Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Hols - Morocco Imperial Cities

The longest time I normally don't spend cycling, excepting accidents, is when we have our family summer holiday. The timing of which is governed by school holidays, exam results and one or two other things that have cropped up this year. Consequently we were very late booking anywhere to visit. Personally I like to visit somewhere I have not been before and would rather not chill out on a beach all of the time. I had suggested Borneo, but that choice was vetoed by my wife and daughter - they did not want the hassle of long flights and mosquitoes.

By chance we saw a TV program (Masterchef) that featured an episode where the competitors were cooking a meal in a place in Morocco. So we decided to go there and our travel agent put a suggestion together and with very little research that is where we ended up.

As it turned out it was perhaps hotter than we might have chosen but we had a great time, both in terms of learning about a different culture and also getting an historical perspective. We also got used to the heat and I am now finding it slightly chilly back in England.

Although I did not do any cycling I did take quite a few pictures whilst away - around 2000. Here is a small selection starting with a Brocken Spectre - although this does not have a shadow of the plane in it. They are actually fairly commonly seen when flying. They are more interesting when seen from a mountain as the observers shadow can be seen in the middle - like a spectre. I have a picture of my son and I forming a "angel" like shadow on such a rain "circle" bow viewed from the top of Wayna Picchu - whilst looking down on Machu Picchu in Peru.


We travelled around a bit and started in Casablanca. All the Moroccans we met were very friendly and all commented on how all the religions peacefully co-exist in the country. The country is a Muslim country and so there are many Mosques to be seen dotted around. In Casablanca is the world's third largest Mosque - Mosque Hassan II with the world's largest Minaret at 210m. It can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside and a further 80,000 outside. It also features a roof that opens, as it was when we visited. Normally non-Muslims cannot go inside a Mosque - however the King of Morocco has decreed that this one should be open to non-Muslims, so we were able to look inside. (Such an approach exemplifies the feeling of hospitality.)


The Mosque is built on reclaimed land and half of the surface lies over the Atlantic sea, inspired for religious reasons. Here is a picture taken from inside looking out towards the sea.


The doors are magnificent and and made from Titanium and brass to avoid the rusting effects of the nearby sea.


After Casablanca we visited Fes a city dating back to around 789. There we visited a clay/Mosaic works. This guy seems used to being photographed without it putting him off.


They also produce all sorts of other pottery - here a pot is being hand-painted. We bought a trademark pot - the Tagine.


I liked the mauve colour on these teapots.


In the Medina we were staying in there was a tannery. They gave out sprigs of mint to mask the smell. It was an incredibly hot day where the leather was being worked. The smell was pretty bad.


The city walls in Morocco seem to have survived in many cases - here the wall is behind the ramparts. A minaret can be seen on the left.


We then visited a city called Meknes - at one time ruled by a a Sultan with 500 sons and countless daughters. Here is a lake where his many wives and concubines were able to stroll.


One thing I had not thought about was the existence of Roman Ruins. We visited Volubilis - which featured as a case study part of the syllabus in my daughter's History GSCE exam this year. The Romans created healthy cities - due to the provision of underground sewage drains (cloaca maximus - main drain!) and water "pumped" around.


One aspect of Morocco was the high levels of agriculture. Apart from the ground being browner there were many hay stacks around, almost like England. There were also lots of olive tree plantations. The olives were delicious


There is a stork nest on the top of the column in the distance.


The Mausoleum of King Mohammed V is in Rabat. It is sited on the opposite side of Hassan Tower, the site of a Mosque that was not completed. The Minaret was supposed to be twice as high and has a ramp inside so that the Muezzin could climb the tower more easily by riding a horse. In fact the tower was not finished it was supposed to be twice as high. Nowadays they have loudspeakers in the tower so that the Muezzin no longer needs to climb the minarets.


Also in Rabat a Medina with distinct blue and white walls. The blue was believed to help reduce the number of mosquitoes and and the white helps to reduce the heat inside the buildings. When the focus is on the inside the of the dwelling and not on the view then it does not matter that there is no external view and of course the houses can be built very close together.


This Medina had rich and poor, local and foreign inhabitants. Here is the front door of one of the richer inhabitants.


Before we caught the train to Marrakesh we had a drink at a cafe near the railway station. The service is perhaps a little slower then a cafe here in the UK, however these is no hassle to keep buying things - people seem to stop and chat for ages with one cup of mint tea.


Marrakesh was not my cup of tea - it was very touristy. The main square had monkey tamers, snake tamers, henna painters and so on. They were there to extract your money. Mind you we did look around parts of the old town. We visited a bakery, it was dark so the baker ended up as a blur. Some chap grabbed a loaf and stood by my wife so I took a picture - then he wanted paying for it. I don't mind such things providing it is clear up front. We did not have such problems elsewhere in Morocco, only in Marrakesh.


There must be a lot of babies being delivered in Morocco - these are all storks.


After the mayhem of Marrakesh we ended up at Sir Richard Branson's place - Kasbah Tamadot (Breeze castle in Berber). It was a great place to chill after the touring.


The village across the valley from the Kasbah - they trained staff from here rather than ship them in from Marrakesh in order to benefit the local community more.


Opposites - the Berber village seen from the Infinity pool.


On the way back to London I saw these interesting fields.


It turned out that there had been strikes, fortunately were not really affected - we had a charter plane instead of the scheduled one. We talked to other passengers who had been delayed in Morocco though.

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