Thursday, March 25, 2010

MOROCCO TRIP - Day One - Casablanca to Fes.

OK get yourselves comfortable, this is going to be a long one!
We are back from our trip to Morocco and my diligent husband is getting our many hundreds of photos sorted into files and categories so I have absolutely no more excuses to not start blogging about our fantastic trip.
Having arrived in Casablanca late at night after 22 hours of travel, we were met by our driver Brahim and our guide Said and taken to our hotel where we fell into an exhausted sleep.

Next morning, day one, we awoke to the hurly-burly of downtown Casablanca which I have to say is much the same as any other African city I have ever visited - grimy, rough, tough and rather daunting to a non-resident.

Brahim and Said came and collected us from the hotel and we drove down to the seafront. It is funny, it doesn't matter where you go, the Atlantic Ocean always looks the same - fierce and foamy! After a breakfast of coffee, almond croissant and orange juice (this did used to be a French colony after all!) our first destination was the Hassan II Grand Mosque.

It is amongst the largest in the world and the minaret is the tallest religious structure in the world. We were supposed to get a tour inside but it was a Friday (the most important day in the Muslim week) so we couldn't go in. Not that we really minded, it was plenty impressive enough from the outside and we were both more than happy to be walking around outdoors having spent the previous day in a plane.

It was a truly magnificent structure with amazing details of carving and mosaics seeming to cover almost every available inch. It was rather overcast but I can only imagine how much more spectacular it would look in bright sunlight.

I, of course, was quite delighted to find various pairs of kestrels in residence around the numerous nooks and alcoves of the building and with my new high zoom camera I was able to get a picture too.

We then headed out of Casablanca to Rabat which is the current capital of Morocco. This city had a far less frenetic feel to it, helped of course by the fact that the sun decided to shine for us!
Here we visited the mausoleum of Muhammed 5th and Hassan 2nd.

We walked into a very large courtyard type area which had rows of broken columns that were originally a huge mosque which was destroyed by a violent earthquake in 1755. There was an ancient tower where the distinctive call to prayer was echoing out around the neighbourhood.
People were beginning to arrive to a new mosque which had been built next to the mausoleum.

On either side of the courtyard were two gateways which were guarded by mounted soldiers with very fancy uniforms. After checking with our guide we were told that these were some of the few uniformed men that we were actually allowed to photograph!

Quite right too as they looked great!

After leaving this site we drove on to Meknes. This is one of the imperial cities of Morocco. A rather wicked sultan called Moulay Ishmail ruled this area with an iron fist at one time and during his reign was responsible for executing countless thousands of citizens and keeping their ears as souvenirs. Of course my question is - what does one do with thousands of human ears!?
After lunch we went to see 'bad-ass Ishmails' mausoleum.

It is one of the few shrines in Morocco that non-Muslims can actually enter.

And once again we were overwhelmed with the detail and artistry of the decor.
On the road once again we had one more stop to make before arriving in Fes. The ancient Roman city of Volubilis. This is the largest and most well preserved Roman ruin in Morocco and a Unesco world heritage site.

It was very impressive with many columns still standing

and numerous almost intact mosaics still on the floors.

It's pretty amazing that it has survived so well as there were numerous herds of sheep wandering around the perimeter and every so often they would leap over the walls into the ruins!

The icing on the cake for me was the white stork that had carefully built its nest right on top of one of the columns.

From Volubilis we hit the road again for the final leg of the drive to Fes.
We checked into the Riad Elamine our accommodation for the next two nights. Riads are quite extraordinary structures. You walk down a narrow, dirty little alleyway with windowless walls either side of you until you come to a door in the wall. When you step through the door you enter an entirely different world.
The distinguishing feature of a riad being the open courtyard inside where traditionally the women would have spent most of their 'outdoor' time as they were not supposed to leave the home. Hmmmmmmmmmm!!

Many of these traditional riads have now been converted into beautiful mini hotels. Unfortunately for us our riad was located towards the bottom of the hill that the city was built on and because of the recent heavy rains the drains were not coping too well so the bathrooms had a rather sewage-like aroma that took a bit of getting used to! But hey - it looks good!

After another long day we were more than happy to settle into our room for the night.

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick V

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