My Moroccan Adventure- a photo essay

Every country has a word that can be used to describe it. For example, Spain is passionate, India is colourful and Morocco…well, it’s unique. For a small country sitting on the western edge of Africa, Morocco offers plenty to keep your senses busy and happy. But it’s not just that. It’s the fact that anything that you will encounter in Morocco, you’ll be hard pressed to find it elsewhere in the world. Be it the type of architecture, the mouthwatering tajines and couscous, the cosy djelaba gown or the famed argan oil, Morocco just does things differently, and that is what makes it more alluring to its visitors. Oh, and did I mention the huge variety of stunning landscapes that are also on offer? If you’re asking me whether you should go to Morocco, well I’m asking you, why the hell haven’t you been yet?

Landscape

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Morocco offers stunning landscape to wander around. It has nice beaches too, but they were not a part of my itinerary. Clockwise from left: outside Ifrane;  sunset in Sahara desert; on the way to Merzouga; farming land near Volubilis; Skoura valley with date palm oasis; Tizi N’Tichka pass (highest motorable pass in Morocco)

Architecture

Mosques, madressas (Islamic schools), mausoleums

Mosques, madressa and mausoleums play an integral role in Morocco’s religious life and it is no wonder that Moroccans have traditionally invested a lot of effort in designing these spaces. The mosques range from very old and historic to very new; very grand to  very humble. Mosques usually stand on their own, although madressas and mausoleums can also feature a mosque within their compound. 

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Religion and architecture (clockwise from left): the famous Hassan II mosque, Casablanca; women’s section of mosque beside mausoleum of Mohammed V, Rabat; the inside of men’s section of a mosque at a highway restaurant; a village mosque; the famous Koutubia mosque, Marrakech
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Religion and architecture (clockwise from left): mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes; the famous Qarawayyin mosque, Fes; madressa in Chellah, Rabat; mausoleum of Mohammed V, Rabat; madressa Attarine, Fes; madressa Bou Inania, Meknes

Rural

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Rural- scape: Humble housing in villages. Houses are made of sun-hardened mud bricks, then additional mud is plastered over to increase durability.

Kasbah

Kasbah means either a fortified house or a village. Kasbahs are a reminder of Morocco’s rich history when different dynasties competed for power. The design of kasbahs placed more emphasis on practicality than aesthetics. Kasbahs provided protection against various adverse elements, such as an outside enemy, severe weather, and drought. 

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Kasbah living (clockwise from left): Kasbah Amridil (fortified house); Kasbah Amridil from inside; the oldest kasbah in Morocco; Ait Benhaddou (fortified village)- the site of filming of many movies such as Gladiator and Game of Thrones.
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Kasbah living: Kasbah Oudaia (fortified village), Rabat. 

The inside of this kasbah stores a very nice surprise once you walk in. The old, stoic exterior gives way to refreshingly chic interior and is a great example of Moroccan culture infused with European influence. These photos do not do justice to how beautiful a walk down the meandering lanes of this kasbah really is. 

Palaces

The Royal Palace of Fes, or Dar-el Makhzem, is a 17th century palace that is still used as the residence of the royal family when they are in the city. As a consequence, the palace is off limits to public. 

The word ‘bahia’ in Marrakech’s Bahia Palace means beautiful in Arabic. It was built by Morocco’s grand vizier Si Moussa in 1860s, although additional features were added by his slave (who later made himself the vizier) Abu Bou Ahmed.This final version of the palace was supposed to house Ahmed’s four wives and 24 concubines. 

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Palaces of Morocco (clockwise from left): Stunning brass door handle at the Royal Palace, Fes; Royal Palace in Fes (entry is not permitted inside); brass gate in full glory; Bahia Palace, Marrakech; ornate detailing on Bahia Palace’s exterior
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Bahia Palace, Marrakech
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Bahia Palace, Marrakech. Clockwise second photo from left: Riad, or courtyard, of the palace. A ‘riad’also means garden, greenery, or richness in Arabic and Saudi Arabia’s capital ‘Riyadh’ takes its name from this particular term.

Funduqs (Caravanserais)

A funduq was another type of ancient building frequently found in Morocco. It was used as a commercial as well as a residential property by merchants visiting a city. The bottom floor functioned as a store whereas the upper floors were reserved as residential quarters.

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The Nejjarine Complex (Funduq), Fes
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The Nejjarine Complex (Funduq), Fes

Throughout Morocco, the most stunning and unique examples of buildings I came across were from the Marinid dynasty. The Marinids were a Berber dynasty that ruled from 12th to 14th century in Morocco. Their buildings are distinguished with elaborate carvings in plaster, zellij (tilework) and generous use of cedar wood. The amalgamation results in a resplendent form of architecture that is unlike anything I have ever witnessed. 

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Madressa Bou Inania, Meknes
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Carvings in plaster are utilised lavishly, not just in Marinid architecture but even in buildings proceeding that period. 
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Exquisite cedar wood carving
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Madressa Al-Attarine, Fes
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Food

The mainstay of Moroccan cuisine is couscous and tagine, and they come in a lot of variety. Do try their harissa (chilli sauce), harira (chickpea soup), pastilla (sweet-savoury pie), and camel meat. FYI if you are a vegetarian, you will not be let down by the local cuisine. Moroccans are not raging meat eaters, despite popular belief. This is mainly due to the cost of meat being high and the average family size still being large by many people’s standards (around 5 children!)

Try these drinks: mint tea, nous nous coffee (means half coffee, half milk), avocado-orange juice, Hawaii® tropical juice (commercial drink with soda), panache tropical juice (freshly made fruit juice in restaurants)

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Morocco Feed (clockwise from left): vegetarian couscous; vegetarian appetisers spread; chicken pastilla; berber eggs; standard breakfast fare; harira (chickpea soup); chicken tagine. Centre image: camel meat burger
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Morocco Feed (clockwise from left): Homemade harissa paste (red chillies, lemon, garlic) from a Berber family in M’Goun Valley; mint tea; Hawaii tropical drink; street food with panache tropical drink on extreme left at Djmaa el Fnaa, Marrakech; cactus fruit (another street delight); orange-avo juice

Medinah and souqs 

Medinah refers to the old part of a city and souq is a market, which is commonly found inside a medinah. A stroll through the souq can be quite an experience, which will feel like a sensory explosion. A souq sells all sorts of things that are required in everyday Moroccan life- clothes, food, groceries, accessories, home items, you name it. However, each craft has its own section inside a souq, such as the brassware section, the leather section, the ceramic section etc. There are convoluted little maze-like lanes in which you can get blissfully lost (or frustratingly lost if you have less time on hands). You will get persistent shopkeepers calling you out in Arabic or French to look at their wares and if you decide to go in, there will be plenty of haggling involved. 

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Souq inside Fes medinah
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Souq inside Meknes medinah
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Souq inside Marrakech medinah