samedi 24 novembre 2012

Volubilis and Moulay Idriss

An easy excursion from Meknes, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss embody much of Morocco's early history: Volubilis as its Roman provincial capital, Moulay Idriss in the creation of the country's first Arab dynasty. Their sites stand 4km apart, at either side of a deep and very fertile valley, about 30 km north of Meknes.
Marrakech Private Tour

dimanche 10 juillet 2011


Cut in two by the wide river valley of the Oued Boufekrane, MEKNES is a sprawling, prosperous provincial city. Monuments from its past - dominated by the extraordinary creations of Moulay Ismail justify a day's rambling exploration, as do the varied and busy souks of it Medina. In addition, the Ville Nouvelle is pleasant and easy to handle, and there is the appeal of Roman Volubilis, within easy short bus or taxi distance. To get the most out of the city's monuments and the atmosphere of the Medina and souks, it's best to visit before heading to Fes. Getting a grasp of Meknes prepares you a little for the drama of Fes, and it certainly helps give an idea of quality (and prices) for crafts shopping; visited second, it is inevitably a little disappointing by comparison.

samedi 29 janvier 2011

Tangier (Tanja, Tanger)

For the first half of this century TANGIER was one of the stylish resorts of the Mediterranean - an "International City" with its own laws and administration, plus an eclectic community of exiles, expatriates and refugees. It was home , at various times, to Spanish and Central European refugees; to Moroccan nationalists; and - drawn by loose tax laws and free-port status -to over seventy banks and 4000 companies, many of them dealing in currency transactions forbidden in their own countries. Writers also were attracted to the city : the American novelist Paul Bowles has lived in Tangier since the war, William Burroughs spent most of the 1950s here, and most of the Beats - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin and the rest -passed through. Tangier was also the world's first and most famous gay resort, a role it maintains to a smaller degree.
When Moroccan independence was gained in 1956, however, Tangier's special status was removed. Almost overnight, the finance and banking businesses shifted their operations to Spain and Switzerland. The expatriate communities dwindled, too, as the new national government imposed bureaucratic controls and instituted a "clean-up" of the city. Brothels -previously numbering almost a hundred-were banned, and in the early 1960s "The Great Scandal" erupted, sparked by a handful of pedophile convictions and escalating into a wholesale closure of the once outrageous gay bars.
These ghosts have left a slight air of decay about the city, still tangible in the older hotels and bars, despite a recent flurry of development and, especially, apartment building. There seems, too, a somewhat uncertain overall identity; a city that seems halfway to becoming a mainstream tourist resort - and an increasingly popular destination for holidaying Moroccans - yet which still retains hints of its dubious past amid the shambling 1930s architecture and style. It is, as already noted, a tricky place for first-time arrivals -hustling and mugging stories here should not be underestimated and the characters you run into at the port are as objectionable as any you'll find in Morocco but once you get the hang of it, Tangier is lively and very likeable, highly individual and with an enduring eccentricity.

El Jadida (Mazagan)

El JADIDA is a stylish and beautiful town, retaining the lanes and ramparts of an old Portuguese Medina. It was known as Mazagan under the Portuguese who held it from 1506 until 1769 when it was taken by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah. Moroccan Mazagan was renamed El Jadida - "The New" - after being resettled, partly with Jews from Azemmour, by the nineteenth-century Sultan Abd Er Rahman. Under the French, it grew into a quite sizeable administrative centre and a popular beach resort.
Today it's the beach that is undeniably the focal point. Moroccans from Casablanca an Marrakesh, even Tangier or Fes, come here in droves in summer, and, alongside this cosmopolitan mix, there's an unusual frenetic evening promenade and -as in Casa- Moroccan women are visible and active participants.

vendredi 28 janvier 2011

Some history Essaouira Mogador

with its dramatic sea bastions and fortifications, Essaouira seems a lot older than it is. Although a series of forts had been built here from the fifteenth century on, it was only in the 1760s that the town was established and the present circuit of walls constructed. It was known to European sailors and then trades - as Mogador, said to be a reference to the prominent Koubba of Sidi Mgdoul, used for navigating entry to the bay. Less likely is the legend that the town's patron saint was a Scotsman named McDougal who was shipwrecked here in the fourteenth century. To the Moroccans it was known as Seurah, from the Berber 'little picture'.
The work on the town's walls, which was completed in 1770, was ordered by the Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdalah, and carried out by a French captive architect, Theodore Cornut, which explains the town's unique blend of Moroccan Medina and French gird layout. The sultan's original intention was to provide a military port, as Agadir was in revolt at the time and Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdallah needed a local base. It lent itself superbly to the purpose, as its series of forts ensured complete protection for the bay. Soon, however, commercial concerns gained pre-eminence. During the nineteenth century, Mogador was the only Moroccan port south of Tangier that was open to European trade, and it prospered greatly on the privelege. Drawn by protected trade status, and a harbour free from customs duties, British merchants settled in the Kasbah quarter, and a large Jewish community in the Mellah, within the northeast ramparts.
Decline set in during the French Protectorate, with Marshal Lyautey's promotion of Casablanca. Anecdote has it that he arrived in Essaouira on a Saturday when the Jewish community was at prayer; he cast a single glance at the deserted streets and decided to shift the port of Casablanca further up the coast! The decline was accelerated after independence, by the exodus of the Jewish community. These days, however, the town is very much back on its feet, as a fishing port and market town, and especially with the recent impetus of tourism.

