Sunday, 30 March 2008

On Holiday

My blog has been on holiday while I have been showing Morocco to my nephews, in between having to work. For my nephews, this is their first trip outside Australia so it has been an experience in so many ways. It started with the long 30 hour flight here, then the taxi trip from the airport instantly reminded them that they were no longer in Australia. Then there is the difference in dress, mosques not churches, crazy drivers and driving, different food such as tagines and couscous and then there is the language, French and Arabic with only occasional English spoken. But just in case they are feeling homesick, there are eucalyptus trees everywhere plus wattles blooming in gold. Even on the train trip today, one commented that we could have been travelling through Victoria's Mallee. Here's a couple of photos of what they have experienced. I will include more details about specific places and activities in the days following.
Returning from a Sahara desert camel trip

Hiking in the High Atlas mountains (amongst the snow)!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Tour Hassan, Rabat

Yesterday I visited Tour Hassan for probably the sixth time, this time with 70 thirteen and fourteen year old music students who were visiting from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Tour Hassan is a place I love going back to as it has great views over Rabat and Sale and incredible craftsmanship in the Mausoleum of Mohammed V.

Tour Hassan, or the Hassan Tower, refers to the 44 metre high unfinished minaret that was to be the highest in the Muslim world when it was begun in 1195. Both the minaret and mosque were to remain unfinished due to the death of Yacoub al-Mansour, the ruler at the time. The mosque itself was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 that also caused so much damage to Lisbon. Besides the minaret, all that remains today are the mosque pillars.

Adjoining the mosque ruins, is the more recently constructed Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the grandfather of the present king, Mohammed VI. Completed in 1971, this ornate marble structure has interior walls covered in zellij where tiny tiles are combined into mosaics that form intricate geometric patterns. Above the domed ceiling has ornately carved wood with coloured glass inserts. Whilst admiring all the wonderful decoration, it is worthwhile looking down onto the onyx tomb of Mohammed V in the centre of the room, while off to the side is his son, the previous king, Hassan II.

Outside are stunning zellij fountains, huge ornate metal doors and giant mosque lamps.

While guarding the entrances are red and green clad guards on horses. The changing of the guards ceremony occurs roughly every hour as it cannot be easy for the horses to stand in one spot for that length of time, even though they have sand pits in which to stand. Additional guards stand at each of the four entrances to the mausoleum and at each of the four corners inside the mausoleum.

Bouregreg Development

Rabat is situated on the south side of the Bouregreg River where it enters the Atlantic Ocean. Its twin city, and more conservative city, Sale is opposite on the northern bank of the river. Sale was once home to the Sale Rovers, a feared group of pirates who roamed the seas as far north as Iceland from the 16th to 19th centuries. Their booty included gold and people, who often then got sold into slavery.

Not long after I arrived in January 2006, the craftsman huts and shops and the grain market that bordered the river bank on the Rabat side were knocked down for redevelopment of the Bouregreg. With money from the Middle East, it is being turned into an area of glitzy shops, expensive hotels, fancy restaurants and even a marina for the expected expensive boats. It is certainly not being developed for the every day Moroccans. Here is how the marina looked yesterday, with the white buildings of Sale in the background.

On the Rabat side a promenade already follows the river edge. Paved footpaths bordered by tall palms link Tour Hassan to the Kasbah and Oudaya. It certainly is a pleasant area for pedestrians to walk along during the day or evening.

Hopefully the small, colourful wooden boats that once took people back and forth across the river will be able to continue to ply their trade. At present the drop-off point on the Sale side is far from buildings and the town itself because of all the earth works and reclaimed land.

It will be interesting to see what the end result is.