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.
‘Saints’ in Morocco have a very different interpretation than those in Europe. In Morocco saints can be ordinary people who had a lifetime of ‘doing good’. Saints can be either rich or poor, educated or uneducated, employed or unemployed, living within a home or homeless. They are considered to have ‘ lights of guidance because of the blessings that Allah showered upon them’.
The whole notion of wandering saints in Morocco fascinated me when I first visited Morocco. A vision of marabouts walking the countryside, giving solace to the poor and medicinal aid to the unwell, and then eventually dying and having a tomb built over their resting place was intriguing. Further reading, predominantly Realm of the Saint : Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism by Vincent J Cornell has replaced that idea with a more accurate picture of what the evidence suggests; Moroccan ‘saints’ had a spiritual role, that of “substitute of the prophets” (known as walaya), though not entirely representative of traditional Islamic interpretation . Their other role comprised that of political and local ‘fixers’ (wilaya), settling disputes and often representing the poor against rapacious Shas and tribal chiefs, treading a delicate line between influencing powerful landowners and doing what was possible for the disadvantaged.
Many were fortunate enough to travel and enjoy a good education, spending time either in el Andalus or the wider Islamic community, before returning and living a life of relative isolation, though often within a Sufi social and spiritual framework of a specific community. Rarely did they ‘wander’ across Morocco. (more…)
A small gallery of photographs from Marrakech featuring people in the composition. (more…)