Margaret Hasani led our Moroccan Discovery tour in 2019. During these gloomy days, she often reflects on her experience by reimagining the country's vibrant colors.
These last few months since March have felt gloomy for many reasons. This situation has not been helped at all by the beige interior walls of my house, with which I find myself spending a great deal of time these days. I am looking forward, with hope, to a time when we can travel beyond our neighborhood grocery stores again, and in the meantime, memories and photos of adventures taken are adding bright splashes of color to my days.
In November 2019, my husband and I were lucky enough to assist in leading a tour to the most colorful place I have visited: Morocco. We spent 2 weeks traveling all over the country from the capital city of Rabat, to historic Fez, to desert Erfoud, to bustling Marrakech, and back to seaside Casablanca, meeting all manner of people, tasting incredible dishes, exploring maze-like medinas, experiencing dramatic landscapes, admiring the work of local artisans, and learning about the complex cultural history of this beautiful country. My memories of this trip are alive with vibrant color.
Red - The historic tanneries of Fez
During our visit to the city of Fez, we encountered many artisans in the historic medina, from carpet weavers, to ceramics workshops, to the famous leather tanneries. The Chouara (Tanners’ Quarter) has been producing leather products in much the same way since its founding in the 11th century. After undergoing a soaking and softening process in the white vats, the hides are dyed, often still using natural pigments: henna for orange, mint for green, saffron for yellow, indigo for blue, and poppy flowers for the bright red in the vats pictured.
Yellow - Preserved lemon
Moroccon cuisine is perhaps most famous - and rightly so! - for the tagine, a type of stew cooked in the eponymous distinctively-shaped conical covered dish, and served over couscous. We tasted many types of tagines during our trip, but my favorite contained an ingredient that was new to me - preserved lemon! Tangy, sour, and sweet-preserved lemon is the flavor of sunshiney yellow made incarnate, and it added a bright note to the dishes in which it was featured.
Indigo - Traditional Amazigh clothing
The term Amazigh (also commonly “Berber,” though that term is not preferred) encompasses many diverse cultural groups across Morocco and much of the North African region, each with distinct dialects, customs, and traditional clothing. When we crossed the Atlas Mountains into the desert regions in the southeast of the country, we met people who were a part of traditionally nomadic groups that live in the desert regions of Morocco, Algeria, and other neighboring countries. The clothing represented above is typical of the Tuareg, also known as the “Indigo People” due to the indigo dye they use on some of their traditional clothing and headscarves.
White - The Jewish Cemetery of Fez
While 99% of Morocco’s current population identifies as Sunni Muslim, there has been a Jewish community in Morocco since antiquity. While certain ruling dynasties imposed strictures on the Jewish community, others welcomed Jews expelled from surrounding areas, particularly from Spain after 1492. When Fez was founded, a Jewish community settled and thrived there, serving as a base for rabbis to travel throughout the country. While the Jewish population in Morocco has diminished, they are an important part of the country’s cultural history, and their communities have left an indelible mark on the landscape of Fez El-Jadid (New Fez) including the peaceful and beautiful cemetery we visited with its distinctive white tombstones.
Green - Tiled roofs and minarets of Morocco’s mosques
As one can imagine we visited several extraordinary mosques in the cities of Morocco, but two that stand out are the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca with their green tiled roofs and intricate green tile work of their soaring minarets. Construction of the Koutoubia Mosque was started in 1147, with a second structure replacing the first (possibly to correct an alignment with Mecca) in 1158, and the final work being completed around 1195. It’s an important example of typical Moroccan mosque architecture. Built much later with construction completed in 1993, the Mosque of Hassan II is an awe-inspiring sight. One of the largest religious structures in the world, the indoor prayer hall is able to accommodate 25,000 people (about 80,000 more can worship in the courtyard). With two-thirds of its structure built over the sea, its towering (656ft) green minaret with its laser beam pointing toward Mecca is sometimes called the Lighthouse of Islam.
Orange - Sunset in the Erg Chebbi Dunes
The striking Erg Chebbi Dunes rise out of the stark rocky desert landscape near Morocco’s southeastern border with Algeria. Our camel ride through the dunes at sunset was undoubtedly the highlight of the entire trip. The towering dunes glowed in the light of the setting sun as we rocked back and forth on the backs of our camels. The magical evening culminated in a traditional meal, music, and dancing under the stars on the sand.
Our visit to Morocco was a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, filled with rich experiences and unforgettable adventures. To create your own colorful memories, consider traveling on our Moroccan Discovery tour February 28 - March 13, 2021.