In Morocco
Edith Wharton

Part 1 out of 4







[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Fez Elbah from the ramparts]







Having begun my book with the statement that Morocco still lacks a
guide-book, I should have wished to take a first step toward remedying
that deficiency.

But the conditions in which I travelled, though full of unexpected and
picturesque opportunities, were not suited to leisurely study of the
places visited. The time was limited by the approach of the rainy
season, which puts an end to motoring over the treacherous trails of the
Spanish zone. In 1918, owing to the watchfulness of German submarines in
the Straits and along the northwest coast of Africa, the trip by sea
from Marseilles to Casablanca, ordinarily so easy, was not to be made
without much discomfort and loss of time. Once on board the steamer,
passengers were often kept in port (without leave to land) for six or
eight days; therefore for any one bound by a time-limit, as most
war-workers were, it was necessary to travel across country, and to be
back at Tangier before the November rains.

This left me only one month in which to visit Morocco from the
Mediterranean to the High Atlas, and from the Atlantic to Fez, and even
had there been a Djinn's carpet to carry me, the multiplicity of
impressions received would have made precise observation difficult.

The next best thing to a Djinn's carpet, a military motor, was at my
disposal every morning; but war conditions imposed restrictions, and the
wish to use the minimum of petrol often stood in the way of the second
visit which alone makes it possible to carry away a definite and
detailed impression.

These drawbacks were more than offset by the advantage of making my
quick trip at a moment unique in the history of the country; the brief
moment of transition between its virtually complete subjection to
European authority, and the fast approaching hour when it is thrown open
to all the banalities and promiscuities of modern travel.

Morocco is too curious, too beautiful, too rich in landscape and
architecture, and above all too much of a novelty, not to attract one of
the main streams of spring travel as soon as Mediterranean passenger
traffic is resumed. Now that the war is over, only a few months' work on
roads and railways divide it from the great torrent of "tourism"; and
once that deluge is let loose, no eye will ever again see Moulay Idriss
and Fez and Marrakech as I saw them.

In spite of the incessant efforts of the present French administration
to preserve the old monuments of Morocco from injury, and her native
arts and industries from the corruption of European bad taste, the
impression of mystery and remoteness which the country now produces must
inevitably vanish with the approach of the "Circular Ticket." Within a
few years far more will be known of the past of Morocco, but that past
will be far less visible to the traveller than it is to-day. Excavations
will reveal fresh traces of Roman and Phenician occupation; the remote
affinities between Copts and Berbers, between Bagdad and Fez, between
Byzantine art and the architecture of the Souss, will be explored and
elucidated, but, while these successive discoveries are being made, the
strange survival of mediaeval life, of a life contemporary with the
crusaders, with Saladin, even with the great days of the Caliphate of
Bagdad, which now greets the astonished traveller, will gradually
disappear, till at last even the mysterious autocthones of the Atlas
will have folded their tents and silently stolen away.


Authoritative utterances on Morocco are not wanting for those who can
read them in French, but they are to be found mainly in large and often
inaccessible books, like M. Doutte's "En Tribu," the Marquis de
Segonzac's remarkable explorations in the Atlas, or Foucauld's classic
(but unobtainable) "Reconnaissance au Maroc", and few, if any, have been
translated into English.

M. Louis Chatelain has dealt with the Roman ruins of Volubilis and M.
Tranchant de Lunel, M. Raymond Koechlin, M. Gaillard, M. Ricard, and
many other French scholars, have written of Moslem architecture and art
in articles published either in "France-Maroc," as introductions to
catalogues of exhibitions, or in the reviews and daily papers. Pierre
Loti and M. Andre Chevrillon have reflected, with the intensest visual
sensibility, the romantic and ruinous Morocco of yesterday, and in the
volumes of the "Conferences Marocaines," published by the French
government, the experts gathered about the Resident-General have
examined the industrial and agricultural Morocco of tomorrow. Lastly,
one striking book sums up, with the clearness and consecutiveness of
which French scholarship alone possesses the art, the chief things to be
said on all these subjects, save that of art and archaeology. This is M.
Augustin Bernard's volume, "Le Maroc," the one portable and compact yet
full and informing book since Leo Africanus described the bazaars of
Fez. But M. Augustin Bernard deals only with the ethnology, the social,
religious and political history, and the physical properties, of the
country; and this, though "a large order," leaves out the visual and
picturesque side, except in so far as the book touches on the always
picturesque life of the people.

For the use, therefore, of the happy wanderers who may be planning a
Moroccan journey, I have added to the record of my personal impressions
a slight sketch of the history and art of the country. In extenuation of
the attempt I must add that the chief merit of this sketch will be its
absence of originality. Its facts will be chiefly drawn from the pages
of M. Augustin Bernard, M. H. Saladin, and M. Gaston Migeon, and the
rich sources of the "Conferences Marocaines" and the articles of
"France-Maroc." It will also be deeply indebted to information given on
the spot by the brilliant specialists of the French administration, to
the Marquis de Segonzac, with whom I had the good luck to travel from
Rabat to Marrakech and back; to M. Alfred de Tarde, editor of
"France-Maroc"; to M. Tranchant de Lunel, director of the French School
of Fine Arts in Morocco; to M. Goulven, the historian of Portuguese
Mazagan, to M. Louis Chatelain, and to the many other cultivated and
cordial French officials, military and civilian, who, at each stage of
my journey, did their amiable best to answer my questions and open my


In the writing of proper names and of other Arab words the French
spelling has been followed.

In the case of proper names, and names of cities and districts, this
seems justified by the fact that they occur in a French colony, where
French usage naturally prevails, and to spell _Oudjda_ in the French
way, and _koubba_, for instance, in the English form of _kubba_, would
cause needless confusion as to their respective pronunciation. It seems
therefore simpler, in a book written for the ordinary traveller, to
conform altogether to French usage.




















































To step on board a steamer in a Spanish port, and three hours later to
land in _a country without a guide-book_, is a sensation to rouse the
hunger of the repletest sight-seer.

The sensation is attainable by any one who will take the trouble to row
out into the harbour of Algeciras and scramble onto a little black boat
headed across the straits. Hardly has the rock of Gibraltar turned to
cloud when one's foot is on the soil of an almost unknown Africa.
Tangier, indeed, is in the guide-books; but, cuckoo-like, it has had to
lays its eggs in strange nests, and the traveller who wants to find out
about it must acquire a work dealing with some other country--Spain or
Portugal or Algeria. There is no guide-book to Morocco, and no way of
knowing, once one has left Tangier behind, where the long trail over the
Rif is going to land one, in the sense understood by any one accustomed
to European certainties. The air of the unforeseen blows on one from the
roadless passes of the Atlas.

This feeling of adventure is heightened by the contrast between
Tangier--cosmopolitan, frowsy, familiar Tangier, that every tourist has
visited for the last forty years--and the vast unknown just beyond. One
has met, of course, travellers who have been to Fez; but they have gone
there on special missions, under escort, mysteriously, perhaps
perilously; the expedition has seemed, till lately, a considerable
affair. And when one opens the records of Moroccan travellers written
within the last twenty years, how many, even of the most adventurous,
are found to have gone beyond Fez? And what, to this day, do the names
of Meknez and Marrakech, of Mogador, Saffi or Rabat, signify to any but
a few students of political history, a few explorers and naturalists?
Not till within the last year has Morocco been open to travel from
Tangier to the Great Atlas, and from Moulay Idriss to the Atlantic.
Three years ago Christians were being massacred in the streets of Sale,
the pirate town across the river from Rabat, and two years ago no
European had been allowed to enter the Sacred City of Moulay Idriss, the
burial-place of the lawful descendant of Ali, founder of the Idrissite
dynasty. Now, thanks to the energy and the imagination of one of the
greatest of colonial administrators, the country, at least in the French
zone, is as safe and open as the opposite shore of Spain. All that
remains is to tell the traveller how to find his way about it.

Ten years ago there was not a wheeled vehicle in Morocco, now its
thousands of miles of trail, and its hundreds of miles of firm French
roads, are travelled by countless carts, omnibuses and motor-vehicles.
There are light railways from Rabat to Fez in the west, and to a point
about eighty-five kilometres from Marrakech in the south, and it is
possible to say that within a year a regular railway system will connect
eastern Morocco with western Algeria, and the ports of Tangier and
Casablanca with the principal points of the interior.

What, then, prevents the tourist from instantly taking ship at Bordeaux
or Algeciras and letting loose his motor on this new world? Only the
temporary obstacles which the war has everywhere put in the way of
travel. Till these are lifted it will hardly be possible to travel in
Morocco except by favour of the Resident-General; but, normal conditions
once restored, the country will be as accessible, from the straits of
Gibraltar to the Great Atlas, as Algeria or Tunisia.

To see Morocco during the war was therefore to see it in the last phase
of its curiously abrupt transition from remoteness and danger to
security and accessibility; at a moment when its aspect and its customs
were still almost unaffected by European influences, and when the
"Christian" might taste the transient joy of wandering unmolested in
cities of ancient mystery and hostility, whose inhabitants seemed hardly
aware of his intrusion.



With such opportunities ahead it was impossible, that brilliant morning
of September, 1917, not to be off quickly from Tangier, impossible to do
justice to the pale-blue town piled up within brown walls against the
thickly-foliaged gardens of "the Mountain," to the animation of its
market-place and the secret beauties of its steep Arab streets. For
Tangier swarms with people in European clothes, there are English,
French and Spanish signs above its shops, and cab-stands in its squares;
it belongs, as much as Algiers, to the familiar dog-eared world of
travel--and there, beyond the last dip of "the Mountain," lies the world
of mystery, with the rosy dawn just breaking over it. The motor is at
the door and we are off.

The so-called Spanish zone, which encloses internationalized Tangier in
a wide circuit of territory, extends southward for a distance of about a
hundred and fifteen kilometres. Consequently, when good roads traverse
it, French Morocco will be reached in less than two hours by
motor-travellers bound for the south. But for the present Spanish
enterprise dies out after a few miles of macadam (as it does even
between Madrid and Toledo), and the tourist is committed to the _piste_.
These _pistes_--the old caravan-trails from the south--are more
available to motors in Morocco than in southern Algeria and Tunisia,
since they run mostly over soil which, though sandy in part, is bound
together by a tough dwarf vegetation, and not over pure desert sand.
This, however, is the utmost that can be said of the Spanish _pistes_.
In the French protectorate constant efforts are made to keep the trails
fit for wheeled traffic, but Spain shows no sense of a corresponding

After leaving the macadamized road which runs south from Tangier one
seems to have embarked on a petrified ocean in a boat hardly equal to
the adventure. Then, as one leaps and plunges over humps and ruts, down
sheer banks into rivers, and up precipices into sand-pits, one gradually
gains faith in one's conveyance and in one's spinal column; but both
must be sound in every joint to resist the strain of the long miles to
Arbaoua, the frontier post of the French protectorate.

