On a recent luxury journey through Morocco, A&K staff writer Bennett Neuhauser found a culture in the midst of transition buoyed by a tradition of inner beauty.
From the crenellated ramparts of its iconic kasbahs to the pastel colors of its desert landscapes, Morocco outwardly plays to certain expectations – a Muslim country with Moorish architecture, an arid land where herds of sheep roam painted hills, Berber men sipping coffee in cafés, women walking on roadsides in scarves and djellabas – all overlaid with the enduring influences of mid-20th-century French rule.
Yet, Morocco is far more than it first appears. Presided over by a progressive king who has opened the door to major reforms, Morocco is a Western-friendly nation with one foot anchored comfortably in the past and the other striding confidently into the future.
The Medieval Medina of Fez
After a first morning spent touring Casablanca and its massive Hassan II mosque, we boarded our spacious, air-conditioned motor coach for the drive to Fez. The next day, our small group of 18 ventured into the souks of its famed medina, to experience a cornucopia of sights, sounds and smells. We walked along narrow, uneven alleyways, with daylight filtering down from above high gray walls, enjoying up-close looks at tables heaped with spices, dried fruits, fresh fish or silk and leather garments. They’ve been selling goods and working metal by hand in the medina since medieval times, and today’s generation works in the same stalls their ancestors once did. And everywhere, there are cats, scrounging, prowling and sleeping – the mascots of the medina.
Centers of Faith and Learning
Led by our Resident Tour Director Mohamed Zahidi and his team, we were allowed to enter the Karaouine, the oldest continually operating university in the world. Founded in 859, virtually every surface of its quiet inner courtyard is decorated with highly detailed, delicately carved geometric patterns. Prohibited by their faith to use representational art such as icons, statues and paintings, Muslims employ geometric patterns to evoke spiritual meaning. Entering this graceful place that seemed hidden in the medina was like lifting the veil on an ancient culture that once kept outsiders at arm’s length.
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