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.
“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.
A contender for the most beautiful street in Meknes?
Link to a full Gallery of images here.
The low concrete dwelling was as white as the line of old tombs to its right, sepulchres built into the tall medina wall which formed one boundary of the old cemetery. A young boy emerged from the dwelling and approached me, his body appearing to lope rather than walk, his eyes cast mostly downwards. Another child emerged from the white dwelling and made her way towards us. In contrast she walked straight up to me, looked me in the eye, and in a moment of young feminine purpose extended her arm palm open, smiled disarmingly and asked me without any shame whatsoever for ‘l’argent’.
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.