Luckily there are other things to think about. At the first turn out of
Tangier, Europe and the European disappear, and as soon as the motor
begins to dip and rise over the arid little hills beyond the last
gardens one is sure that every figure on the road will be picturesque
instead of prosaic, every garment graceful instead of grotesque. One
knows, too, that there will be no more omnibuses or trams or
motorcyclists, but only long lines of camels rising up in brown friezes
against the sky, little black donkeys trotting across the scrub under
bulging pack-saddles, and noble draped figures walking beside them or
majestically perching on their rumps. And for miles and miles there will
be no more towns--only, at intervals on the naked slopes, circles of
rush-roofed huts in a blue stockade of cactus, or a hundred or two nomad
tents of black camel's hair resting on walls of wattled thorn and
grouped about a terebinth-tree and a well.

[Illustration: map of Morocco]

Between these nomad colonies lies the _bled_, the immense waste of
fallow land and palmetto desert: an earth as void of life as the sky
above it of clouds. The scenery is always the same; but if one has the
love of great emptinesses, and of the play of light on long stretches of
parched earth and rock, the sameness is part of the enchantment. In such
a scene every landmark takes on an extreme value. For miles one watches
the little white dome of a saint's grave rising and disappearing with
the undulations of the trail; at last one is abreast of it, and the
solitary tomb, alone with its fig-tree and its broken well-curb, puts a
meaning into the waste. The same importance, but intensified, marks the
appearance of every human figure. The two white-draped riders passing
single file up the red slope to that ring of tents on the ridge have a
mysterious and inexplicable importance: one follows their progress with
eyes that ache with conjecture. More exciting still is the encounter of
the first veiled woman heading a little cavalcade from the south. All
the mystery that awaits us looks out through the eye-slits in the
grave-clothes muffling her. Where have they come from, where are they
going, all these slow wayfarers out of the unknown? Probably only from
one thatched _douar_[A] to another; but interminable distances unroll
behind them, they breathe of Timbuctoo and the farthest desert. Just
such figures must swarm in the Saharan cities, in the Soudan and
Senegal. There is no break in the links: these wanderers have looked on
at the building of cities that were dust when the Romans pushed their
outposts across the Atlas.

[Footnote A: Village of tents. The village of mud-huts is called a



A town at last--its nearness announced by the multiplied ruts of the
trail, the cactus hedges, the fig-trees weighed down by dust leaning
over ruinous earthen walls. And here are the first houses of the
European El-Ksar--neat white Spanish houses on the slope outside the old
Arab settlement. Of the Arab town itself, above reed stockades and brown
walls, only a minaret and a few flat roofs are visible. Under the walls
drowse the usual gregarious Lazaruses; others, temporarily resuscitated,
trail their grave-clothes after a line of camels and donkeys toward the
olive-gardens outside the town.

The way to Rabat is long and difficult, and there is no time to visit
El-Ksar, though its minaret beckons so alluringly above the
fruit-orchards; so we stop for luncheon outside the walls, at a canteen
with a corrugated iron roof where skinny Spaniards are serving thick
purple wine and eggs fried in oil to a party of French soldiers. The
heat has suddenly become intolerable, and a flaming wind straight from
the south brings in at the door, with a cloud of blue flies, the smell
of camels and trampled herbs and the strong spices of the bazaars.

Luncheon over, we hurry on between the cactus hedges, and then plunge
back into the waste. Beyond El-Ksar the last hills of the Rif die away,
and there is a stretch of wilderness without an outline till the Lesser
Atlas begins to rise in the east. Once in the French protectorate the
trail improves, but there are still difficult bits; and finally, on a
high plateau, the chauffeur stops in a web of criss-cross trails, throws
up his hands, and confesses that he has lost his way. The heat is mortal
at the moment. For the last hour the red breath of the sirocco has risen
from every hollow into which we dipped, now it hangs about us in the
open, as if we had caught it in our wheels and it had to pause above us
when we paused.

All around is the featureless wild land, palmetto scrub stretching away
into eternity. A few yards off rises the inevitable ruined _koubba_[A]
with its fig-tree: in the shade under its crumbling wall the buzz of the
flies is like the sound of frying. Farther off, we discern a cluster of
huts, and presently some Arab boys and a tall pensive shepherd come
hurrying across the scrub. They are full of good-will, and no doubt of
information; but our chauffeur speaks no Arabic and the talk dies down
into shrugs and head-shakings. The Arabs retire to the shade of the
wall, and we decide to start--for anywhere....

[Footnote A: Saint's tomb. The saint himself is called a _marabout_.]

The chauffeur turns the crank, but there is no responding quiver.
Something has gone wrong; we can't move, and it is not much comfort to
remember that, if we could, we should not know where to go. At least we
should be cooler in motion than sitting still under the blinding sky.

Such an adventure initiates one at the outset into the stern facts of
desert motoring. Every detail of our trip from Tangier to Rabat had been
carefully planned to keep us in unbroken contact with civilization. We
were to "tub" in one European hotel, and to dine in another, with just
enough picnicking between to give a touch of local colour. But let one
little cog slip and the whole plan falls to bits, and we are alone in
the old untamed Moghreb, as remote from Europe as any mediaeval
adventurer. If one lose one's way in Morocco, civilization vanishes as
though it were a magic carpet rolled up by a Djinn.

It is a good thing to begin with such a mishap, not only because it
develops the fatalism necessary to the enjoyment of Africa, but because
it lets one at once into the mysterious heart of the country, a country
so deeply conditioned by its miles and miles of uncitied wilderness that
until one has known the wilderness one cannot begin to understand the

We came to one at length, after sunset on that first endless day. The
motor, cleverly patched up, had found its way to a real road, and
speeding along between the stunted cork-trees of the forest of Mamora
brought us to a last rise from which we beheld in the dusk a line of
yellow walls backed by the misty blue of the Atlantic. Sale, the fierce
old pirate town, where Robinson Crusoe was so long a slave, lay before
us, snow-white in its cheese-coloured ramparts skirted by fig and olive
gardens. Below its gates a stretch of waste land, endlessly trailed over
by mules and camels, sloped down to the mouth of the Bou-Regreg, the
blue-brown river dividing it from Rabat. The motor stopped at the
landing-stage of the steam-ferry; crowding about it were droves of
donkeys, knots of camels, plump-faced merchants on crimson-saddled
mules, with negro servants at their bridles, bare-legged water-carriers
with hairy goat-skins slung over their shoulders, and Arab women in a
heap of veils, cloaks, mufflings, all of the same ashy white, the
caftans of clutched children peeping through in patches of old rose and
lilac and pale green.

Across the river the native town of Rabat lay piled up on an orange-red
cliff beaten by the Atlantic. Its walls, red too, plunged into the
darkening breakers at the mouth of the river, and behind it, stretching
up to the mighty tower of Hassan, and the ruins of the Great Mosque, the
scattered houses of the European city showed their many lights across
the plain.



Sale the white and Rabat the red frown at each other over the foaming
bar of the Bou-Regreg, each walled, terraced, minareted, and presenting
a singularly complete picture of the two types of Moroccan town, the
snowy and the tawny. To the gates of both the Atlantic breakers roll in
with the boom of northern seas, and under a misty northern sky. It is
one of the surprises of Morocco to find the familiar African pictures
bathed in this unfamiliar haze. Even the fierce midday sun does not
wholly dispel it--the air remains thick, opalescent, like water slightly
clouded by milk. One is tempted to say that Morocco is Tunisia seen by

The European town of Rabat, a rapidly developing community, lies almost
wholly outside the walls of the old Arab city. The latter, founded in
the twelfth century by the great Almohad conqueror of Spain,
Yacoub-el-Mansour, stretches its mighty walls to the river's mouth.
Thence they climb the cliff to enclose the Kasbah[A] of the Oudayas, a
troublesome tribe whom one of the Almohad Sultans, mistrusting their
good faith, packed up one day, flocks, tents and camels, and carried
across the _bled_ to stow them into these stout walls under his imperial
eye. Great crenellated ramparts, cyclopean, superb, follow the curve of
the cliff. On the landward side they are interrupted by a gate-tower
resting on one of the most nobly decorated of the horseshoe arches that
break the mighty walls of Moroccan cities. Underneath the tower the
vaulted entrance turns, Arab fashion, at right angles, profiling its red
arch against darkness and mystery. This bending of passages, so
characteristic a device of the Moroccan builder, is like an
architectural expression of the tortuous secret soul of the land.

[Footnote A: Citadel.]

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Rabat--general view from the Kasbah of the Oudayas]

Outside the Kasbah a narrow foot-path is squeezed between the walls and
the edge of the cliff. Toward sunset it looks down on a strange scene.
To the south of the citadel the cliff descends to a long dune sloping to
a sand-beach; and dune and beach are covered with the slanting
headstones of the immense Arab cemetery of El Alou. Acres and acres of
graves fall away from the red ramparts to the grey sea; and breakers
rolling straight from America send their spray across the lowest stones.

There are always things going on toward evening in an Arab cemetery. In
this one, travellers from the _bled_ are camping in one corner, donkeys
grazing (on heaven knows what), a camel dozing under its pack; in
another, about a new-made grave, there are ritual movements of muffled
figures and wailings of a funeral hymn half drowned by the waves. Near
us, on a fallen headstone, a man with a thoughtful face sits chatting
with two friends and hugging to his breast a tiny boy who looks like a
grasshopper in his green caftan; a little way off, a solitary
philosopher, his eye fixed on the sunset, lies on another grave, smoking
his long pipe of kif.

There is infinite sadness in this scene under the fading sky, beside the
cold welter of the Atlantic. One seems to be not in Africa itself, but
in the Africa that northern crusaders may have dreamed of in snow-bound
castles by colder shores of the same ocean. This is what Moghreb must
have looked like to the confused imagination of the Middle Ages, to
Norman knights burning to ransom the Holy Places, or Hansa merchants
devising, in steep-roofed towns, of Barbary and the long caravans
bringing apes and gold-powder from the south.

