More Medina, this time to walk a looong ways into its interior to see their superlative
Kairaouine Madrassa, Mosque (biggest in Africa) and University. This was established in 859 and may be the oldest university in the world, although I think I’ve heard that said about others, too. Unfortunately non-Muslims may not enter so one can only photograph it, peeking in at the gate—even then, pretty impressive.
I also saw Madrassa el-Attarine, the Zawiya Moulay Idriss mosque and the Place as-Seffarine where the metal workers make wonderful pieces.
Then a trip to the leather tanneries was a bit underwhelming. I was shown postcard pictures with many bright colors of dyes filling the pits where they dye the leather, but today there wasn’t much color. I had been escorted up many stairways by a man with a leather shop (fair enough) to view the tanneries. He gave me a sprig of mint because of the bad smells. I didn’t find the smell bad (I grew up on a farm) nor did I buy any leather goods from my escort—sorry. Still, Moroccan leather is world famous and so the tanneries were worth seeing.
After all of this in two or three hours, I had to go back to my hostel and rest. Not only is it a lot of walking (up and down hill, too) but one has to be so alert all the time, plus your senses are assaulted (in a good way) every second by something that demands your attention. Twice I saw people drinking out of a drinking water vessel with its common cup. It’s really fun to just poke about and see what one can see. A waist high bronze camel was for sale—wouldn’t that be fun to take home?!
That evening I attended another of the Sufi Music Festival doings—this time there was a group from Istanbul. There were three instrumentalists, seven singers, three drummers and four dancers. These are the ‘Whirling Dervishes’ although they whirl kind of slowly. Still, the dizziness eventually puts them in a trance, which for them is a religious experience. Without understanding the subtleties of the music and dance, 45 minutes seemed enough.
The Jewish Quarter—the Fez el-Jdid—was established in the 14th C as a refuge for Jews. They were protected by the sultan, and repaid him by fighting for him. The architecture is so different from the rest of the Medina, with their wooden balconies overlooking the street. Then on the way there and back, I could see a number of storks flying around the ancient walls.
A group of American students were staying at the hostel and Sunday evening they celebrated somebody’s birthday. The proprietor of the hostel invited me earlier; I only stayed a short time, but as I was reading in bed, I was treated to lovely music with singing, guitar and bongo drums. There seems to be a lot of students from many countries here in Morocco for a ‘foreign experience.’ A few nights earlier a group came through and one of the girls was from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN—my alma mater.
Moving on from Fez (and I really loved that city) I got a bus to Meknes and then a grande taxi to the small hill town of Moulay Idriss, named for a great-grandson of Mohammed. Again there was beautiful scenery all the way. Moulay Idriss was lovely and gave me a chance to see Moroccans au natural. However, since it is built on a hill, there was lots of up, up climbing to do with my pack, which left me plumb tuckered. Then my dorm was on the third floor of the hotel, with a Terrasse on the fourth floor, so all in all, I had a devil of a workout! But what lovely accommodations! Each bed had an electric blanket and a comfy duvet. We must be at quite an elevation here—it is cool and windy.
The (included) breakfast was delicious: a carafe of coffee, a carafe of hot milk, a banana, three kinds of bread, and a bowl of each of butter, jam, olives, dates, sugar cubes, and olive oil. It’s a good thing I’ve had lots of exercise! This fortified me to see the town—the Mausoleum, whose green roof shows from the panoramic views, and the pretty entrance—non-Muslims cannot enter. I also climbed and climbed to see the only round minaret in Morocco and then repaired to the main plaza for a mint tea and people-watching.
Clearly Moulay Idriss runs on donkey power—they are everywhere, carrying everything and everyone!
Today I hiked out of town for an hour to visit Volubilis, an old Roman ruin. Luckily for most of the way it was downhill. The ruins were quite extensive, first settled by the Carthaginian traders in the 3rd C. BCE. Rome took over in 40 AD and most of the structures remaining were built in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. There were arches, fountains, olive presses, mosaic floors, columns—one with a mother stork and two babies—toilets, and remains of many other buildings. The Romans pulled out in about 280 AD, but Berbers, Jews, Syrians and Greeks continued to live here and speak Latin (!) until Islam arrived in about the 8th C. The city was inhabited until the 18th century when there was a strong earthquake and its marble was plundered for palaces in Meknes. The wind that we had been having for two days had finally abated and so the weather was perfect for my outing.
What goes down must come up—luckily I managed to snag a taxi for the return trip to Moulay Idriss. By this time my feet had had enough! I had a lamb tajine for dinner followed by a restful tea with mint on the main plaza, all the while admiring this lovely little town.
Tomorrow I shall move on to Meknes.