“The likeness of those who choose other patrons than Allah is as the likeness of the spider when she taketh unto herself a house, and lo! the frailest of all houses is the spider’s house, if they but knew.”
Paul Bowles’ novel, The Spider’s House, describes the political situation in Fes during 1954. Tensions had been mounting in Morocco during the 1950s and, as the French in Morocco attacked the Sultan, his popularity grew. The French, allied with traditionalist leaders hostile to the reformist and nationalistic elites of the Istiqlal party, tried to play off one side against the other. Riots in Casablanca at the end of 1952 ushered in the era of mass politics, and the Sultan was accused of being one of the main causes for the deteriorating situation. By Aug. 20, 1953, despite the opposition of Paris, the French in Morocco deposed the Sultan, who refused to abdicate his throne. He and his family were exiled to Madagascar, where they remained for 3 years.
In Morocco the failure of the royal deposition became quickly clear. The Moroccans considered the new puppet sultan, Moulay Arafa, a usurper. Acts of terrorism multiplied, and insecurity spread throughout the country. The French in Morocco retaliated with repression and violence, while liberal politicians in Paris actively worked for a solution. When the Glaoui rallied to the cause of Mohammed V, all opposition to the exile’s return melted away, and on Nov. 16, 1955, the Sultan regained Morocco and was greeted by delirious crowds. On March 2, 1956, Morocco received its independence. Mohammed V became the chief of state, and his son Moulay Hassan took command of the army.
There are only three religious buildings in Fes and Meknes which can legitimately be visited by non-Muslims. These are the Al-Attarine and the Bounania in Fes, and the Bounania in Meknes. All three buildings are Madrasa, or religious educational buildings, and were built in the 14th century. The Bounania in Fes has a double role as a functioning mosque, and a part of the complex is off-limits to non-Muslims.
Rather than providing a monologue about each building and its history, which can easily be found online, I have provided a selection of random quotes covering a wide range of perspectives relating to Islam to accompany the images. Some are more controversial than others and most apply to Islam generally rather than specifically Morocco..
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…)
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.