Inside the gate of the Kasbah one comes on more waste land and on other
walls--for all Moroccan towns are enclosed in circuit within circuit of
battlemented masonry. Then, unexpectedly, a gate in one of the inner
walls lets one into a tiled court enclosed in a traceried cloister and
overlooking an orange-grove that rises out of a carpet of roses. This
peaceful and well-ordered place is the interior of the Medersa (the
college) of the Oudayas. Morocco is full of these colleges, or rather
lodging-houses of the students frequenting the mosques, for all
Mahometan education is given in the mosque itself, only the preparatory
work being done in the colleges. The most beautiful of the Medersas date
from the earlier years of the long Merinid dynasty (1248-1548), the
period at which Moroccan art, freed from too distinctively Spanish and
Arab influences, began to develop a delicate grace of its own as far
removed from the extravagance of Spanish ornament as from the
inheritance of Roman-Byzantine motives that the first Moslem invasion
had brought with it from Syria and Mesopotamia.

These exquisite collegiate buildings, though still in use whenever they
are near a well-known mosque, have all fallen into a state of sordid
disrepair. The Moroccan Arab, though he continues to build--and
fortunately to build in the old tradition, which has never been
lost--has, like all Orientals, an invincible repugnance to repairing and
restoring, and one after another the frail exposed Arab structures, with
their open courts and badly constructed terrace-roofs, are crumbling
into ruin. Happily the French Government has at last been asked to
intervene, and all over Morocco the Medersas are being repaired with
skill and discretion. That of the Oudayas is already completely
restored, and as it had long fallen into disuse it has been transformed
by the Ministry of Fine Arts into a museum of Moroccan art.

The plan of the Medersas is always much the same: the eternal plan of
the Arab house, built about one or more arcaded courts, with long narrow
rooms enclosing them on the ground floor, and several stories above,
reached by narrow stairs, and often opening on finely carved cedar
galleries. The chief difference between the Medersa and the private
house, or even the _fondak_,[A] lies in the use to which the rooms are
put. In the Medersas, one of the ground-floor apartments is always
fitted up as a chapel, and shut off from the court by carved cedar doors
still often touched with old gilding and vermilion. There are always a
few students praying in the chapel, while others sit in the doors of the
upper rooms, their books on their knees, or lean over the carved
galleries chatting with their companions who are washing their feet at
the marble fountain in the court, preparatory to entering the chapel.

[Footnote A: The Moroccan inn or caravanserai.]

[Illustration: _From a photograph by Schmitt, Rabat_

Rabat--interior court of the Medersa of the Oudayas]

In the Medersa of the Oudayas, these native activities have been
replaced by the lifeless hush of a museum. The rooms are furnished with
old rugs, pottery, brasses, the curious embroidered hangings which line
the tents of the chiefs, and other specimens of Arab art. One room
reproduces a barber's shop in the bazaar, its benches covered with fine
matting, the hanging mirror inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the
razor-handles of silver _niello_. The horseshoe arches of the outer
gallery look out on orange-blossoms, roses and the sea. It is all
beautiful, calm and harmonious; and if one is tempted to mourn the
absence of life and local colour, one has only to visit an abandoned
Medersa to see that, but for French intervention, the charming
colonnades and cedar chambers of the college of the Oudayas would by
this time be a heap of undistinguished rubbish--for plaster and rubble
do not "die in beauty" like the firm stones of Rome.



Before Morocco passed under the rule of the great governor who now
administers it, the European colonists made short work of the beauty and
privacy of the old Arab towns in which they established themselves.

On the west coast, especially, where the Mediterranean peoples, from the
Phenicians to the Portuguese, have had trading-posts for over two
thousand years, the harm done to such seaboard towns as Tangier, Rabat
and Casablanca is hard to estimate. The modern European colonist
apparently imagined that to plant his warehouses, _cafes_ and
cinema-palaces within the walls which for so long had fiercely excluded
him was the most impressive way of proclaiming his domination.

Under General Lyautey such views are no longer tolerated. Respect for
native habits, native beliefs and native architecture is the first
principle inculcated in the civil servants attached to his
administration. Not only does he require that the native towns shall be
kept intact, and no European building erected within them; a sense of
beauty not often vouchsafed to Colonial governors causes him to place
the administration buildings so far beyond the walls that the modern
colony grouped around them remains entirely distinct from the old town,
instead of growing out of it like an ugly excrescence.

The Arab quarter of Rabat was already irreparably disfigured when
General Lyautey came to Morocco; but ferocious old Sale, Phenician
counting-house and breeder of Barbary pirates, had been saved from
profanation by its Moslem fanaticism. Few Christian feet had entered its
walls except those of the prisoners who, like Robinson Crusoe, slaved
for the wealthy merchants in its mysterious terraced houses. Not till
two or three years ago was it completely pacified; and when it opened
its gates to the infidel it was still, as it is to-day, the type of the
untouched Moroccan city--so untouched that, with the sunlight
irradiating its cream-coloured walls and the blue-white domes above
them, it rests on its carpet of rich fruit-gardens like some rare
specimen of Arab art on a strip of old Oriental velvet.

Within the walls, the magic persists: which does not always happen when
one penetrates into the mirage-like cities of Arabian Africa. Sale has
the charm of extreme compactness. Crowded between the river-mouth and
the sea, its white and pale-blue houses almost touch across the narrow
streets, and the reed-thatched bazaars seem like miniature reductions of
the great trading labyrinths of Tunis or Fez.

Everything that the reader of the Arabian Nights expects to find is
here: the whitewashed niches wherein pale youths sit weaving the fine
mattings for which the town is still famous; the tunnelled passages
where indolent merchants with bare feet crouch in their little kennels
hung with richly ornamented saddlery and arms, or with slippers of pale
citron leather and bright embroidered _babouches_, the stalls with
fruit, olives, tunny-fish, vague syrupy sweets, candles for saints'
tombs, Mantegnesque garlands of red and green peppers, griddle-cakes
sizzling on red-hot pans, and all the varied wares and cakes and
condiments that the lady in the tale of the Three Calanders went out to
buy, that memorable morning in the market of Bagdad.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Sale--entrance of the Medersa]

Only at Sale all is on a small scale: there is not much of any one
thing, except of the exquisite matting. The tide of commerce has ebbed
from the intractable old city, and one feels, as one watches the
listless purchasers in her little languishing bazaars, that her long
animosity against the intruder has ended by destroying her own life.

The feeling increases when one leaves the bazaar for the streets
adjoining it. An even deeper hush than that which hangs over the
well-to-do quarters of all Arab towns broods over these silent
thoroughfares, with heavy-nailed doors barring half-ruined houses. In a
steep deserted square one of these doors opens its panels of
weather-silvered cedar on the court of the frailest, ghostliest of
Medersas--mere carved and painted shell of a dead house of learning.
Mystic interweavings of endless lines, patient patterns interminably
repeated in wood and stone and clay, all are here, from the tessellated
paving of the court to the honeycombing of the cedar roof through which
a patch of sky shows here and there like an inset of turquoise tiling.

This lovely ruin is in the safe hands of the French Fine Arts
administration, and soon the wood-carvers and stucco-workers of Fez will
have revived its old perfection; but it will never again be more than a
show-Medersa, standing empty and unused beside the mosque behind whose
guarded doors and high walls one guesses that the old religious
fanaticism of Sale is dying also, as her learning and her commerce have

In truth the only life in her is centred in the market-place outside the
walls, where big expanding Rabat goes on certain days to provision
herself. The market of Sale, though typical of all Moroccan markets, has
an animation and picturesqueness of its own. Its rows of white tents
pitched on a dusty square between the outer walls and the fruit-gardens
make it look as though a hostile tribe had sat down to lay siege to the
town, but the army is an army of hucksters, of farmers from the rich
black lands along the river, of swarthy nomads and leather-gaitered
peasant women from the hills, of slaves and servants and tradesmen from
Rabat and Sale; a draped, veiled, turbaned mob shrieking, bargaining,
fist-shaking, call on Allah to witness the monstrous villanies of the
misbegotten miscreants they are trading with, and then, struck with the
mysterious Eastern apathy, sinking down in languid heaps of muslin among
the black figs, purple onions and rosy melons, the fluttering hens, the
tethered goats, the whinnying foals, that are all enclosed in an outer
circle of folded-up camels and of mules dozing under faded crimson

[Illustration: _From a photograph by Schmitt, Rabat_

Sale--market-place outside the town]



The Merinid Sultans of Rabat had a terribly troublesome neighbour across
the Bou-Regreg, and they built Chella to keep an eye on the pirates of
Sale. But Chella has fallen like a Babylonian city triumphed over by the
prophets; while Sale, sly, fierce and irrepressible, continued till well
on in the nineteenth century to breed pirates and fanatics.

The ruins of Chella lie on the farther side of the plateau above the
native town of Rabat. The mighty wall enclosing them faces the city wall
of Rabat, looking at it across one of those great red powdery wastes
which seem, in this strange land, like death and the desert forever
creeping up to overwhelm the puny works of man.

The red waste is scored by countless trains of donkeys carrying water
from the springs of Chella, by long caravans of mules and camels, and by
the busy motors of the French administration; yet there emanates from it
an impression of solitude and decay which even the prosaic tinkle of the
trams jogging out from the European town to the Exhibition grounds above
the sea cannot long dispel.

Perpetually, even in the new thriving French Morocco, the outline of a
ruin or the look in a pair of eyes shifts the scene, rends the thin veil
of the European Illusion, and confronts one with the old grey Moslem
reality. Passing under the gate of Chella, with its richly carved
corbels and lofty crenellated towers, one feels one's self thus
completely reabsorbed into the past.

Below the gate the ground slopes away, bare and blazing, to a hollow
where a little blue-green minaret gleams through fig-trees, and
fragments of arch and vaulting reveal the outline of a ruined mosque.

Was ever shade so blue-black and delicious as that of the cork-tree near
the spring where the donkey's water-cans are being filled? Under its
branches a black man in a blue shirt lies immovably sleeping in the
dust. Close by women and children splash and chatter about the spring,
and the dome of a saint's tomb shines through lustreless leaves. The
black man, the donkeys, the women and children, the saint's dome, are
all part of the inimitable Eastern scene in which inertia and agitation
are so curiously combined, and a surface of shrill noise flickers over
depths of such unfathomable silence.

The ruins of Chella belong to the purest period of Moroccan art. The
tracery of the broken arches is all carved in stone or in glazed
turquoise tiling, and the fragments of wall and vaulting have the firm
elegance of a classic ruin. But what would even their beauty be without
the leafy setting of the place? The "unimaginable touch of Time" gives
Chella its peculiar charm: the aged fig-tree clamped in uptorn tiles and
thrusting gouty arms between the arches; the garlanding of vines flung
from column to column; the secret pool to which childless women are
brought to bathe, and where the tree springing from a cleft of the steps
is always hung with the bright bits of stuff which are the votive
offerings of Africa.

