Woman in Hijab Arch
Many of the arches of Islamic architecture echo the shape of the upper body of the human form. Here I have placed a face on that arch with this sketch in acrylics. There is an example of an arch below the painting.
Visits to the Casbah, the souks and the museums mentioned below, as well as the aromas and flavors of the cuisine, made me want to know more about the people of this land. The Berbers that founded the city of Marrakesh circa 1200 were members of that ancient ethnic nomadic group occupying many areas of North Africa. They were Christian under the Romans but converted to Islam with the Arab conquests. With the Arabs they formed what we came to call the Moors- thus not are not sub-Saharan Africans, contrary to some popular conceptions associated with the term ‘Moor.’ Today there are some 25 million Berber speakers in Morocco, Libya and Algeria, but the number of ethnic Berbers is greater as most now speak Arabic, constituting to this day the majority of the population of North Africa.
Their occupation of Spain, headquartered in Granada’s Alambra but covering nearly the entire peninsula, was the most northern permanent excursion of Islamic culture into Europe and it was through this expansion that Europe received the advanced knowledge possessed by these peoples at the time. It is in that epoch that the glory of Morocco and Islam resides, a glory that contains the extent of their innovations.
Both guides we employed told us that the people of Morroco are very tolerant. I can not tell if this is a tolerance founded in the nomadic past, its interpretation of the Koran or the result of, say, French liberalism or other source of humanistic philosophy, but the claim does seem to bear up under what scrutiny I was able to bring to the task. As I noted in my first post, there are no visible tensions between tradition and modernity when it comes to dress. Some women walked around in jeans and other in the hijab without active confrontations or shunning- some even walked together chatting. Men wore kaftans or western dress with equal comfort. These days Jews are actively encouraged to immigrate- most left after the formation of Israel and the last of them after the ’67 war, but Jews have a long history in the country.
As an example of tolerance at the edge, a lesbian woman was jailed but later released after an international outcry, for open affection with another woman. Elton John is being permitted to perform at a spiritual fest, the king saying what Elton does in private is his business, according to the Fes guide.
The King, yes there is one and he is an active ruler. His family claims of direct descent from Mohammed puts the the Sunni side up in this country.
After our guided tour of the souks in Marrakesh we visited two of the few local museums. One is in the Jardin Majorelle. It was founded by Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the gardens with his partner Pierre Bergé in 1964, later gifting it to Marrakesh,. The original owner was the landscape painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s. In the garden there are 300 species from five continents, along with various ponds laid out along the winding paths. The art deco style Musee Berbere that was Majorelle’s studio now contains an excellent collection of Berber arts and crafts. It is small but the collection is excellent. http://www.jardinmajorelle.com/. Note that vibrant blue paint on the exterior.
Also an excellent visit is the MACMA, a private museum that opened in February, 2016. The owner is Nabil El Mallouki. He dedicated the museum to Morocco’s artistic heritage with a 20th century focus on paintings, some by Moroccans, others by French or European painters. The museum captures what is exotic about Morocco, at least from a European viewpoint, with a collection of quality portraits, casual life and battle scenes.
There are two other private museums worth a visit. The Heritage Museum is in the narrow alleys that define the Marrakesh souk. At the desk we were met by a woman who is the daughter of the owners, the second we met was her sister and upstairs we met their mother. It’s a family affair, They are happy to share their collection with visitors. The museum is in the riad – a house built around an open courtyard – previously owned by the daughters’ deceased uncle filled with the family collection. There are Berber, Arab and Jewish items. The jewelry (a specialty of the Jews), clothing and furniture are delightfully displayed in the beautiful surroundings.
The rooftop cafe offers a fabulous view of the Medina, the souks hidden by the tall walls of the houses.
In a visit of about 10 days you can see what Marrakesh and Fez have to offer, including a side trip to Meknes, interesting enough if you have never seen Roman ruins before. The train between Marrakesh and Fez takes almost 8 hours. There is a sandwich cart in case you’ve not brought food with you, lots of desert countryside dotted with small structures and shepherds. Bring a book since you’ll probably want some diversion.
Modernity and tradition coexist in Marrakeesh albeit not without a least the occasional clash. Modern cars and buses abound. On the other hand deliveries in the Souk are sometimes done by mule, sometimes trotting rather swiftly through the narrow streets as scooters weave through even the most narrow of alleys, brushing you at times with whatever hangs out from their carts. Women covered from head to toe, a small percentage here, walk side by side chatting with those in jeans.
Past shops offering cheap Chinese imports you find traditional craft shops by the thousands, dwarfing any shopping zone I’ve ever seen by astronomical amounts (until we went to Fws). Leather. Who’s going to buy those thousands of leather purses? You pass by large piles of skins, prepared in the nearby tanneries, men standing in the dyes as they turn the hides, so you know there are more purses jackets, belts and shoes in the pipeline.
We passed a medical clinic on the way, all shiny and modern like the solar panel monitor displaying the roof panel outputs. Our guide -you need one or you’ll be forever lost in those nameless narrow alleys- took us to what he called a pharmacy. These, he claimed, they had clean pure products, unlike the open air stands he pooh poohed. A woman in a white coat offered a jillion natural products to us, an unsubstantiated health claim for each one.
Men kiss upon greeting but men and women don’t, although swear, I do m that I saw two couples doing just that on a park bench we passed on the way from the airport. In Rivat, the capital, two girls kissed in public and one -why just one or better yet why anyone – was arrested. Lesbian, let alone gay, is just too far into modernity I suppose.
It’s a fascinating beginning to our time in this modern Muslim nation.