Walter Harris, the adventurer and author, in his 19th century travelogue ‘The Land of an African Sultan: Travels in Morocco’, described Ouezzane as “the most fanatical town that Europeans may visit”. Things may have become less frenetic since his comments, though there is no doubting the Sufi heritage and spiritual sufferance that continues to exist there.
Sufism is a form of mystical and aesthetic Islam, where adherents strive to become close to god through a series of rituals, practices and experiences which slightly differ according to the brotherhood or Sufi order belonged to. It is considered to encourage a more personalised and intimate relationship with Allah. Some brotherhoods have a traditional healing role. The Sharifs of Ouezzane are one of the most prestigious and influential of all the brotherhoods; they are considered direct descendants of Mohamed. The town, its many saints and shrines, has long been one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in Morocco both for Muslims and for Jews.
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.
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.