The shade, the sound of springs, the terraced orange-garden with irises
blooming along channels of running water, all this greenery and coolness
in the hollow of a fierce red hill make Chella seem, to the traveller
new to Africa, the very type and embodiment of its old contrasts of heat
and freshness, of fire and languor. It is like a desert traveller's
dream in his last fever.

Yacoub-el-Mansour was the fourth of the great Almohad Sultans who, in
the twelfth century, drove out the effete Almoravids, and swept their
victorious armies from Marrakech to Tunis and from Tangier to Madrid.
His grandfather, Abd-el-Moumen, had been occupied with conquest and
civic administration. It was said of his rule that "he seized northern
Africa to make order prevail there"; and in fact, out of a welter of
wild tribes confusedly fighting and robbing he drew an empire firmly
seated and securely governed, wherein caravans travelled from the Atlas
to the Straits without fear of attack, and "a soldier wandering through
the fields would not have dared to pluck an ear of wheat."

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Chella--ruins of mosque]

His grandson, the great El-Mansour, was a conqueror too; but where he
conquered he planted the undying seed of beauty. The victor of Alarcos,
the soldier who subdued the north of Spain, dreamed a great dream of
art. His ambition was to bestow on his three capitals, Seville, Rabat
and Marrakech, the three most beautiful towers the world had ever seen;
and if the tower of Rabat had been completed, and that of Seville had
not been injured by Spanish embellishments, his dream would have been

The "Tower of Hassan," as the Sultan's tower is called, rises from the
plateau above old Rabat, overlooking the steep cliff that drops down to
the last winding of the Bou-Regreg. Truncated at half its height, it
stands on the edge of the cliff, a far-off beacon to travellers by land
and sea. It is one of the world's great monuments, so sufficient in
strength and majesty that until one has seen its fellow, the Koutoubya
of Marrakech, one wonders if the genius of the builder could have
carried such perfect balance of massive wall-spaces and traceried
openings to a triumphant completion.

Near the tower, the red-brown walls and huge piers of the mosque built
at the same time stretch their roofless alignment beneath the sky. This
mosque, before it was destroyed, must have been one of the finest
monuments of Almohad architecture in Morocco: now, with its tumbled red
masses of masonry and vast cisterns overhung by clumps of blue aloes, it
still forms a ruin of Roman grandeur.

The Mosque, the Tower, the citadel of the Oudayas, and the mighty walls
and towers of Chella, compose an architectural group as noble and
complete as that of some mediaeval Tuscan city. All they need to make
the comparison exact is that they should have been compactly massed on a
steep hill, instead of lying scattered over the wide spaces between the
promontory of the Oudayas and the hill-side of Chella.

The founder of Rabat, the great Yacoub-el-Mansour, called it, in memory
of the battle of Alarcos, "The Camp of Victory" (_Ribat-el-Path_), and
the monuments he bestowed on it justified the name in another sense, by
giving it the beauty that lives when battles are forgotten.





One day before sunrise we set out from Rabat for the ruins of Roman

From the ferry of the Bou-Regreg we looked backward on a last vision of
orange ramparts under a night-blue sky sprinkled with stars; ahead, over
gardens still deep in shadow, the walls of Sale were passing from drab
to peach-colour in the eastern glow. Dawn is the romantic hour in
Africa. Dirt and dilapidation disappear under a pearly haze, and a
breeze from the sea blows away the memory of fetid markets and sordid
heaps of humanity. At that hour the old Moroccan cities look like the
ivory citadels in a Persian miniature, and the fat shopkeepers riding
out to their vegetable-gardens like Princes sallying forth to rescue
captive maidens.

Our way led along the highroad from Rabat to the modern port of Kenitra,
near the ruins of the Phenician colony of Mehedyia. Just north of
Kenitra we struck the trail, branching off eastward to a European
village on the light railway between Rabat and Fez, and beyond the
railway-sheds and flat-roofed stores the wilderness began, stretching
away into clear distances bounded by the hills of the Rarb,[A] above
which the sun was rising.

[Footnote A: The high plateau-and-hill formation between Tangier and

Range after range these translucent hills rose before us, all around the
solitude was complete. Village life, and even tent life, naturally
gathers about a river-bank or a spring; and the waste we were crossing
was of waterless sand bound together by a loose desert growth. Only an
abandoned well-curb here and there cast its blue shadow on the yellow
_bled_, or a saint's tomb hung like a bubble between sky and sand. The
light had the preternatural purity which gives a foretaste of mirage: it
was the light in which magic becomes real, and which helps to understand
how, to people living in such an atmosphere, the boundary between fact
and dream perpetually fluctuates.

The sand was scored with tracks and ruts innumerable, for the road
between Rabat and Fez is travelled not only by French government motors
but by native caravans and trains of pilgrims to and from the sacred
city of Moulay Idriss, the founder of the Idrissite dynasty, whose tomb
is in the Zerhoun, the mountain ridge above Volubilis. To untrained eyes
it was impossible to guess which of the trails one ought to follow; and
without much surprise we suddenly found the motor stopping, while its
wheels spun round vainly in the loose sand.

The military chauffeur was not surprised either; nor was Captain de M.,
the French staff-officer who accompanied us.

"It often happens just here," they admitted philosophically. "When the
General goes to Meknez he is always followed by a number of motors, so
that if his own is stuck he may go on in another."

This was interesting to know, but not particularly helpful, as the
General and his motors were not travelling our way that morning. Nor was
any one else, apparently. It is curious how quickly the _bled_ empties
itself to the horizon if one happens to have an accident in it! But we
had learned our lesson between Tangier and Rabat, and were able to
produce a fair imitation of the fatalistic smile of the country.

The officer remarked cheerfully that somebody might turn up, and we all
sat down in the _bled_.

A Berber woman, cropping up from nowhere, came and sat beside us. She
had the thin suntanned face of her kind, brilliant eyes touched with
_khol_, high cheek-bones, and the exceedingly short upper lip which
gives such charm to the smile of the young nomad women. Her dress was
the usual faded cotton shift, hooked on the shoulders with brass or
silver clasps (still the antique _fibulae_), and wound about with a
vague drapery in whose folds a brown baby wriggled.

The coolness of dawn had vanished and the sun beat down from a fierce
sky. The village on the railway was too far off to be reached on foot,
and there were probably no mules there to spare. Nearer at hand there
was no sign of help, not a fortified farm, or even a circle of nomad
tents. It was the unadulterated desert--and we waited.

Not in vain; for after an hour or two, from far off in the direction of
the hills, there appeared an army with banners. We stared at it
unbelievingly. The _mirage_, of course! We were too sophisticated to
doubt it, and tales of sun-dazed travellers mocked by such visions rose
in our well-stocked memories.

The chauffeur thought otherwise. "Good! That's a pilgrimage from the
mountains. They're going to Sale to pray at the tomb of the _marabout_;
to-day is his feast-day."

And so they were! And as we hung on their approach, and speculated as to
the chances of their stopping to help, I had time to note the beauty of
this long train winding toward us under parti-colored banners. There was
something celestial, almost diaphanous, in the hundreds of figures
turbaned and draped in white, marching slowly through the hot colorless
radiance over the hot colorless sand.

The most part were on foot, or bestriding tiny donkeys, but a stately
Caid rode alone at the end of the line on a horse saddled with crimson
velvet, and to him our officer appealed.

The Caid courteously responded, and twenty or thirty pilgrims were
ordered to harness themselves to the motor and haul it back to the
trail, while the rest of the procession moved hieratically onward.

I felt scruples at turning from their path even a fraction of this pious
company; but they fell to with a saintly readiness, and before long the
motor was on the trail. Then rewards were dispensed; and instantly those
holy men became a prey to the darkest passions. Even in this land of
contrasts the transition from pious serenity to rapacious rage can
seldom have been more rapid. The devotees of the _marabout_ fought,
screamed, tore their garments and rolled over each other with sanguinary
gestures in the struggle for our pesetas; then, perceiving our
indifference, they suddenly remembered their religious duties, scrambled
to their feet, tucked up their flying draperies, and raced after the
tail-end of the procession.

Through a golden heat-haze we struggled on to the hills. The country was
fallow, and in great part too sandy for agriculture, but here and there
we came on one of the deep-set Moroccan rivers, with a reddish-yellow
course channelled between perpendicular banks of red earth, and marked
by a thin line of verdure that widened to fruit-gardens wherever a
village had sprung up. We traversed several of these "sedentary"[A]
villages, _nourwals_ of clay houses with thatched conical roofs, in
gardens of fig, apricot and pomegranate that must be so many pink and
white paradises after the winter rains.

[Footnote A: So called to distinguish them from the tent villages of the
less settled groups.]

One of these villages seemed to be inhabited entirely by blacks, big
friendly creatures who came out to tell us by which trail to reach the
bridge over the yellow _oued_. In the _oued_ their womenkind were
washing the variegated family rags. They were handsome blue-bronze
creatures, bare to the waist, with tight black astrakhan curls and
firmly sculptured legs and ankles; and all around them, like a swarm of
gnats, danced countless jolly pickaninnies, naked as lizards, with the
spindle legs and globular stomachs of children fed only on cereals.

Half terrified but wholly interested, these infants buzzed about the
motor while we stopped to photograph them; and as we watched their
antics we wondered whether they were the descendants of the little
Soudanese boys whom the founder of Meknez, the terrible Sultan
Moulay-Ismael, used to carry off from beyond the Atlas and bring up in
his military camps to form the nucleus of the Black Guard which defended
his frontiers. We were on the line of travel between Meknez and the sea,
and it seemed not unlikely that these _nourwals_ were all that remained
of scattered outposts of Moulay-Ismael's legionaries.

After a time we left _oueds_ and villages behind us and were in the
mountains of the Rarb, toiling across a high sandy plateau. Far off a
fringe of vegetation showed promise of shade and water, and at last,
against a pale mass of olive-trees, we saw the sight which, at whatever
end of the world one comes upon it, wakes the same sense of awe: the
ruin of a Roman city.

