Friday, 26 April 2013

Random Colours and patterns of Morocco (Tangier)

Colours are present at every corner in Morocco. The simplest event is turned into an art exhibition or a poetic vignette by the association of soft or bright hues drawn from nature and everyday objects.

Touches of peach contrast with the greys of the intricate carved plaster work on the ceiling of the grand El Minzah Hotel in Tangier.

Soft pastels at the modest, quirky and so charming Chez Abdou beachside restaurant near Tangier.

Harmonious assortment of brights and lights of hand-knit wool caps at a weavers' shop at foundouk Chejra in the medina of Tangier.

The geometric design of reed parasols at L'Océan  Beach Club on the Atlantic Ocean near Tangier.

Similar colours and patterns on a Moroccan rug and a South African straw bowl in the living room.

                               Matching table cover and olives mounds at an outdoor village market in the north of Morocco.

The simple beauty of the blooms of a plumbago capensis climbing a blue facade.
Images: Joelle Desparmet

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Random Colours and Patterns of Morocco (Marrakech)

The colours and patterns of Morocco are an unending source of awe. From the spectacular mosques, riads and palaces to the most modest shop front or everyday objects, everything is painted, carved or sculpted in a range of soft pastels and minimalist motifs to ultra bright tones and intricate patterns and everything in between.

The side of the minaret of this small mosque in the medina of Marrakech is an example of a beautiful mix of colours, carving and shapes. 
And as always the amazing depth of the Moroccan summer sky.

A similar soft palette on the entrance of a government building.

Shelves have received a coat of primary colours and await their final painted design in a shop in the medina.

The train station in Marrakesh boasts striking patterned granit floors (my toes decided to sneak into the photo)....

...perfectly geometric tile work on columns ...

...and the delicate calligraphy of these zellij tiles on the walls.

The breathtaking wrought iron and glass front entrance of the train station.
Images: Joelle Desparmet

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The ancient city of Fes

Fes (or Fez) is the medieval capital of Morocco and was once its commercial and financial centre. It is situated in the north of Morocco and has the best preserved old city in the Arab world. Called the medina Fes el Bali, it is sprawled out over a huge area but its small streets are barely wide enough for pedestrians let alone cars, so everything is delivered by man drawn carts, motorbikes and donkeys.

The medina is contained inside high walls dating back centuries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest commercial car-free area in the world.

One of the royal Palaces. The architecture typical of Fes with stone, plaster and painted wood elements. The doors are solid brass and beautifully carved.

The Chouwara tannery. Leather tanning and dyeing is done in this particular part of the medina of Fes. Men spend their days going from hole to hole dyeing the pelts. The smell of animal skin mixed with tanning brine is often overpowering and mint branches are offered by locals to tourists so they can stand the stench.

Pottery is the other main production of Fes. The dried pottery and tiles are hand painted and fired in special round kilns such as the one below.

The tiles or pots are stacked in the top part and the wood fire stoked at the bottom. It takes hours to fire up the kiln and even longer to cool it down.

We stayed at the "Riad des Vingt Jasmins" (The Twenty Jasmine Riad) named after these massive jasmine bushes. The delicious smell of jasmine was a joy after the strong odours of the tannery.

The Twenty Jasmine Riad is a typical Fes house with large rooms surrounding a central patio. This house, while very large, is attached to other houses on three sides ( the fourth being the small garden above) so it has almost no windows to the outside and all the light come from the glass ceiling of the patio onto which all rooms open. The Moroccan home is very private and strangers must not be able to see inside except by invitation.

Unlike Marrakech where it seldom rains and temperatures are clement, the central patios of Fes houses are often closed at the top with glass. This upward view of the indoor patio at "Les Vingt Jasmins" is a marvellous example of wood, plaster and wrought-iron work. The rooms and corridors get light from the windows opening onto the patio.

The intricate tile work and lovely detail of a hand carved radiator cover, a rather recent concession to modern comfort. Winters in Fes can be very harsh and these large house are not easily heated.

Magnificent brick, stone and carved wood facade in the medina. Originally the intricate transoms would have held a long thin roof to shelter the window from the rain and wind.

The entrance to the Al Qarawiyyin mosque, one of the oldest in Morocco. It was recently entirely renovated but non-muslims are not allowed in so we could only peek in from the alley. The floor tile colours are an antique Fes motif. Note the marble fountains, the chiselled plaster surround at the centre and the enamelled dark green roof tiles typical of Fes.

This small museum (as well as the jasmine plants) is in need of some attention but it has a rare collection of antique rugs, chests and leather goods on display. The open patio has fountains alternating with tiled flower beds. One can see what a splendid palace it must have been: the blue and white column capitals, the beautiful tile work, the high ceiling above the arched terrace.

Images: Joelle Desparmet, Riad des Vingt Jasmins, Linda de Volder

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The World Heritage Site of Volubilis

South of Fes and Meknes in the north of Morocco are the breathtaking ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis.

