360 Video of the exterior of the Hassan II Mosque, Marrakech
One of my favorite parts of traveling is seeing awe inspiring ancient structures that make you say “Wow how did they build that in 2000 B.C.E.” or “Wow how many poor builders died falling off those buttresses”. The Hassan II Mosque is one of these monuments with an imposing tower that seems to break the clouds and green tiling that makes it shimmer and match the ocean that breaks against its North side. Its carvings are magnificent and its arches make you feel ant-esque (not to be mistaken with aunt-esque). What breaks its façade of perfection like a small child to a gingerbread house is that it was built in 1993 as basically a tourist attraction. As the king was getting older (and I assume going through his 3 or 4th life crisis) and was faced with the impossible darkness of death (as we all are), he decided he wanted to build a huge mosque as a structure to exemplify Moroccan beauty. Frankly, I think that he could have fulfilled his legacy with a time capsule planted in 5th grade (as I have done) but if I could build the 13th largest mosque in the world I probably would. Ironically, countless tourists visit the Hassan II mosque and view it as an exemplar of mosque-ness, yet it is very un-mosque like. Just as the TSA is sort of performance security the mosque seemed like a performance of Islam and Islamic architecture pandering to the tourists with their Pentax’s stuck in auto. The mosque is organized in a very western style so that it the qibla (direction of prayer) is oriented the long way so that people pray in thin lines down the mosque instead of a wider rectangle closer to the qibla (like a traditional mosque). The theme of three (something that appears endlessly in Christian architecture to represent the holy trinity) is repeated over and over in the mosque from the prayer rows to the tri-opening widows, to how the wall arches in the center isle. The Mosque also butchers classical Islamic architecture. For example, the muqarnas (which are an ancient form of vaulting or supporting domes that is typically found in Islamic architecture) are not used to actually support the dome of the mosque but instead are like oddly geometric, too sugary frosting dripping down a birthday cake. The mosque is still an amazing feat of architecture, but it reinforces our stereotypes and provides us with the familiar and what we can agree with. This is at the least just sort of a sad misrepresentation but at worst can re-affirm our own ignorance.
The markets of Marrakesh are filled with surprises. As we made our way through the labyrinth-like alleyways, our senses were overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of smells and sounds coming from each stall. Compressed against one another, the wicker baskets overflowing with spices lead into an ornamental display of leather goods gently swinging in the breeze. Each shop has its own distinct personality, created by the individual shop owner. Many alleys give way into even smaller, more winding pathways, leading to endless new discoveries. What seemed like an inconspicuous blue door on the curb of a meat shop, turned out to be a henna tattoo café that had a wonderful display of artwork for sale. Upon further inquiry, all of the proceeds from sales of the artwork and henna designs go to local charities.
The center of the market was where the majority of food stalls and 3 story cafes were located. A line of small benches and outdoor cooking spaces transformed into a long line of outdoor food vendors as the sun set on Marrakesh. Alexis, Amanda, Dale, Anna and I all found a lovely woman named Handi whose mother was the chef at their small unassuming stall. The entire place was packed and it was hard to squeeze into one of the narrow benches as a group of five. The struggle to manage a seat was well worth it once we began to order our food. A sweet older man came and gave us each a large round loaf of bread followed by a spicy red sauce that we were meant to use as a dipping sauce. This was then followed by an array of seafood that was unbelievably fresh and perfectly seasoned. We were all extremely pleased to have encountered such a lovely place to eat our dinner. The smoke coming from Handi’s mothers industrial size oven blew past our table and was met by the smoke of every other stall uniformly lined next to one another. Our stay in Marrakesh was off to a wonderful start.
Camels are perhaps the weirdest animals I have ever seen. The romanticism of riding a camel as the sun shoots over the dunes projecting a shadow in the rolling sand like Lotte Reiningers shadow puppets, while still pretty darn romantic, is only slightly detracted from by the wild yet somehow simultaneously apathetic face of the camels. They are pug-beautiful; looking at them is painful yet somehow your heart leaps and you feel like you should name them and take them home with you. I named mine Desmond. Like great explorers, the students of the Ross School were shepherded (like camels perhaps) into a line and one by one placed upon the hump of a camel. The camel would then stand up and assume its true form of a lankly teenager who hasn’t grown into his body and who’s legs look too skinny for his torso. Meanwhile the courageous camel-rider would grip the saddle grasp with white knuckles and think “if I can barely stay on the camel as it gets up how long am I going to last when it starts walking” or “Wow camels are pretty tall, falling is going to hurt”. We then proceeded to be guided through the “great and dangerous” expanse of desert to our camp by the camel keepers who were all dressed in traditional, colorful Berber garb and reminded me of a Tintin book. They grabbed the rope tethered to the camel’s mouth and we slowly bounced up and down on the camels hump into the desert. As the sun began to set, it created a chiaroscuro of light along the rivets in the sand and the soreness in my legs disappeared with the light because who has time for sore legs when you are riding a camel through the desert in Morocco.
Reflection from day 2 in Casablanca. We are once again in Casablanca, tomorrow saying goodbye to Morocco.