Volubilis (called by the Arabs the Castle of the Pharaohs) is the only
considerable Roman colony so far discovered in Morocco. It stands on the
extreme ledge of a high plateau backed by the mountains of the Zerhoun.
Below the plateau, the land drops down precipitately to a narrow
river-valley green with orchards and gardens, and in the neck of the
valley, where the hills meet again, the conical white town of Moulay
Idriss, the Sacred City of Morocco, rises sharply against a wooded

So the two dominations look at each other across the valley: one, the
lifeless Roman ruin, representing a system, an order, a social
conception that still run through all our modern ways, the other, the
untouched Moslem city, more dead and sucked back into an unintelligible
past than any broken architrave of Greece or Rome.

Volubilis seems to have had the extent and wealth of a great military
outpost, such as Timgad in Algeria; but in the seventeenth century it
was very nearly destroyed by Moulay-Ismael, the Sultan of the Black
Guard, who carried off its monuments piece-meal to build his new capital
of Meknez, that Mequinez of contemporary travellers which was held to be
one of the wonders of the age.

Little remains to Volubilis in the way of important monuments: only the
fragments of a basilica, part of an arch of triumph erected in honour of
Caracalla, and the fallen columns and architraves which strew the path
of Rome across the world. But its site is magnificent; and as the
excavation of the ruins was interrupted by the war it is possible that
subsequent search may bring forth other treasures comparable to the
beautiful bronze _sloughi_ (the African hound) which is now its
principal possession.

It was delicious, after seven hours of travel under the African sun, to
sit on the shady terrace where the Curator of Volubilis, M. Louis
Chatelain, welcomes his visitors. The French Fine Arts have built a
charming house with gardens and pergolas for the custodian of the ruins,
and have found in M. Chatelain an archaeologist so absorbed in his task
that, as soon as conditions permit, every inch of soil in the
circumference of the city will be made to yield up whatever secrets it



We lingered under the pergolas of Volubilis till the heat grew less
intolerable, and then our companions suggested a visit to Moulay Idriss.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Volubilis--the western portico of the basilica of Antonius Pius]

Such a possibility had not occurred to us, and even Captain de M.
seemed to doubt whether the expedition were advisable. Moulay Idriss was
still said to be resentful of Christian intrusion: it was only a year
before that the first French officers had entered it.

But M. Chatelain was confident that there would be no opposition to our
visit, and with the piled-up terraces and towers of the Sacred City
growing golden in the afternoon light across the valley it was
impossible to hesitate.

We drove down through an olive-wood as ancient as those of Mitylene and
Corfu, and then along the narrowing valley, between gardens luxuriant
even in the parched Moroccan autumn. Presently the motor began to climb
the steep road to the town, and at a gateway we got out and were met by
the native chief of police. Instantly at the high windows of mysterious
houses veiled heads appeared and sidelong eyes cautiously inspected us.
But the quarter was deserted, and we walked on without meeting any one
to the Street of the Weavers, a silent narrow way between low
whitewashed niches like the cubicles in a convent. In each niche sat a
grave white-robed youth, forming a great amphora-shaped grain-basket out
of closely plaited straw. Vine-leaves and tendrils hung through the reed
roofing overhead, and grape-clusters cast their classic shadow at our
feet. It was like walking on the unrolled frieze of a white Etruscan
vase patterned with black vine garlands.

The silence and emptiness of the place began to strike us: there was no
sign of the Oriental crowd that usually springs out of the dust at the
approach of strangers. But suddenly we heard close by the lament of the
_rekka_ (a kind of long fife), accompanied by a wild thrum-thrum of
earthenware drums and a curious excited chanting of men's voices. I had
heard such a chant before, at the other end of North Africa, in
Kairouan, one of the other great Sanctuaries of Islam, where the sect of
the Aissaouas celebrate their sanguinary rites in the _Zaouia_[A] of
their confraternity. Yet it seemed incredible that if the Aissaouas of
Moulay Idriss were performing their ceremonies that day the chief of
police should be placidly leading us through the streets in the very
direction from which the chant was coming. The Moroccan, though he
has no desire to get into trouble with the Christian, prefers to be left
alone on feast-days, especially in such a stronghold of the faith as
Moulay Idriss.

[Footnote A: Sacred college.]

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Moulay-Idriss (9,000 inhabitants)]

But "Geschehen ist geschehen" is the sum of Oriental philosophy. For
centuries Moulay Idriss had held out fanatically on its holy steep;
then, suddenly, in 1916, its chiefs saw that the game was up, and
surrendered without a pretense of resistance. Now the whole thing was
over, the new conditions were accepted, and the chief of police assured
us that with the French uniform at our side we should be safe anywhere.

"The Aissaouas?" he explained. "No, this is another sect, the Hamadchas,
who are performing their ritual dance on the feast-day of their patron,
the _marabout_ Hamadch, whose tomb is in the Zerhoun. The feast is
celebrated publicly in the market-place of Moulay Idriss."

As he spoke we came out into the market-place, and understood why there
had been no crowd at the gate. All the population was in the square and
on the roofs that mount above it, tier by tier, against the wooded
hillside: Moulay Idriss had better to do that day than to gape at a few
tourists in dust-coats.

Short of Sfax, and the other coast cities of eastern Tunisia, there is
surely not another town in North Africa as white as Moulay Idriss. Some
are pale blue and pinky yellow, like the Kasbah of Tangier, or cream and
blue like Sale, but Tangier and Sale, for centuries continuously subject
to European influences, have probably borrowed their colors from Genoa
and the Italian Riviera. In the interior of the country, and especially
in Morocco, where the whole color-scheme is much soberer than in Algeria
and Tunisia, the color of the native houses is always a penitential
shade of mud and ashes.

But Moulay Idriss, that afternoon, was as white as if its arcaded square
had been scooped out of a big cream cheese. The late sunlight lay like
gold-leaf on one side of the square, the other was in pure blue shade,
and above it, the crowded roofs, terraces and balconies packed with
women in bright dresses looked like a flower-field on the edge of a
marble quarry.

The bright dresses were as unusual a sight as the white walls, for the
average Moroccan crowd is the color of its houses. But the occasion
was a special one, for these feasts of the Hamadchas occur only twice a
year, in spring and autumn, and as the ritual dances take place out of
doors, instead of being performed inside the building of the
confraternity, the feminine population seizes the opportunity to burst
into flower on the housetops.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Moulay-Idriss--the market-place]

It is rare, in Morocco, to see in the streets or the bazaars any women
except of the humblest classes, household slaves, servants, peasants
from the country or small tradesmen's wives; and even they (with the
exception of the unveiled Berber women) are wrapped in the prevailing
grave-clothes. The _filles de joie_ and dancing-girls whose brilliant
dresses enliven certain streets of the Algerian and Tunisian towns are
invisible, or at least unnoticeable, in Morocco, where life, on the
whole, seems so much less gay and brightly-tinted; and the women of the
richer classes, mercantile or aristocratic, never leave their harems
except to be married or buried. A throng of women dressed in light
colors is therefore to be seen in public only when some street festival
draws them to the roofs. Even then it is probable that the throng is
mostly composed of slaves, household servants, and women of the lower
_bourgeoisie_; but as they are all dressed in mauve and rose and pale
green, with long earrings and jewelled head-bands flashing through their
parted veils, the illusion, from a little distance, is as complete as
though they were the ladies in waiting of the Queen of Sheba; and that
radiant afternoon at Moulay Idriss, above the vine-garlanded square, and
against the background of piled-up terraces, their vivid groups were in
such contrast to the usual gray assemblages of the East that the scene
seemed like a setting for some extravagantly staged ballet.

For the same reason the spectacle unrolling itself below us took on a
blessed air of unreality. Any normal person who has seen a dance of the
Aissaouas and watched them swallow thorns and hot coals, slash
themselves with knives, and roll on the floor in epilepsy must have
privately longed, after the first excitement was over, to fly from the
repulsive scene. The Hamadchas are much more savage than Aissaouas, and
carry much farther their display of cataleptic anaesthesia, and, knowing
this, I had wondered how long I should be able to stand the sight of
what was going on below our terrace. But the beauty of the setting
redeemed the bestial horror. In that unreal golden light the scene
became merely symbolical: it was like one of those strange animal masks
which the Middle Ages brought down from antiquity by way of the
satyr-plays of Greece, and of which the half-human protagonists still
grin and contort themselves among the Christian symbols of Gothic

[Illustration: _From a photograph taken by Captain Henissart of the
French Army_

Moulay-Idriss--market-place on the day of the ritual dance of the

At one end of the square the musicians stood on a stone platform above
the dancers. Like the musicians in a bas-relief they were flattened side
by side against a wall, the fife-players with lifted arms and inflated
cheeks, the drummers pounding frantically on long earthenware drums
shaped like enormous hour-glasses and painted in barbaric patterns; and
below, down the length of the market-place, the dance unrolled itself in
a frenzied order that would have filled with envy a Paris or London

In its centre an inspired-looking creature whirled about on his axis,
the black ringlets standing out in snaky spirals from his haggard head,
his cheek-muscles convulsively twitching. Around him, but a long way
off, the dancers rocked and circled with long raucous cries dominated
by the sobbing booming music, and in the sunlit space between dancers
and holy man, two or three impish children bobbed about with fixed eyes
and a grimace of comic frenzy, solemnly parodying his contortions.

Meanwhile a tall grave personage in a doge-like cap, the only calm
figure in the tumult, moved gravely here and there, regulating the
dance, stimulating the frenzy, or calming some devotee who had broken
the ranks and lay tossing and foaming on the stones. There was something
far more sinister in this passionless figure, holding his hand on the
key that let loose such crazy forces, than in the poor central whirligig
who merely set the rhythm of the convulsions.

The dancers were all dressed in white caftans or in the blue shirts of
the lowest classes. In the sunlight something that looked like fresh red
paint glistened on their shaved black or yellow skulls and made dark
blotches on their garments. At first these stripes and stains suggested
only a gaudy ritual ornament like the pattern on the drums; then one saw
that the paint, or whatever it was, kept dripping down from the whirling
caftans and forming fresh pools among the stones, that as one of the
pools dried up another formed, redder and more glistening, and that
these pools were fed from great gashes which the dancers hacked in their
own skulls and breasts with hatchets and sharpened stones. The dance was
a blood-rite, a great sacrificial symbol, in which blood flowed so
freely that all the rocking feet were splashed with it.

Gradually, however, it became evident that many of the dancers simply
rocked and howled, without hacking themselves, and that most of the
bleeding skulls and breasts belonged to negroes. Every now and then the
circle widened to let in another figure, black or dark yellow, the
figure of some humble blue-shirted spectator suddenly "getting religion"
and rushing forward to snatch a weapon and baptize himself with his own
blood; and as each new recruit joined the dancers the music shrieked
louder and the devotees howled more wolfishly. And still, in the centre,
the mad _marabout_ spun, and the children bobbed and mimicked him and
rolled their diamond eyes.

