside the famous medieval medina of Fes el Bali, has its own interesting medina, exploring which can bring unexpected pleasures.
Moroccan medinas have an array of colour design mostly associated with individual cities. Blue for Chefchaouen, white for Tetouan, red for Marrakech, it has been suggested that Moroccan cities are branded by colour. The alley painters of Fes el Jdid I encountered decorating the streets just before commencement of Ramadan in 2019 had developed their own colour schemes and designs unlike any I had seen anywhere else. (more…)
Sidi Kaouki is a small town on the windswept Atlantic coast of west Morocco. Some 25 miles south of Essaouira, its long golden sands and dashing surf make it a favourite for surfers and windsurfers. There is a collection of stylish hotels, surfing and windsurfing schools, and lines of drying wetsuits around its environs, which attest to this interest.
Standing at the top of the beach, close to the coterie of cafes and shops, is a marabout shrine. Here the white building rises from the sandy beach as the largest structure close to the shoreline. This particular type of building is known as a Koubba, or Koubbeh, which is Arabic for dome or cupola. It specifically refers to a monument erected on the grave of a revered figure, or in a place where he ( or she ) stayed or lived.
These monuments occur mainly in North Africa and consist of a spherical dome built on a square, cubist building which forms a room, often decorated, which houses the tomb of a saint. They are normally quite small buildings, their size rarely exceeding 4 meters square.
Late on my final afternoon in Meknes in early June 2019 I decided to investigate an interesting religious building I had seen whilst travelling to the holy pilgrimage town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun by bus several days earlier. This building was situated next to a cemetery on the main ring road which surrounds Meknes close to Bab Berdaine.
I walked under Bab Berdaine and out of the Medina. From the ring road the view was uninterrupted across countryside as far as the range of hills in the distance where, on the invisible side and out of sight, Moulay Idriss’ mausoleum nestled within a valley. The landscape was burnished by the early June sun. Beside me, as I walked, cars, motor cycles and buses slowly filed by, their noise destroying an otherwise peaceful afternoon.
The group of Hasidic Jews from New York congregated around the mausoleum of Rabbi Vidal Haserfatty, a large tomb which looked down over the extended white blanket of graves of Beit HaChaim, the restored Jewish cemetery at the edge of the ancient mellah in Fes. After completing a number of rituals inside the little room they climbed back down the steps and threaded their way through smaller tombs to a blue shrine in the middle of the white expanse. There they quietly began again the rituals of veneration for a saint significant to both Judaic and Muslim faiths. Of even greater significance and rarity the saint was female.
Many cities of any size in Morocco have a Medina ‘quarter’; these are distinct city sections which are often the oldest part of the city, walled, with maze like streets and relatively car free. Many cultural, historical and architecturally interesting features can be found in medinas.
A stimulating and visually interesting aspect of walking Moroccan medinas is viewing the colours and street art used to decorate the many alleys and lanes. More than just brightening up inner city thoroughfares it has been suggested that colours are used intentionally as tourist and cultural branding exercises, and that cities are recognised often internationally due to their colours. Examples of this are Chefchaouen, world famous for its blue walls, and Marrakesh, well known for its red colour. Other reasons and explanations for the adoption of colour schemes include reflecting local natural colours, influences from local or national religious associations, regional cultural influences and influence of colour from sub-saharan African contexts.
I made the journey to Interzone from Tarifa across the 11 mile stretch of Atlantic where, in the distance, the Rif mountains stood in a coruscating haze of a bright September day. Interzone is an area where sea, ocean and cultures collide.
Tangier was an International Zone from 1912 to 1956 and became the destination for many European and American spies, writers, artists and musicians. It enjoyed a reputation for hedonism where any pleasure was readily available. Indeed author William S. Burroughs who lived for long spells in Tangier, wrote, “Tangier is one of the few places left in the world where, so long as you don’t proceed to robbery, violence, or some form of crude, antisocial behaviour, you can do exactly what you want.” (more…)