The sun generously beams down luminescent rays upon our group. We continue on into our second day in Morocco. We are in the city of Rabat, preparing ourselves for the adventures to come. Jet lag is visible as we stumble onto the leather-seated bus, one heavy foot followed by another. The engine rumbles signaling to us that the day has now begun. Off we go! We arrive at our first monument of the day called Challa: ruins of a river port that once was. It was constructed by Muslim’s in the 1st century A.D. and again by Romans in the 14th century A.D. Storks now occupy these beautiful ancient ruins which also make for even more aesthetically pleasing photographs. The birds lay in massive nests, resting upon the worn down fragments of the river port. In addition to the storks, the river port is now home to many upon many of cats—those of which are very friendly. Not only is Rabat’s diverse historical past visible through the monument but even through the cats themselves. The felines are mysterious and most positively come from an ancient decent. Next stop is to Hassan Tower. Hassan Tower is a minaret of an incomplete mosque. The mosque was never completed because the architect who was commissioned to build the mosque died; however, the city decided to keep the columns that were built to support the structure. In addition to these columns that are impressive within themselves, there lies a shrine opposite the mosque that sits upon a staircase, both made out of marble. When I place my camera at the bottom of the marble steps on the opposite side of the intricate turquoise gate, it makes for a very interesting composition. It turns me into a chameleon, allowing me to discretely photograph people walking around the area. Not only does it help me capture the shots I desire, it makes for an aesthetically pleasing photograph. The angle is interesting— it’s an angle I’ve never played with before. I continue experimenting with different angles as the day moves forward. We arrive at the circus school and the gentlemen who runs the organization welcomes us to come inside the tent to view the performers rehearsal. The level of flexibility, endurance and strength on display is truly astonishing. The acrobats contort into shapes unimaginable to most—it’s shows true dedication. Natural light ceases to penetrate through the circus tent. The little artificial light inside the tent illuminates the acrobats in the most mysterious and romantic way. The dim fluorescent color brings out their seemingly perfect physique producing the ideal setting for both photography and film. My eyelids are peeled open as I watch them in action: dancing, acting, climbing, twirling, preforming. I’m unable to look away from the performance aside from the occasional glimpse into the viewfinder of my camera. I cannot look away—they are exceptional! The rehearsal ends and we’re now walking to a larger tent to meet the “mini acrobats”. By this I’m referring to the local children of Rabat who come here to train and hopefully make it into the circus. I watch the kids mimic the actions I previously witnessed on stage. The older performers are beyond helpful, patiently working with the children allowing time for trial and error. Hopefully one day I can come back to the circus school in Rabat and watch the children preform on stage just as I did their teachers.
As we continue our journey, we are reflecting on our experiences. Here are a few impressions …
Photo by Lucia
Morocco is just as foreign as I had imagined, but it shows its little oddities differently than I had imagined. Traveling through Morocco feels like traveling through a different planet, not so much because everything is alien but because (maybe due to us being tourists) everything seems almost like a facsimile of itself, a Hollywood set that will fall down with the slightest touch just like in Blazing Saddles. Morocco is chaotic and wilder than I’m used to but the wildness seems somehow curated. Walking through the blue city or the alleyways of Fez I’m struck by a distinct feeling of not belonging – something that as an American I’m not really used to. Its an odd feeling but not a necessarily unpleasant one.- Leif
Photo by Liam
Thus far, Morocco has been mind-blowing. Traveling in this country is like putting a puzzle together with all its history dating back to before the 13th century. Being able to see the old and the new of one of the most modern cities in North Africa is an experience that can never be undone. The people are beautiful, the city is different, and the air is refreshing. – Ashley
was not shocked but surprised about Morocco. We were excited to embrace the culture, the people, and the food as we excited the airport. Photographing people has been difficult, but hopefully the Berber tribe will be easier to capture. This makes me want to learn more about their culture and how religion has impacted them and shaped their everyday life so that I will be able to clearly capture them in photos.- Leila
Today we left our hotel in Chefchaouan for Fes. We had a a four-hour drive through the winding mountains. When we arrived in Fes, we immediately went to the Medina. Fes is made up of three parts; the new city, the newer city (La Ville Nouvelle), and the old city (the Medina, which dates back to the ninth century). In the Medina, no cars are allowed, there are only donkey drawn carts. There are over 9,500 allies and streets in the Medina, very few of which are marked. Ghali led us through the disorienting streets to a restaurant where we had our first genuine Moroccan meal. Afterwards we split into two groups and explored the city, which has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1978. My guide was Rashid; he grew up in the Medina. He focused on showing us the details of the city. I asked Rashid about the hands on the doors as I had seen them before when I traveled to Portugal. He said that the hands depicted on the doors either through metal designs or as doorknockers, represent the hand of Fatimah, which is an important symbol in Islam. Most of the shops were closed for the day, but tomorrow we will go back to this labyrinth of city and walk through the chaotic markets.
On our second day in Morocco we went to the circus school where we were invited to attend a dress rehearsal of their new show. The actors-acrobats are all alum of the circus school. The skills and talents of the performers were extraordinary! They told a story of love and harship through wire walking, ropes, balancing, juggling, clowning, and contortion. It was beautiful and enchanting.
After the rehearsal, we went to the tent where the younger children were training and learning new circus skills. Because it is now the official National Circus School of Morocco, the students are able to attend the school for free. Most of the students are from disadvantaged homes, and would not be able to take classes if they were available for free. We brought Ross donated clothing and soccer balls to leave with the school.
At the end of our visit, many of our Ross students were courageous enough to try to walk on the slack rope. They proved to be determined and talented!