Such is the dance of the Hamadchas, of the confraternity of the
_marabout_ Hamadch, a powerful saint of the seventeenth century, whose
tomb is in the Zerhoun above Moulay Idriss. Hamadch, it appears, had a
faithful slave, who, when his master died, killed himself in despair,
and the self-inflicted wounds of the brotherhood are supposed to
symbolize the slave's suicide; though no doubt the origin of the
ceremony might be traced back to the depths of that ensanguined grove
where Mr. Fraser plucked the Golden Bough.

The more naive interpretation, however, has its advantages, since it
enables the devotees to divide their ritual duties into two classes, the
devotions of the free men being addressed to the saint who died in his
bed, while the slaves belong to the slave, and must therefore simulate
his horrid end. And this is the reason why most of the white caftans
simply rock and writhe, while the humble blue shirts drip with blood.

[Illustration: _From a photograph taken by Captain Henissart of the
French Army_

Moulay-Idriss--the market-place. Procession of the confraternity of the

The sun was setting when we came down from our terrace above the
market-place. To find a lodging for the night we had to press on to
Meknez, where we were awaited at the French military post; therefore we
were reluctantly obliged to refuse an invitation to take tea with the
Caid, whose high-perched house commands the whole white amphitheatre
of the town. It was disappointing to leave Moulay Idriss with the
Hamadchas howling their maddest, and so much besides to see; but as we
drove away under the long shadows of the olives we counted ourselves
lucky to have entered the sacred town, and luckier still to have been
there on the day of the dance which, till a year ago, no foreigner had
been allowed to see.

A fine French road runs from Moulay Idriss to Meknez, and we flew on
through the dusk between wooded hills and open stretches on which the
fires of nomad camps put orange splashes in the darkness. Then the moon
rose, and by its light we saw a widening valley, and gardens and
orchards that stretched up to a great walled city outlined against the



All that evening, from the garden of the Military Subdivision on the
opposite height, we sat and looked across at the dark tree-clumps and
moonlit walls of Meknez, and listened to its fantastic history.

Meknez was built by the Sultan Moulay-Ismael, around the nucleus of a
small town of which the site happened to please him, at the very moment
when Louis XIV was creating Versailles. The coincidence of two
contemporary autocrats calling cities out of the wilderness has caused
persons with a taste for analogy to describe Meknez as the Versailles of
Morocco: an epithet which is about as instructive as it would be to call
Phidias the Benvenuto Cellini of Greece.

There is, however, a pretext for the comparison in the fact that the two
sovereigns took a lively interest in each other's affairs. Moulay-Ismael
sent several embassies to treat with Louis XIV on the eternal question
of piracy and the ransom of Christian captives, and the two rulers were
continually exchanging gifts and compliments.

The governor of Tetouan, who was sent to Paris in 1680, having brought
as presents to the French King a lion, a lioness, a tigress, and four
ostriches, Louis XIV shortly afterward despatched M. de Saint-Amand to
Morocco with two dozen watches, twelve pieces of gold brocade, a cannon
six feet long and other firearms. After this the relations between the
two courts remained friendly till 1693, at which time they were
strained by the refusal of France to return the Moorish captives who
were employed on the king's galleys, and who were probably as much
needed there as the Sultan's Christian slaves for the building of
Moorish palaces.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Meknez--gate: "Bab-Mansour"]

Six years later the Sultan despatched Abdallah-ben-Aissa to France to
reopen negotiations. The ambassador was as brilliantly received and as
eagerly run after as a modern statesman on an official mission, and his
candidly expressed admiration for the personal charms of the Princesse
de Conti, one of the French monarch's legitimatized children, is
supposed to have been mistaken by the court for an offer of marriage
from the Emperor of Barbary. But he came back without a treaty.

Moulay-Ismael, whose long reign (1673 to 1727) and extraordinary
exploits make him already a legendary figure, conceived, early in his
career, a passion for Meknez; and through all his troubled rule, with
its alternations of barbaric warfare and far-reaching negotiations,
palace intrigue, crazy bloodshed and great administrative reforms, his
heart perpetually reverted to the wooded slopes on which he dreamed of
building a city more splendid than Fez or Marrakech.

"The Sultan" (writes his chronicler Aboul Kasim-ibn-Ahmad, called
"Ezziani") "loved Meknez, the climate of which had enchanted him, and he
would have liked never to leave it." He left it, indeed, often, left it
perpetually, to fight with revolted tribes in the Atlas, to defeat one
Berber army after another, to carry his arms across the High Atlas into
the Souss, to adorn Fez with the heads of seven hundred vanquished
chiefs, to put down his three rebellious brothers, to strip all the
cities of his empire of their negroes and transport them to Meknez ("so
that not a negro, man, woman or child, slave or free, was left in any
part of the country"); to fight and defeat the Christians (1683), to
take Tangier, to conduct a campaign on the Moulouya, to lead the holy
war against the Spanish (1689), to take Larache, the Spanish commercial
post on the west coast (which furnished eighteen hundred captives for
Meknez); to lay siege to Ceuta, conduct a campaign against the Turks of
Algiers, repress the pillage in his army, subdue more tribes, and build
forts for his Black Legionaries from Oudjda to the Oued Noun. But
almost each year's bloody record ends with the placid phrase: "Then the
Sultan returned to Meknez."

In the year 1701, Ezziani writes, the indomitable old man "deprived his
rebellious sons of their principalities; after which date he consecrated
himself exclusively to the building of his palaces and the planting of
his gardens. And in 1720 (nineteen years later in this long reign!) he
ordered the destruction of the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss for the
purpose of enlarging it. And to gain the necessary space he bought all
the adjacent land, and the workmen did not leave these new labors till
they were entirely completed."

In this same year there was levied on Fez a new tax which was so heavy
that the inhabitants were obliged to abandon the city.

Yet it is written of this terrible old monarch, who devastated whole
districts, and sacrificed uncounted thousands of lives for his ruthless
pleasure, that under his administration of his chaotic and turbulent
empire "the country rejoiced in the most complete security. A Jew or a
woman might travel alone from Oudjda to the Oued Noun without any one's
asking their business. Abundance reigned throughout the land: grain,
food, cattle were to be bought for the lowest prices. Nowhere in the
whole of Morocco was a highwayman or a robber to be found."

And probably both sides of the picture are true.

What, then, was the marvel across the valley, what were the "lordly
pleasure-houses" to whose creation and enlargement Moulay-Ismael
returned again and again amid the throes and violences of a nearly
centenarian life?

The chronicler continues: "The Sultan caused all the houses near the
Kasbah[A] to be demolished, _and compelled the inhabitants to carry away
the ruins of their dwellings_. All the eastern end of the town was also
torn down, and the ramparts were rebuilt. He also built the Great Mosque
next to the palace of Nasr.... He occupied himself personally with the
construction of his palaces, and before one was finished he caused
another to be begun. He built the mosque of Elakhdar; the walls of the
new town were pierced with twenty fortified gates and surmounted with
platforms for cannon. Within the walls he made a great artificial lake
where one might row in boats. There was also a granary with immense
subterranean reservoirs of water, and a stable _three miles long_ for
the Sultan's horses and mules; twelve thousand horses could be stabled
in it. The flooring rested on vaults in which the grain for the horses
was stored.... He also built the palace of Elmansour, which had twenty
cupolas; from the top of each cupola one could look forth on the plain
and the mountains around Meknez. All about the stables the rarest trees
were planted. Within the walls were fifty palaces, each with its own
mosque and its baths. Never was such a thing known in any country, Arab
or foreign, pagan or Moslem. The guarding of the doors of these palaces
was intrusted to twelve hundred black eunuchs."

[Footnote A: The citadel of old Meknez.]

Such were the wonders that seventeenth century travellers toiled across
the desert to see, and from which they came back dazzled and almost
incredulous, as if half-suspecting that some djinn had deluded them with
the vision of a phantom city. But for the soberer European records, and
the evidence of the ruins themselves (for the whole of the new Meknez is
a ruin), one might indeed be inclined to regard Ezziani's statements as
an Oriental fable; but the briefest glimpse of Moulay-Ismael's Meknez
makes it easy to believe all his chronicler tells of it, even to the
three miles of stables.

Next morning we drove across the valley and, skirting the old town on
the hill, entered, by one of the twenty gates of Moulay-Ismael, a long
empty street lined with half-ruined arcades. Beyond was another street
of beaten red earth bordered by high red walls blotched with gray and
mauve. Ahead of us this road stretched out interminably (Meknez, before
Washington, was the "city of magnificent distances"), and down its empty
length only one or two draped figures passed, like shadows on the way to
Shadowland. It was clear that the living held no further traffic with
the Meknez of Moulay-Ismael.

Here it was at last. Another great gateway let us, under a resplendently
bejewelled arch of turquoise-blue and green, into another walled
emptiness of red clay, a third gate opened into still vaster vacancies,
and at their farther end rose a colossal red ruin, something like the
lower stories of a Roman amphitheatre that should stretch out
indefinitely instead of forming a circle, or like a series of Roman
aqueducts built side by side and joined into one structure. Below this
indescribable ruin the arid ground sloped down to an artificial water
which was surely the lake that the Sultan had made for his
boating-parties; and beyond it more red earth stretched away to more
walls and gates, with glimpses of abandoned palaces and huge crumbling

The vastness, the silence, the catastrophic desolation of the place,
were all the more impressive because of the relatively recent date of
the buildings. As Moulay-Ismael had dealt with Volubilis, so time had
dealt with his own Meknez; and the destruction which it had taken
thousands of lash-driven slaves to inflict on the stout walls of the
Roman city, neglect and abandonment had here rapidly accomplished. But
though the sun-baked clay of which the impatient Sultan built his
pleasure-houses will not suffer comparison with the firm stones of
Rome, "the high Roman fashion" is visible in the shape and outline of
these ruins. What they are no one knows. In spite of Ezziani's text
(written when the place was already partly destroyed) archaeologists
disagree as to the uses of the crypt of rose-flushed clay whose twenty
rows of gigantic arches are so like an alignment of Roman aqueducts.
Were these the vaulted granaries, or the subterranean reservoirs under
the three miles of stabling which housed the twelve thousand horses? The
stables, at any rate, were certainly near this spot, for the lake
adjoins the ruins as in the chronicler's description; and between it and
old Meknez, behind walls within walls, lie all that remains of the fifty
palaces with their cupolas, gardens, mosques and baths.