Casablanca (Casa, Dar El Baida)

The principal city of Morocco, and capital in all but administration, CASABLANCA (Dar El Baida in its literal Arabic form) is now the largest port of the Maghreb - and busier even than Marseilles, the city on which it was modelled by the French. Its development, from a town of 20,000 in 1906, has been astonishing but it was ruthlessly deliberate. when the French landed their forces here in 1907, and established their Protectorate five years later, Fes which was Morocco's commercial centre, and Tangier its main port. Had Tangier not been in international hands, this probably would have remained the case. However, the demands of an independent colonial administration forced the French to seek an entirely new base. Casa, at the heart of Maroc Utile, the country's most fertile zone and centre of its mineral deposits, was a natural choice.
Superficially, Casa is today much like any other large southern European city : a familiarity which makes it fairly easy to get your bearing and a revelation as you begin to understand something of its life. Arriving here from the south, or even from Fes or Tangier, most of the preconceptions you've been travelling round with will be happily shattered by the city's cosmopolitan beach clubs or by the almost total absence of the veil. But these "European" images shield what is substantially a first-generation city - and one still attracting considerable immigration from the countryside -and perhaps inevitably some of Morocco's most intense social problems.
Alongside its show of wealth and its prestige developments -most notably the vast Mosquée Hassan II, on a promontory looking out the Atlantic - the has had since its formation a reputation for extreme poverty, prostitution, crime, social unrest and the bidonvilles (shanty towns) which you will see both sides of the rail track as you approach Casablanca. The bidonville problem resulted partly from the sheer extent of population increases - which exceeded one million in the 1960s - and partly because few of the earlier migrants intended to stay permanently. Most of them sent back their earnings to their families in the country, intending to rejoin them permanently as soon as they had raised sufficient funds for a business at home.
the pattern is now much more towards permanent settlement, and this, together with a strict control of migration and limited number of self-help programmes, has eased and cleared many of the worst slums. Also, bidonville dwellers have been accorded increasing respect during recent years. They cannot be evicted if they have lived in a property over two years, and after ten years they acquire title to the land and building, which can be used as collateral at the bank for loans. The dread of every bidonville family is to be evicted and put in a high-rise block, which is regarded as the lowest of the low on the housing ladder.
The problem of a concentrated urban poor, however, is more enduring and represents, as it did for the French, an intermittent threat to government stability. Casa, through the 1940s and 1950s, was the main centre of anti-French rioting, and post-independence it was the city's working class which formed the base of Ben Barka's Socialist Party. There have been strikes here sporadically in subsequent decades, and on several occasions, most violenty in the food strikes of 1982, they have precipitated rioting whether Casa's development can be sustained, and the lot of its new migrants improved, must decide much of Morocco's future.

Essaouira (Mogador)

ESSAOUIRA is by popular acclaim Morocco's most likeable resort: an eighteenth-century town, enclosed by medieval-looking battlement, facing a cluster of rocky offshore islands, and trailed by a vast expanse of empty sands and dunes. Its whitewashed and blue-shuttered houses and colonnades, its wood workshops and art galleries, its boat-builders and sardine fishermen, its feathery Norfolk Island pines which only thrive in a pollution-free atmosphere: all provide a colourful and very pleasant backdrop to the beach. The life of the resort, too, is easy and uncomplicated, and very much in the image of the predominantly youthful Europeans and Marrakchis who come here on holiday; unlike Agadir, few of the visitors who stay here are on package tours.
Essaouira features in none but the most trendy brochures and upmarket TV travel programmes, and you will only be aware of packaged tourism at lunch-time when hungry coachloads from the four-star hotels in Marrakesh arrive. The seafront restaurants are best reserved for the evening meal.
Many of the foreign tourists, making their own way, are drawn by the wind, Known locally as the alizee, which can be a bit remorseless for sunbathing but creates much sough-after waves for surfing and windsurfing. In recent years, Essaouira has gained quite a reputation in this respect, promoting itself as "wind City, Africa" and hosting national and international surfing contests. This burgeoning population is , inevitably, changing the town's character; with villas springing up along the corniche, but as yet it's very far from spoilt. and remains a thoroughly enjoyable base to rest up after the big-city tension of Casa or Marrakesh.