The archeological site of Volubilis is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was founded in the third century B.C. and became a Roman outpost. While it looks rather small from the hill above, it is actually quite large and has extremely well preserved mosaics.

One of the ancient doors to the fortified city and the main street lined with partial building facades. You can almost imagine Ben Hur's Hollywood rival riding up the road on his chariot to get to the arena on time for the famous race.

Beautiful mosaic with its colours enhanced by the rain. Mosaics were the floor tiles of wealthy Romans.They were made with small pieces of coloured glass, stone or metals. Romans chose the motifs to tell a story or represent family members, gods, famous or mythical people or everyday scenes much like one now use carpets with sports team logos or wood floors with inlaid designs.

In Volubilis, the houses were built of stone, some had their own baths, a luxury in those days and all had mosaics as floor coverings.

If you are in that area, you must see Volubilis. It gives you a rare opportunity to be transported back in time when ancient Romans lived there. You will walk inside the house walls through that door on the right and imagine being entertained in the open mosaic covered atrium, then walking to the temple...

...or to the public baths like the ones below. Going to the "thermes" was as much a social as a sanitary outing. There were cold baths, steam bath and areas to relax with friends afterwards. There were also  massage and exercise rooms. Sounds like our modern spas?
Water was brought from the nearby river via an aqueduc, was then distributed to houses through canals that ran under the streets and was heated by wood burning "stoves" much like the Hammams (steam bath) of today.

Images: Joelle Desparmet, Unesco, Pinterest

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Shopping in Tangier (2)

Boutique Majid is an exceptional antique shop in the medina of Tangier. It offers authentic one-of-a-kind antiques from Morocco, saharan and sub-saharan Africa where the owner, Majid, travels tirelessly to find new marvels for his shop. Things are not cheap but worth every penny. Majid began working when he was fourteen years old and after a few different jobs he opened a small antique shop which grew into the three story treasure trove it is today. 
He is a handsome jovial man with quick wit and a keen eye for quality, authenticity and uniqueness. 

This is what a well known travel magazine said about him:
-Travel & Leisure Magazine, Feb '99
"As a kid in the late 60's Abedelmajid Rais El Fenni earned five dirhams a night emptying ashtrays at Barbara Hutton's parties. Today his Boutique Majid is one of the top antique shops not just in Tangier, but in all of Morocco.
When El Fenni crows, 'I've got the finest, most extensive collection of antique textiles in the country', no one challenges him. Mountains of beautifully rehabilitated brocades, lush velvets, humble checks, and ticking stripes, Muslim wedding sheets, and elaborate floral crochet work fill his well-tended atmospheric shop.
 Bowles* goes jelly-kneed over a 19th century felted cashmere caftan in raspberry with plum trim, 'So Schiaparelli, don't you think?' Berber jewelry of coral, silver, and fragrant hand polished amber is another of Majid's specialties."

*Paul Bowles, the american composer and writer of "The sheltering sky" who lived in Tangier from 1947 until his death in1999.

The shop is an eclectic mix of textiles, jewelry, leather goods, pottery, carpets and furniture.

                                                                    Detail of a blanket with wool tassels.

                                                                       Wool embroidery on a leather camel cushion.

A carved and painted door from sub-saharan Africa and a traditional painted "door-within-a-door" found in ryads, houses with central opened courtyards.

Most of Majid's textiles are antiques.

This magnificent silk wedding caftan is embroidered with silk and gold thread and is from the 19th century. It is part of Majid's private collection and not for sale...

...but others are available in opulent brocades and rich sequinned silks.

A coin and metal button studded leather pouch.

         Details of the carved and painted latticework of a moucharabieh, a window that traditionally protruded from a second floor to enable one to look toward the street in both directions without being seen.

Everywhere in the shop lamps hang from the glass roof that brings light into the lower floors of the shop.

A 19th century felt covered chest with brass nail design.

Antique pottery from sub-saharan Africa.

What I really go to see at Majid's is the incredibly beautiful jewelry. Amber and silver, turquoise, coral and bone make up striking necklaces. 

Silver, amber and coral tied with wool.

Magnificent turquoise, shell, amber and bone.

If you go to Tangier one day, plan to spend a whole afternoon there to see all three floors of Majid's magical "den of antiquities". You will sip mint tea while he regales you with tales of his travels and, who knows, you may just give in and buy that beautiful necklace or carpet you have been swooning over for the last three hours. Majid will never pressure you to buy. He does not need to.

Photos: Majid, Joelle Desparmet (sorry, some photos were shot with my iPhone with less than adequate focusing)

Monday, 1 April 2013

LA PAUSE: a "camp" near Marrakesh

Another "find" in Morocco.

Go see this blog for a wonderful side trip thirty kilometres from Marrakech: Through the French eye of design: LA PAUSE: a "camp" near Marrakesh
It is a great example of the surprises Morocco holds for the savvy traveller who is willing to stray from the usual sites.