This inner region is less ruined than the mysterious vaulted structure,
and one of the palaces, being still reserved for the present Sultan's
use, cannot be visited; but we wandered unchallenged through desert
courts, gardens of cypress and olive where dried fountains and painted
summer-houses are falling into dust, and barren spaces enclosed in long
empty facades. It was all the work of an eager and imperious old man,
who, to realize his dream quickly, built in perishable materials, but
the design, the dimensions, the whole conception, show that he had not
only heard of Versailles but had looked with his own eyes on Volubilis.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Meknez--the ruins of the palace of Moulay-Ismael]

To build on such a scale, and finish the work in a single lifetime, even
if the materials be malleable and the life a long one, implies a command
of human labor that the other Sultan at Versailles must have envied. The
imposition of the _corvee_ was of course even simpler in Morocco than in
France, since the material to draw on was unlimited, provided one could
assert one's power over it; and for that purpose Ismael had his Black
Army, the hundred and fifty thousand disciplined legionaries who enabled
him to enforce his rule over all the wild country from Algiers to

The methods by which this army were raised and increased are worth
recounting in Ezziani's words:

"A _taleb_[A] of Marrakech having shown the Sultan a register containing
the names of the negroes who had formed part of the army of El-Mansour,
Moulay-Ismael ordered his agents to collect all that remained of these
negroes and their children.... He also sent to the tribes of the
Beni-Hasen, and into the mountains, to purchase all the negroes to be
found there. Thus all that were in the whole of Moghreb were assembled,
from the cities and the countryside, till not one was left, slave or

[Footnote A: Learned man.]

"These negroes were armed and clothed, and sent to Mechra Erremel (north
of Meknez) where they were ordered to build themselves houses, plant
gardens and remain till their children were ten years old. Then the
Sultan caused all the children to be brought to him, both boys and
girls. The boys were apprenticed to masons, carpenters, and other
tradesmen; others were employed to make mortar. The next year they were
taught to drive the mules, the third to make _adobe_ for building; the
fourth year they learned to ride horses bareback, the fifth they were
taught to ride in the saddle while using firearms. At the age of sixteen
these boys became soldiers. They were then married to the young
negresses who had meanwhile been taught cooking and washing in the
Sultan's palaces--except those who were pretty, and these were given a
musical education, after which each one received a wedding-dress and a
marriage settlement, and was handed over to her husband.

"All the children of these couples were in due time destined for the
Black Army, or for domestic service in the palaces. Every year the
Sultan went to the camp at Mechra Erremel and brought back the children.
The Black Army numbered one hundred and fifty thousand men, of whom part
were at Erremel, part at Meknez, and the rest in the seventy-six forts
which the Sultan built for them throughout his domain. May the Lord be
merciful to his memory!"

Such was the army by means of which Ismael enforced the _corvee_ on his
undisciplined tribes. Many thousands of lives went to the building of
imperial Meknez; but his subjects would scarcely have sufficed if he had
not been able to add to them twenty-five thousand Christian captives.

M. Augustin Bernard, in his admirable book on Morocco, says that the
seventeenth century was "the golden age of piracy" in Morocco; and the
great Ismael was no doubt one of its chief promoters. One understands
his unwillingness to come to an agreement with his great friend and
competitor, Louis XIV, on the difficult subject of the ransom of
Christian captives when one reads in the admiring Ezziani that it took
fifty-five thousand prisoners and captives to execute his architectural

"These prisoners, by day, were occupied on various tasks; at night they
were locked into subterranean dungeons. Any prisoner who died at his
task was _built into the wall he was building_." (This statement is
confirmed by John Windus, the English traveller who visited the court of
Moulay-Ismael in the Sultan's old age.) Many Europeans must have
succumbed quickly to the heat and the lash, for the wall-builders were
obliged to make each stroke in time with their neighbors, and were
bastinadoed mercilessly if they broke the rhythm; and there is little
doubt that the expert artisans of France, Italy and Spain were even
dearer to the old architectural madman than the friendship of the
palace-building despot across the sea.

Ezziani's chronicle dates from the first part of the nineteenth century,
and is an Arab's colorless panegyric of a great Arab ruler; but John
Windus, the Englishman who accompanied Commodore Stewart's embassy to
Meknez in 1721, saw the imperial palaces and their builder with his own
eyes, and described them with the vivacity of a foreigner struck by
every contrast.

Moulay-Ismael was then about eighty-seven years old, "a middle-sized
man, who has the remains of a good face, with nothing of a negro's
features, though his mother was a black. He has a high nose, which is
pretty long from the eyebrows downward, and thin. He has lost all his
teeth, and breathes short, as if his lungs were bad, coughs and spits
pretty often, which never falls to the ground, men being always ready
with handkerchiefs to receive it. His beard is thin and very white, his
eyes seem to have been sparkling, but their vigor decayed through age,
and his cheeks very much sunk in."

Such was the appearance of this extraordinary man, who deceived,
tortured, betrayed, assassinated, terrorized and mocked his slaves, his
subjects, his women and children and his ministers like any other
half-savage Arab despot, but who yet managed through his long reign to
maintain a barbarous empire, to police the wilderness, and give at
least an appearance of prosperity and security where all had before been

The English emissaries appear to have been much struck by the
magnificence of his palaces, then in all the splendor of novelty, and
gleaming with marbles brought from Volubilis and Sale. Windus extols in
particular the sunken gardens of cypress, pomegranate and orange trees,
some of them laid out seventy feet below the level of the palace-courts;
the exquisite plaster fretwork; the miles of tessellated walls and
pavement made in the finely patterned mosaic work of Fez; and the long
terrace walk trellised with "vines and other greens" leading from the
palace to the famous stables, and over which it was the Sultan's custom
to drive in a chariot drawn by women and eunuchs.

Moulay-Ismael received the English ambassador with every show of pomp
and friendship, and immediately "made him a present" of a handful of
young English captives; but just as the negotiations were about to be
concluded Commodore Stewart was privately advised that the Sultan had no
intention of allowing the rest of the English to be ransomed. Luckily a
diplomatically composed letter, addressed by the English envoy to one of
the favorite wives, resulted in Ismael's changing his mind, and the
captives were finally given up, and departed with their rescuers. As one
stands in the fiery sun, among the monstrous ruins of those tragic
walls, one pictures the other Christian captives pausing for a second,
at the risk of death, in the rhythmic beat of their labor, to watch the
little train of their companions winding away across the desert to

On the way back through the long streets that lead to the ruins we
noticed, lying by the roadside, the shafts of fluted columns, blocks of
marble, Roman capitals: fragments of the long loot of Sale and
Volubilis. We asked how they came there, and were told that, according
to a tradition still believed in the country, when the prisoners and
captives who were dragging the building materials toward the palace
under the blistering sun heard of the old Sultan's death, they dropped
their loads with one accord and fled. At the same moment every worker on
the walls flung down his trowel or hod, every slave of the palaces
stopped grinding or scouring or drawing water or carrying faggots or
polishing the miles of tessellated floors, so that, when the tyrant's
heart stopped beating, at that very instant life ceased to circulate in
the huge house he had built, and in all its members it became a carcass
for his carcass.





Many-walled Fez rose up before us out of the plain toward the end of the

The walls and towers we saw were those of the upper town, Fez Eldjid
(the New), which lies on the edge of the plateau and hides from view Old
Fez tumbling down below it into the ravine of the Oued Fez. Thus
approached, the city presents to view only a long line of ramparts and
fortresses, merging into the wide, tawny plain and framed in barren
mountains. Not a house is visible outside the walls, except, at a
respectful distance, the few unobtrusive buildings of the European
colony, and not a village breaks the desolation of the landscape.

As we drew nearer, the walls towered close over us, and skirting them we
came to a bare space outside a great horseshoe gate, and found
ourselves suddenly in the foreground of a picture by Carpaccio or
Bellini. Where else had one seen just those rows of white-turbaned
majestic figures, squatting in the dust under lofty walls, all the pale
faces ringed in curling beards turned to the story-teller in the centre
of the group? Transform the story-teller into a rapt young Venetian, and
you have the audience and the foreground of Carpaccio's "Preaching of
St. Stephen," even to the camels craning inquisitive necks above the
turbans. Every step of the way in North Africa corroborates the close
observation of the early travellers, whether painters or narrators, and
shows the unchanged character of the Oriental life that the Venetians
pictured, and Leo Africanus and Windus and Charles Cochelet described.

There was time, before sunset, to go up to the hill from which the
ruined tombs of the Merinid Sultans look down over the city they made
glorious. After the savage massacre of foreign residents in 1912 the
French encircled the heights commanding Fez with one of their admirably
engineered military roads, and in a few minutes our motor had climbed
to the point from which the great dynasty of artist-Sultans dreamed of
looking down forever on their capital.

Nothing endures in Islam, except what human inertia has left standing
and its own solidity has preserved from the elements. Or rather, nothing
remains intact, and nothing wholly perishes, but the architecture, like
all else, lingers on half-ruined and half-unchanged. The Merinid tombs,
however, are only hollow shells and broken walls, grown part of the
brown cliff they cling to. No one thinks of them save as an added touch
of picturesqueness where all is picturesque: they survive as the best
point from which to look down at Fez.

There it lies, outspread in golden light, roofs, terraces, and towers
sliding over the plain's edge in a rush dammed here and there by
barriers of cypress and ilex, but growing more precipitous as the ravine
of the Fez narrows downward with the fall of the river. It is as though
some powerful enchanter, after decreeing that the city should be hurled
into the depths, had been moved by its beauty, and with a wave of his
wand held it suspended above destruction.

At first the eye takes in only this impression of a great city over a
green abyss, then the complex scene begins to define itself. All around
are the outer lines of ramparts, walls beyond walls, their crenellations
climbing the heights, their angle fortresses dominating the precipices.
Almost on a level with us lies the upper city, the aristocratic Fez
Eldjid of painted palaces and gardens, then, as the houses close in and
descend more abruptly, terraces, minarets, domes, and long reed-thatched
roofs of the bazaars, all gather around the green-tiled tomb of Moulay
Idriss and the tower of the Almohad mosque of El Kairouiyin, which
adjoin each other in the depths of Fez, and form its central sanctuary.

From the Merinid hill we had noticed a long facade among the cypresses
and fruit-trees of Eldjid. This was Bou-Jeloud, the old summer-palace of
the Sultan's harem, now the house of the Resident-General, where
lodgings had been prepared for us.

