10 June 2012

Behind the T-walls: Morocco part 1, "The Garden and the Mederssa"

In April/May, I went on my second short-leave to Morocco. I had an overnight stopover in Istanbul on the way, which allowed me to aimlessly wander on a sunny afternoon through Taksim square, and satisfy my needs for shopping. It was quite a long trip for such a short vacation (only about a week), but it was nice enough, despite the unseasonably cold weather in Morocco. Being that it was already about 100 degrees in Iraq, and I find that I'm quite well-suited to the high temps (so far, anyway), I thought I would freeze to death in the 65 degree weather. BRRR!

I had little interest in staying in or seeing much of Casablanca, so the morning after landing, we boarded a train for Marrakech. The trains looked pretty old on the outside, but I thought that they looked pretty charming, actually. I was told to definitely pay extra for first class, which I did, and was glad for. It was clean and comfortable, and someone even came round with food from a trolley, though I'd already bought snacks from the the snack shop at the station.

on the train in my "traveling hat."

On arrival in Marrakech, our hosts from the Riad met us at Dar-el Bacha, and we walked the narrow and crowded streets to where we would be staying. We were met with fresh mint tea and traditional pastries...all delicious!

Here's a view of the interior of the Riad. It was located in the medina, and once through the door, like an oasis of orange and lemon trees, fresh cut roses in the fountain, and lots of light in the atrium.

Does anyone know the name of this painting? I know it's pretty famous, and part of Moroccan history, but I just can't remember the name or the artist!

There were two places I really liked touring while there: the Mederssa Ben Youssef, and the Jardin Majorelle. The Mederssa was once the largest Islamic College Morocco, and housing nearly 900 students at its peak, one of the largest in all of North Africa.

Me inside one of the student rooms. 

On the patio at the Mederssa.

The school was founded during the 14th century Marinid period, by sultan Abu al-Hassan, and tied to the nearby Ben Youssef Mosque. There is a large patio in the center, with many detailed carvings in cedar, surrounded by the student rooms. 

Cedar and Marble carvings in geometric and Qu'ranic inscriptions.

In addition to the cedar carvings, you can also find many intricate marble carvings. As is custom in Islam, none of the carvings depict humans or animals, but are instead very beautiful geometric patterns, and inscriptions from the holy Qur'an. 

Walking around inside the student rooms, I found a guy who was chipping away at pieces of the tiles, and engraving them with letters. I would have really loved to have first initial in my chosen Arabic name (ع ) put onto it, but judging by his tools, I suffered with a simple "L."

After leaving the Maderssa, I met a nice man in a Michigan sweatshirt who sold shoes. Bought three pair from his shop. I liked this guy's shop, mostly because I could see them making the shoes in the shop next door. He also had many kittens around. As much as I would have loved to take one home, I unfortunately, don't have a 'home' to keep a kitten these days.

Next stop: Jardin Majorelle! Since Wikipedia can put it better than I can in terms of an intro, here's a bit of history on the gardens: "Majorelle was the son of the Art Nouveau ébéniste of Nancy, Louis Majorelle. Though Majorelle's gentlemanly orientalist watercolors are largely forgotten today (many are preserved in the villa's collection), the gardens he created is his creative masterpiece. The special shade of bold cobalt blue which he used extensively in the garden and its buildings is named after him, bleu Majorelle—Majorelle Blue."
 You see there, that the gardens are located on Rue Yves Saint Laurent? Yes, that YSL, one of the most famous designers in fashion history. He was bought the gardens in 1980, and when not in New York or Paris, spent a great deal of time in his villa in Morocco. After his death in 2008, his ashes were scattered throughout the gardens. I think the place is quite beautiful, and probably a fitting resting place for him.

There were loads of cacti and also bougainvillea in more colors than I thought possible, plus hybrid colors as the plants mixed with one another.

Majorelle Blue and a beautiful Pergola

Next up: Moroccan Food!

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