A gaggle of older men in djellabas were sitting outside of the main entrance into the zaouia of Moulay Abdel Hussein, the grandfather of Moulay Brahim who’s tomb and zaouia resides a little further south in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. Both grandfather and grandson and their zaouias, play significant roles in a ritual which forms part of the living history of the Sidna Bilal Gnaoua brotherhood; a history which is primarily contained in the very music and rituals it performs.
Disparate images from the vicinity of the harbour in Essaouira
Dar Soltane ( the Sultan’s House built in the late 18th century ) is an impressive ruin in the sand dunes south of Essaouira. It was once the home of the sultan of Morocco, Sidi Mohamed III Ben Abdallah al Qatib.
I initially considered including some of the photographs below in a recent blog post ( here ) regarding the legend of Jimi Hendrix. Legend incorrectly suggests he was inspired by Dar Soltane to write his song Castles Made of Sand . However because of the interesting history of the palace in its own right I decided to document the photographs in a separate posting.
The ruins are very easily reached by taking a bus from Essaouira to Diabat, then walking along the sandy road which leads directly to them. I approached by walking along the beach from Essaouira, past the horses and camel rides, over dunes and a small lagoon and as far as a little lighthouse looking out over the ocean. Then I cut inland to the ruins which had been visible for a considerable time.
First impressions, as the great walls struggle out of the suffocating sand and thickets of bushes and trees, are that the ruins are extremely evocative and must have been magnificent when first constructed. I have managed to find something of a history online which I have translated and reproduced below together with some photographs.
I had lunch today in the old Jewish Mellah in Essaouira, in a restaurant converted on the second ( top ) floor of a former Talmud Torah, or Jewish primary school. On the ground floor the building had been converted into a Day Hospital for people suffering with Alzheimers Disease, the first floor was now a creche and the top floor, with a large terrace area, was the children’s playground and the small restaurant.
The walls of the terrace had been painted with animals and symbols, in common with many if not all schools I have seen in Morocco. An old circular table where the intricate zellige tiles were crumbling was of interest and the three-legged chair beside it also attracted my attention, as well as the symbolic drawings behind it. Beside the play area the restaurant was light and airy, with stunning views over the old Mellah city walls to the crashing surf of the Atlantic ocean. It was a stormy day, with gusting wind and heavy rain, and the surging waves flew into the rocks and spray went everywhere.
Talmud Torah schools were conventionally for poor boys; no fees were paid. It was unusual for girls to receive a free education so subsequently it was rare for girls to receive any education. Boys started by learning the Hebrew alphabet, and then learnt spelling. Following this they were taught Perasa, the beginning of the Bible, then the Nebiim and the Kitubim; the Prophets and the written Law. Designed only to provide basic education, the primary school education stopped there, and those who wished to pursue further education were required to pay for the privilege. However following this, the boys had some notion of Jewish history; they knew the Hebrew alphabet, but didn’t know Hebrew. Their major language skills depended upon the locality where they lived. If children lived close to ports then Spanish was the most common; whereas in the other cities of the interior, Arabic was spoken with a very distinctive accent. They used their Hebrew alphabet to write in Hebrew characters and in Spanish or Arabic, depending on the language they spoke.
As I ate I saw that a large part of the dilapidated Mellah had recently been fenced off and large new signs and posters provided plans for its regeneration, a decade or more since redevelopment had originally been mooted. I had not been in this building before; its views were spectacular. I wondered how old it was and when it had been converted. There was no information available.
Some photographs of the terrace and restaurant follow below, between paragraphs of an article providing a first hand and contemporaneous account of the expulsion of Jews, following those from Andalucia in 1483, from other parts of Spain in 1492 and their subsequent difficult journeys.
Taken from the Internet Jewish History Sourcebook, a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts, it was written in Hebrew by an Italian Jew in 1495.
One of the most important things to appreciate about Morocco is to regard legends and traditions with caution. Moroccans are born story tellers and some may welcome association with historical figures or events; embellishing stories and history is not unusual.
Jimi Hendrix, one of a number of famous western musicians who have visited Essaouira, flew into Casablanca in 1969 and spent 11 days in Morocco, which included some time in Essaouira. He travelled around Morocco by limousine and a chauffeur, and stayed in 3 different hotels, including “Hotel des Iles” in Essaouira, the most luxurious accommodation in the town at the time.
Rather than portraying each zaouia as a separate blog entry I have decided to present them in groups. Here are zaouias I have visited over the last week or so. They are located in the vicinity of Akermoud and Telmest, almost the furthest that the bus travels north of Morocco. I am quite restricted by the bus times and must take the lighting conditions as I find them.
These are traditionally near the beginning of the Regraga pilgrimage; Sidi Bou Ali is the second zaouia to be visited in the Daour.