The road descended again, crossing the Oued Fez by one of the fine old
single-arch bridges that mark the architectural link between Morocco
and Spain. We skirted high walls, wayside pools, and dripping
mill-wheels; then one of the city gates engulfed us, and we were in the
waste spaces of intramural Fez, formerly the lines of defense of a rich
and perpetually menaced city, now chiefly used for refuse-heaps,
open-air fondaks, and dreaming-places for rows of Lazaruses rolled in
their cerements in the dust.

Through another gate and more walls we came to an arch in the inner line
of defense. Beyond that, the motor paused before a green door, where a
Cadi in a silken caftan received us. Across squares of orange-trees
divided by running water we were led to an arcaded apartment hung with
Moroccan embroideries and lined with wide divans; the hall of reception
of the Resident-General. Through its arches were other tiled distances,
fountains, arcades, beyond, in greener depths, the bright blossoms of a
flower-garden. Such was our first sight of Bou-Jeloud, once the
summer-palace of the wives of Moulay Hafid.

Upstairs, from a room walled and ceiled with cedar, and decorated with
the bold rose-pink embroideries of Sale and the intricate old
needlework of Fez, I looked out over the upper city toward the mauve and
tawny mountains.

Just below the window the flat roofs of a group of little houses
descended like the steps of an irregular staircase. Between them rose a
few cypresses and a green minaret, out of the court of one house an
ancient fig-tree thrust its twisted arms. The sun had set, and one after
another bright figures appeared on the roofs. The children came first,
hung with silver amulets and amber beads, and pursued by negresses in
striped turbans, who bustled up with rugs and matting, then the mothers
followed more indolently, released from their ashy mufflings and
showing, under their light veils, long earrings from the _Mellah_[A] and
caftans of pale green or peach color.

[Footnote A: The Ghetto in African towns. All the jewellers in Morocco
are Jews.]

The houses were humble ones, such as grow up in the cracks of a wealthy
quarter, and their inhabitants doubtless small folk, but in the
enchanted African twilight the terraces blossomed like gardens, and when
the moon rose and the muezzin called from the minaret, the domestic
squabbles and the shrill cries from roof to roof became part of a story
in Bagdad, overheard a thousand years ago by that arch-detective



It is usual to speak of Fez as very old, and the term seems justified
when one remembers that the palace of Bou-Jeloud stands on the site of
an Almoravid Kasbah of the eleventh century, that when that Kasbah was
erected Fez Elbali had already existed for three hundred years, that El
Kairouiyin is the contemporary of Sant' Ambrogio of Milan, and that the
original mosque of Moulay Idriss II was built over his grave in the
eighth century.

Fez is, in fact, the oldest city in Morocco without a Phenician or a
Roman past, and has preserved more traces than any other of its
architectural flowering-time, yet it would be truer to say of it, as of
all Moroccan cities, that it has no age, since its seemingly immutable
shape is forever crumbling and being renewed on the old lines.

When we rode forth the next day to visit some of the palaces of Eldjid
our pink-saddled mules carried us at once out of the bounds of time. How
associate anything so precise and Occidental as years or centuries with
these visions of frail splendor seen through cypresses and roses? The
Cadis in their multiple muslins, who received us in secret doorways and
led us by many passages into the sudden wonder of gardens and fountains;
the bright-earringed negresses peering down from painted balconies, the
pilgrims and clients dozing in the sun against hot walls, the deserted
halls with plaster lace-work and gold pendentives in tiled niches; the
Venetian chandeliers and tawdry rococo beds, the terraces from which
pigeons whirled up in a white cloud while we walked on a carpet of their
feathers--were all these the ghosts of vanished state, or the actual
setting of the life of some rich merchant with "business connections" in
Liverpool and Lyons, or some government official at that very moment
speeding to Meknez or Casablanca in his sixty h.p. motor?

We visited old palaces and new, inhabited and abandoned, and over all
lay the same fine dust of oblivion, like the silvery mould on an
overripe fruit. Overripeness is indeed the characteristic of this rich
and stagnant civilization. Buildings, people, customs, seem all about to
crumble and fall of their own weight: the present is a perpetually
prolonged past. To touch the past with one's hands is realized only in
dreams, and in Morocco the dream-feeling envelopes one at every step.
One trembles continually lest the "Person from Porlock" should step in.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Fez Eldjid (the upper city)]

He is undoubtedly on the way, but Fez had not heard of him when we rode
out that morning. Fez Eldjid, the "New Fez" of palaces and government
buildings, was founded in the fourteenth century by the Merinid princes,
and probably looks much as it did then. The palaces in their overgrown
gardens, with pale-green trellises dividing the rose-beds from the
blue-and-white tiled paths, and fountains in fluted basins of Italian
marble, all had the same drowsy charm, yet the oldest were built not
more than a century or two ago, others within the last fifty years; and
at Marrakech, later in our journey, we were to visit a sumptuous
dwelling where plaster-cutters and ceramists from Fez were actually
repeating with wonderful skill and spontaneity, the old ornamentation
of which the threads run back to Rome and Damascus.

Of really old private dwellings, palaces or rich men's houses, there are
surprisingly few in Morocco. It is hard to guess the age of some of the
featureless houses propping each other's flanks in old Fez or old Sale,
but people rich enough to rebuild have always done so, and the passion
for building seems allied, in this country of inconsequences, to the
supine indifference that lets existing constructions crumble back to
clay. "Dust to dust" should have been the motto of the Moroccan

Fez possesses one old secular building, a fine fondak of the fifteenth
century, but in Morocco, as a rule, only mosques and the tombs of saints
are preserved--none too carefully--and even the strong stone buildings
of the Almohads have been allowed to fall to ruin, as at Chella and
Rabat. This indifference to the completed object--which is like a kind
of collective exaggeration of the artist's indifference to his completed
work--has resulted in the total disappearance of the furniture and works
of art which must have filled the beautiful buildings of the Merinid
period. Neither pottery nor brasswork nor enamels nor fine hangings
survive; there is no parallel in Morocco to the textiles of Syria, the
potteries of Persia, the Byzantine ivories or enamels. It has been said
that the Moroccan is always a nomad, who lives in his house as if it
were a tent; but this is not a conclusive answer to any one who knows
the passion of the modern Moroccan for European furniture. When one
reads the list of the treasures contained in the palaces of the
mediaeval Sultans of Egypt one feels sure that, if artists were lacking
in Morocco, the princes and merchants who brought skilled craftsmen
across the desert to build their cities must also have imported
treasures to adorn them. Yet, as far as is known, the famous
fourteenth-century bronze chandelier of Tetuan, and the fine old ritual
furniture reported to be contained in certain mosques, are the only
important works of art in Morocco later in date than the Roman _sloughi_
of Volubilis.



The distances in Fez are so great and the streets so narrow, and in some
quarters so crowded, that all but saints or humble folk go about on

In the afternoon, accordingly, the pink mules came again, and we set out
for the long tunnel-like street that leads down the hill to the Fez

"Look out--'ware heads!" our leader would call back at every turn, as
our way shrank to a black passage under a house bestriding the street,
or a caravan of donkeys laden with obstructive reeds or branches of
dates made the passers-by flatten themselves against the walls.

On each side of the street the houses hung over us like fortresses,
leaning across the narrow strip of blue and throwing out great beams and
buttresses to prop each other's bulging sides. Windows there were none
on the lower floors; only here and there an iron-barred slit stuffed
with rags and immemorial filth, from which a lean cat would suddenly
spring out, and scuttle off under an archway like a witch's familiar.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Fez--a reed-roofed street]

Some of these descending lanes were packed with people, others as
deserted as a cemetery; and it was strange to pass from the thronged
streets leading to the bazaars to the profound and secretive silence of
a quarter of well-to-do dwelling-houses, where only a few veiled women
attended by negro slaves moved noiselessly over the clean cobblestones,
and the sound of fountains and runnels came from hidden courtyards and
over garden-walls.

This noise of water is as characteristic of Fez as of Damascus. The Oued
Fez rushes through the heart of the town, bridged, canalized, built
over, and ever and again bursting out into tumultuous falls and pools
shadowed with foliage. The central artery of the city is not a street
but a waterfall, and tales are told of the dark uses to which, even now,
the underground currents are put by some of the dwellers behind the
blank walls and scented gardens of those highly respectable streets.

The crowd in Oriental cities is made up of many elements, and in Morocco
Turks, Jews and infidels, Berbers of the mountains, fanatics of the
confraternities, Soudanese blacks and haggard Blue Men of the Souss,
jostle the merchants and government officials with that democratic
familiarity which goes side by side with abject servility in this land
of perpetual contradictions. But Fez is above all the city of wealth and
learning, of universities and counting-houses, and the merchant and the
_oulama_[A]--the sedentary and luxurious types--prevail.

[Footnote A: Learned man, doctor of the university.]

The slippered Fazi merchant, wrapped in white muslins and securely
mounted on a broad velvet saddle-cloth anchored to the back of a broad
mule, is as unlike the Arab horseman of the desert as Mr. Tracy Tupman
was unlike the Musketeers of Dumas. Ease, music, money-making, the
affairs of his harem and the bringing-up of his children, are his chief
interests, and his plump pale face with long-lashed hazel eyes, his
curling beard and fat womanish hands, recall the portly potentates of
Hindu miniatures, dreaming among houris beside lotus-tanks.

These personages, when they ride abroad, are preceded by a swarthy
footman, who keeps his hand on the embroidered bridle; and the
government officers and dignitaries of the _Makhzen_[A] are usually
escorted by several mounted officers of their household, with a servant
to each mule. The cry of the runners scatters the crowd, and even the
panniered donkeys and perpetually astonished camels somehow contrive to
become two-dimensional while the white procession goes by.

[Footnote A: The Sultan's government.]

Then the populace closes in again, so quickly and densely that it seems
impossible it could ever have been parted, and negro water-carriers,
muffled women, beggars streaming with sores, sinewy and greasy "saints,"
Soudanese sorcerers hung with amulets made of sardine-boxes and
hares'-feet, long-lashed boys of the Chleuh in clean embroidered
caftans, Jews in black robes and skull-caps, university students
carrying their prayer-carpets, bangled and spangled black women,
scrofulous children with gazelle eyes and mangy skulls, and blind men
tapping along with linked arms and howling out verses of the Koran,
surge together in a mass drawn by irresistible suction to the point
where the bazaars converge about the mosques of Moulay Idriss and El


Back to Full Books