Ramadan Cleaning the Moroccan Way :  Alley Painters of New Fez

Ramadan Cleaning the Moroccan Way : Alley Painters of New Fez

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 : A Marabout Shrine on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco

Sidi Kaouki : A Marabout Shrine on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco

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.

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Of Marabouts, Jinns and Foqahas

Of Marabouts, Jinns and Foqahas

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.

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Apostasy, Lalla Soulika and the Jewish Cemetery of Fes

Apostasy, Lalla Soulika and the Jewish Cemetery of Fes

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.

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Medinas  and Colour in Morocco

Medinas and Colour in Morocco

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.

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Interzone : Tangier’s Hedonistic Years

Interzone : Tangier’s Hedonistic Years

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…)

Beyond Assi Ghat,  Varanasi

Beyond Assi Ghat, Varanasi

Assi Ghat is the southern most ghat in Varanasi where the Rivers Assi and Ganges join in confluence.  It is a quiet ghat,  popular with students from the close by Benares Hindu University,  Hindu worshippers who bath before paying homage to Lord Shiva in the form of huge lingam situated under a peepal tree,  and tourists who desire a quieter experience than that in central Varanasi.

Its origin is again bound up in Hindu folklore.  The first legend states that after slaying Shumbh-Nishumbh, goddess Durga threw her sword away, and where it landed resulted in the emergence of a big stream ( the river Assi).  Secondly,  legends say that Lord Rudra was furious with Asuras. This fury has led him to slay eighty Asuras in a day. Eighty in Hindi would translate to Assi. So the place where these Assi (eighty) Asuras were slain, has been named as Assi Ghat.

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Mullick Ghat Flower Market

Mullick Ghat Flower Market

Besides the river Ganges/Hooghly  and traversing both sides of the mighty Howrah Bridge in Kolkata can be found the Mullick Ghat Flower Market,  one of the largest flower markets in Asia.  Both flowers and colour play substantial roles in the world of Hindu worship and everyday,  in a fascinating spectacle of humanity,  vendors and buyers meet to fulfill the spiritual requirement for flowers over west Bengal. 

The market starts around 4 am in the morning with flower sellers from adjacent areas of Kolkata gathering with their colourful merchandise. The sellers displayed their merchandise – roses, marigolds, sunflowers, garden balsams and other flowers lay in all their colourful glory. There is utter chaos everywhere, the market is overcrowded, but the experience of seeing such a vibrant market is altogether unique. Quite obviously, the market becomes all the more booming during the festive and marriage seasons.

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