Friday, 31 May 2013

The ocean-side city of Asilah

Asilah is a fishing port and seaside resort about 50 kilometres from Tangier. It boasts an historic medina within fortified walls. 
For a small city, Asilah has quite a past:
The Phoenicians used it as a base for trade in 1500 BC. The romans came along for a while and the Portuguese conquered it in 1471, then abandoned it for economical reasons. It was taken by the Moroccans a hundred years later and was used as a base for pirates in the 19th century. From 1912 to 1956 when Morocco became independent, it was under Spanish "protectorate". 
The old city, known as a medina, underwent major renovations in 1978 and it is now in pristine condition.

The medina is surrounded by ramparts and is a car-free zone. In winter the town is almost empty, yet far from feeling abandoned, it looks serene and reclusive in a lovely way.

These photos taken in early Spring demonstrate the peaceful atmosphere of the town in the off-season. All you hear are the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the occasional call to prayer.

A young man walks gingerly down one of the alleys of the medina with a tray of bread dough balanced on his head. Few people have ovens of their own and the women knead bread daily at home, then take it to small commercial ovens to be baked and retrieve it when it's done.

A mother walks her small child home. I imagine them chatting about this and that, mother adapting her gait to her tot's tiny steps the way a mother and child do anywhere in the world.

Neighbours exchange opinions at the foot of the ancient Portuguese-era tower on the main square. The tower and the ramparts were built at the beginning of the 15th century and are still in excellent condition six centuries later.

The city is on the Atlantic Ocean seen here from the Mirage Hotel half way to Asilah from Tangier. The beach is almost deserted but there are big plans for the construction of major resorts and hotels all along the coast as was done on the mediterranean coast of Morocco. What a transformation that will be.

When the mural-painting festival rolls around in the spring, artists arrive from every part of Morocco to paint the walls and the city fills up with tourists eager to see what marvels the walls of Asilah will bear. (see a previous post: The painted walls of Morocco)

The layout...

The result: stunning!

The murals stay there until they are painted over by other artists the following year.

Images: Joelle Desparmet, Upgulf, pinterest

Friday, 24 May 2013

Colours and patterns of Morocco (pink Marrakech)

In Morocco, the predominant colour of a city is its signature: Tangier is a white city because most houses are painted with lye. Chefchaouen, the blue city, is painted with a mixture of indigo and lye in water; Fez is mostly ocher coloured and Marrakesh is orangy pink because the reddish clay found in that area is mixed with straw to make pisé, a sort of adobe used in outer walls of houses and in the making of bricks. 
That may be why many buildings are painted in reddish pink even when not made of pisé.

A striped rosy wall, a painter's interpretation of the horizontal rows of dark brick/light mortar walls typical of the Marrakech area.

A pale celadon door in a soft pink wall that has seen better days.

Pink facades along a narrow alley in the medina.

A beige pink softens the starkness of a dead-end.

A medieval looking workshop front in faded pink in the medina.

A downward view into a tiled Riad housing the Museum of Photography .

The pastel minaret from the upper terrace of Riad Awa, a lovely guest house on the edge of the medina where we stay when in Marrakech.

Images: Joelle Desparmet, Pinterest

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The old splendour of Tangier

The cities of Morocco are studies in architecture: the old and the new, the contemporary and the ancient, the purely moor and the colonial French or Spanish. Tangier is no different.
In some neighbourhoods of Tangier one is transported to Nice, Madrid or Paris. These old buildings date from the beginning of the 20th century. Some are occupied and well maintained, others are weatherbeaten and in need of some renovation, others still are abandoned. They were left behind by families who had been established in Tangier for generations and who left in the 40's and 50's.

It is said that some abandoned houses belonged to jewish families who went away thinking they might return and just locked the door behind them. They never came back and left behind lovely houses which cannot be sold as there is no owner to sell them. I would love to get my hands on this one and restore it to its original beauty. I can just imagine lounging on the upper terrace staring at the fabulous spectacle of the sun setting on the glittering sea.

A cement-blocked door in a gabled entryway, the lonely remnant of what was once someone's home.

A lovely metal grate garage door reminiscent of the 1950's "modernisation" of Tangier .

Some buildings are maintained somewhat and hark back to a time when Tangier was an international hub of hip culture, intrigue and carefree living sought out by westerners in search of adventure and thrills of all sorts.

Some buildings have been extensively restored. Villa Léon l'Africain was recently refurbished by Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent's long time partner.

In this before photo, the facade had intricate moulding and was painted in bright yellow...

...a front porch with elegant columns was added and the sunny colour softened.

Villa Léon l'Africain is a typical colonial house built in 1910 and was the home of Richard Timwell from 1967 when he retired from his work at Sotheby's. The grounds were freshened by a well known landscaper and boast many rare tropical plants and palm trees a reminder of Pierre Bergé's influence on the design of the gardens of Villa Majorelle in Marrakech.

Images: Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart, Joelle Desparmet and unknown