Castles Made of Sand Revisited : Dar Soltane

Castles Made of Sand Revisited : Dar Soltane

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.

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Castles Made of Sand : Jimi Hendrix in Essaouira

Castles Made of Sand : Jimi Hendrix in Essaouira

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.

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Sidi Ouasmine  :  The Sultan of Regraga

Sidi Ouasmine : The Sultan of Regraga

The annual pilgrimage around the locality of Essaouira every spring is called ‘ Regraga’,  a name which also describes the group of Chorfa ( a darija word denoting noble religious leaders descending from the Prophet Mohamed otherwise known as Sharif )  who make the pilgrimage annually.

The Regragas originate from Chiadma,  a region located on the Atlantic coast between Safi and Essaouira in the south of Morocco.  They are the descendants of the saint apostles of Islam who,  legend suggest, learnt the new religion of Islam on a visit to Mecca.  Here they were told by the Prophet to spread Islam to the Maghreb.  Every spring (March-April) the descendants carry out a pilgrimage which lasts 39 days and visits 44 sacred places in the region. Pilgrims visit a series of local shrines, from the mouth of the Tensift river south of Safi to the northern outskirts of the High Atlas, including the city of Essaouira .

The Pilgrimage contains two groups;  one group stops at every shrine on the way where they build a holy tent of palm fibres which is then dyed with henna.  The other group arrives in procession with a moqadem (religious leader) riding a white horse.

The Daour  (tour) of Regraga starts in the zaouia of Sidi Abdellah ou Hmad in Akermoud and concludes in Sidi Messaoud Boutritiche  in the town of Had Dra .

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I Am He Who I Love

I Am He Who I Love

I Am He Whom I Love

 I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I:
 We are two spirits dwelling in one body.
 If thou seest me,  thou seest Him,
 And if thou seest Him, thou seest us both.
 
Hussein Ibn Mansur Al Hallaj

On the bus recently from Casablanca I was fortunate to sit next to a teacher of English from Safi,  a Portuguese coastal city in between Casablanca and Essaouira.  Of the diverse topics we discussed,  perhaps the most interesting was the subject of the current dichotomy in Moroccan society regarding the relevance of traditional superstitious beliefs in comparison with the irresistible march of science and rationality.

Chama was definitely of the belief that the old traditions have had their day,  and that Morocco must continue its progress towards modernity.  I think she considered my interest in Jinn possession and the Sufi co-fraternities  ( Gnaoua,  Hamadcha and Aissouia )  practicing different forms of healing in sacred religious/magical ways with incredulity.

Morocco was for the modern,  with a linear curve heading directly towards an erudite, cosmopolitan and definitely 21st century society.  The traditions were for yesterday.

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