Sunday, 12 June 2016

The North Of Morocco: Imperial Cities, Roman Ruins, The Blue City & The Mediterranean Coast

3 nights in Fez provided plenty of time to explore the bustling medina, pottery factories and tanneries for which this ancient imperial city is so well known. The ceramics, above are all made in Fez, which is the centre of the Moroccan pottery industry. The tiled tables on the right and the fountain above them, are made of many small hand made mosaic tiles. The house numbers in the centre of the photo are made by carving a fully glazed tile.

The picture on the left shows goat hides drying having been unhaired, degreased and soaked. In the centre are hands of Fatima, a powerful talisman of good luck, Fatima being the youngest daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. 

Several of Fez's tanneries are being gentrified which will hopefully benefit the health of the tannery workers and help the surrounding environment. The tannery in the picture above uses natural dyes. 

Below shows pottery being painted with intricate designs before being glazed. In the centre are tagines, of which there are no shortage of in Morocco!

Our visit to Fez coincided with the World Sacred Musical Festival, a yearly event which draws artists from all around the world. Below shows a performance by the Algerian Raï singer Reda Taliani in Place Boujloud. Although originally from Algeria, Raï is a popular musical style in Morocco and the crowd knew all the words - it was a lively evening!

Meknes is the least visited of Morocco's 4 imperial cities, and was the capital under Moulay Ismail, the second ruler of Morocco's Alaouite dynasty. Below is a photo of Alice in the royal stables Moulay Ismail built in Meknes, which are thought to have held 12,000 horses, with a groom and slave for each horse. A canal providing fresh water ran underneath the stables, whilst the granary stored enough grain for the horses to last 20 years. The granary had a reservoir beneath it, with thick walls and a forest on the roof to keep the grain stored in ideal conditions. 

Below on the left is a shot of Meknes's impressive Zelllij tiling; in the centre the beautiful riad we stayed in; and on the right inside the royal stables. 

A short drive from Meknes brought us to the town of Moulay Idriss, named after Moulay Idriss I, who is credited with bringing Islam to Morocco in 789AD. His vast mausoleum, in the centre of the photo below, is an important Islamic pilgrimage site, and 6 pilgrimages here are said to equal one Hajj to Mecca. 

Above shows some examples of Zellij tile work in Moulay Idriss.

A short drive from the town brought us to Volublis, a Berber then Roman city set amongst fertile agricultural land. It was originally the capital of Mauretania, a Berber kingdom from the 3rd century BC, and later became a province of the Roman Empire, which corresponded to the Mediterranean coast of modern day Morocco.

Volublis is thought to have been home to 20,000 inhabitants at its peak, and predominantly involved in olive and grain production. 

Many impressive mosaic floors have survived, such as these examples shown below. 

After the Romans left Volublis the site is thought to have been inhabited until the 14th century, then falling into disrepair as it was ransacked to provide materials to build Meknes. Volubilis was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1755, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Below, Alice samples the Solarium! 

A stunning drive north brought us to Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains - no prizes for guessing why it's called 'The Blue City'! It was originally built as a fortress to fight Portuguese invasions.

Many woolen products are produced in Chefchaouen, including blankets, as well as rugs as shown in the photo below. We could have used a few more of these ourselves with the cool weather in the mountains!

Many of us went trekking in the Rif Mountains close by, though Ian and Rowan thought the cafe was a better bet!

Another beautiful drive took us across to the Atlantic coast and the town of Asilah. It was initially a Phoenician trading base from around 1500BC, before becoming a Portuguese outpost, a base for pirates in the 18th and 19th centuries, and later part of Spanish Morocco.

Asilah has many striking murals - as shown below - and hosts an annual mural painting festival.

Our last day of the trip (and the end of our season of trips) saw us drive to Tangier, a melting pot of many different cultures over the centuries located at the entry to the Straits of Gibraltar. Close by is Hercules' Cace, where the Greeks believed that Hercules slept before attempting 1 of his 12 labours. Those of us who'd journeyed all the way north from Accra, Ghana over the past 4 months slept just as well as he must have done!

Above, from left to right, is a picture of John, our waiter, Ida, Ian, Alice, Rowan, Jase and Will.

The medina in Tangier is alot smaller than in other Moroccan cities we visited. The sea front was formerly a busy port, but this has declined in recent years with the construction of a new modern port out of town, leaving a relaxed area to wonder around.

After a great last night of the trip and long farewells, Al, Jase and Aminah left on the long drive back to the UK. They made smooth progress for 2 nights in Spain and 1 night in France, but neither the night ferry from Ceuta to Algeciras nor the European motorways made for particularly good photos!

The shots above and below were taken on the ferry from Calais to Dover on the final leg of the journey. The smoke in the photo above is coming from the encampment of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers near Calais port. We read in the newspaper on the ferry that we'd travelled through France during a large strike - with the media reporting a 'national shutdown' - but it seemed much like business as usual to us!

Back in the UK at last - Aminah cruises up the M20 in Kent. She's looking forward to a well deserved rest over the summer, having carried us almost without incident since September 2015!

Many thanks to all of the overlanders who've travelled with us over the past 8 months - some truly fantastic people to have shared the journey with. 

Bookings for next season are coming in thick and fast, with good numbers on all of our trips already. We're very much looking forward to being back on the road in October!

Many thanks to Alice, Ian, Ida, Fed, JP John for letting us use their photos, much appreciated!