We head out toward the freeway, remarking on the laundry that is hung out to dry from nearly every cinderblock apartment building, even from the 5th floor. "Perhaps they have washers but no dryers" I comment. I'll have to investigate that later. I note a Bayer office building, and one for IKEA.
Doug tells us that Morocco is an agricultural center of the Maghreb, and every crop grows here except for pistachios. We pass sugarcane fields, which we saw in stalls in the souks, being ground and sold as a beverage. Unlike Casablanca, where I only saw a couple of minarets, here they dot the landscape with regularity. They are always square (which I would learn later is a regional style) and always have a finial at the top, called a jamour, typically with 3 spheres which symbolize the sun, moon and stars.
After about an hour's drive, we arrive in Rabat, the political, administrative and financial capitol of Morocco, and the second largest metropolis behind Casablanca. It was founded in the 10th century near the Roman port of Sala, and became the capitol under the reign of Caliph Yacoub el-Mansour after his victory over Alfonso VIII at the Battle of Alarcos in 1195. After the caliph's death, the city declined for the next several centuries until being settled by the Moors who were expelled from Spain in 1610, and regaining its status as a capitol during the French occupation in 1912.
We park outside the medina and wind our way on foot through the covered alleys to our lodging for the night - the Dar El Kabira Riad. We walk through an unassuming wooden door and into a courtyard, 3 stories tall, covered at the top with a pyramid-shaped glass ceiling. It is astoundingly beautiful, filled with light, as well as a variety of furniture and artifacts. We are invited to sit down, and are offered glasses of tea while our passports are being. processed. I am admiring a very large set of carved double doors with large barrel locks, wondering where the door leads to. Soon, we are given our keys and are led to our rooms. I nearly fall over backwards when the door I have been admiring, turns out to be the door to my room ...
The room has the dimensions of a large shoebox, tipped on its side. The ceiling is at least 20 foot high, dark wood and beamed, with a single simple chandelier suspended from its center. There's a small round table to my left, holding a red velvet tagine filled with fresh fruit, and a bottle of water in an ornate cover, and a plate with a napkin and knife for the fruit, and a welcome note, rolled up and tied with a ribbon, that includes the WIFI password. The ambience of the room calls up the 1930's French occupation, with pastel ceramic light fixtures in the colors of Turner's Flamingos.
I check out the bathroom and find a sink that I have only seen in photographs. It's a finely painted blue and white porcelain basin with engraved brass fixtures, sunk in to a simple white wrought iron stand. There are toiletries here, which I grab to start reconstructing the kit that were lost with my luggage.
I almost don't want to leave, but we've been promised a remarkable sunset...
So we set out towards the waterfront, with old graveyards on either side of the roadway. I see a lighthouse towards the left, and the sand and rock beach appears to be a popular place for people to lounge around on, in spite of the chilly wind that has picked up. We are treated to plumes of water sent high into the air as waves crash into the breakwater, and a sun that turns the sky from pale blue to tones of Navaho pink and yellow. We hike back up the hill towards dinner, and I turn back every few steps to watch the sun's rays play out against the sky, which is in turn, turning the air to gold and the wall of the kasbah the most incredible shades of tawny red.
Dinner tonight is at the Dar Naji restaurant, where we sample our first classic Moroccan cuisine - a chickpea soup that tastes like the chorba I ate in Istanbul, served here with a small cinnamon bun soaked in honey, and a hard boiled egg that we were told to peel and break into the soup. Next was a plate of mezze - 10 different salads and relishes presented on a bed of romaine leaves.
Tea, served by a very talented waiter who poured a steady stream from a silver pot, held above his head, into the six glasses on a silver tray, which he rotated with his other hand. Dinner and a show! Bread, and tagines, and more tea and fruit for dessert.
I settle back into the low couches as the meal comes to an end, and Catherine remarks that my new striped caftan matches the cushions on the couch. I remark that I'm trying to fade into the scenery, so I don't have to leave. But after awhile I am found out, and we all make our exit back to the hotel to bolster reserves for our busy day tomorrow.
Breakfast the next day is on the rooftop terrace of the hotel. I note that the roof of the mosque behind the riad, is covered with crypts. After a breakfast of yogurt, fruit, breads and tea, I scurry up and down the stairs, trying to find the embroidered caftans that I can see hanging on the walls from the courtyard floor. The maids sound French, and are dressed in white shirts, pants and short aprons, with crisp white bonnets covering their hair. I can see them looking around the corners and giggling, and the manager of the hotel finally tells me that they are pleased to see a guest in traditional dress. "Tell them I lost all my clothes at the airport, and I am now dressing Moroccan." The hunt for an elusive floor continues until one of the maids leads me to -the other staircase- which gets me to the third floor and allows me to complete my quest.
Today we visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, a leader revered as the father of Moroccan Independence. Across the plaza is the Hassan Tower and Mosque, begun in 1195 and intended to be the largest mosque and minaret in the world. Its builder, Caliph Yacoub el-Mansour, started construction in 1196 but died 3 years later, and the mosque was never finished. It was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755, leaving only the unfinished minaret standing. In more modern history, this is where Mohammed V conducted the first Friday prayers after Morocco won its independence from the French in 1956.
Our next historical site is the Chellah Necropolis, dating to 1339 and built by Abou Yacoub Youssef as the site for a mosque and burial place for his wife. The outer wall was built sometime before 1351 by Sultan Abou Yacoub, possibly as a reconstruction of the original Roman walls.
The site became the burial place for the Merinid rulers, of which there are now at least 50 tombs. The site was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake that destroyed many historical sites in this region. It now houses over 70 storks in the biggest bird nests I have ever seen. Additional details are captured in my photo album, although I did not manage to capture the eel pond, where women come to feed eggs to the eels in hopes of conceiving children. You can pay a woman a dirham or two, and she will reach into her basket for a boiled egg, which she peels and feeds the whites to the eels, and the yolks to the cats who are already circling her ankles in anticipation of a treat.
We finish the day roaming around in the Kasbah of the Oadaias in Rabat, a 12th century fortification at the head of the medina, restored during the 17th-18th centuries. I did not expect to see blue-washed walls before arriving in Chefchaouen, but most of the alleys were blue at the bottom, white at the top, and led to private residences which looked out over the sea. I discovered a courtyard, and a door, which led down a series of stone steps to the ramparts and guard towers that guarded the Kasbah on its northern and eastern sides. We did not get into the museum or the gardens, but I hear they are highly recommended.
Next stop - the Blue City of Chefchaouen...