In Morocco
Edith Wharton

Part 2 out of 4

Seen from a terrace of the upper town, the long thatched roofing of El
Attarine, the central bazaar of Fez, promises fantastic revelations of
native life; but the dun-colored crowds moving through its checkered
twilight, the lack of carved shop-fronts and gaily adorned
coffee-houses, and the absence of the painted coffers and vivid
embroideries of Tunis, remind one that Morocco is a melancholy country,
and Fez a profoundly melancholy city.

_Dust and ashes, dust and ashes_, echoes from the gray walls, the
mouldering thatch of the _souks_, the long lamentable song of the blind
beggars sitting in rows under the feet of the camels and asses. No young
men stroll through the bazaar in bright caftans, with roses and jasmine
behind their ears, no pedlars offer lemonade and sweetmeats and
golden-fritters, no flower-sellers pursue one with tight bunches of
orange-blossom and little pink roses. The well-to-do ride by in white,
and the rest of the population goes mournfully in earth-color.

But gradually one falls under the spell of another influence--the
influence of the Atlas and the desert. Unknown Africa seems much nearer
to Morocco than to the white towns of Tunis and the smiling oases of
South Algeria. One feels the nearness of Marrakech at Fez, and at
Marrakech that of Timbuctoo.

Fez is sombre, and the bazaars clustered about its holiest sanctuaries
form its most sombre quarter. Dusk falls there early, and oil-lanterns
twinkle in the merchants' niches while the clear African daylight still
lies on the gardens of upper Fez. This twilight adds to the mystery of
the _souks_, making them, in spite of profane noise and crowding and
filth, an impressive approach to the sacred places.

Until a year or two ago, the precincts around Moulay Idriss and El
Kairouiyin were _horm_, that is, cut off from the unbeliever. Heavy
beams of wood barred the end of each _souk_, shutting off the
sanctuaries, and the Christian could only conjecture what lay beyond.
Now he knows in part; for, though the beams have not been lowered, all
comers may pass under them to the lanes about the mosques, and even
pause a moment in their open doorways. Farther one may not go, for the
shrines of Morocco are still closed to unbelievers; but whoever knows
Cordova, or has stood under the arches of the Great Mosque of Kairouan,
can reconstruct something of the hidden beauties of its namesake, the
"Mosque Kairouan" of western Africa.

Once under the bars, the richness of the old Moorish Fez presses upon
one with unexpected beauty. Here is the graceful tiled fountain of
Nedjarine, glittering with the unapproachable blues and greens of
ceramic mosaics, near it, the courtyard of the Fondak Nedjarine, oldest
and stateliest of Moroccan inns, with triple galleries of sculptured
cedar rising above arcades of stone. A little farther on lights and
incense draw one to a threshold where it is well not to linger unduly.
Under a deep archway, between booths where gay votive candles are sold,
the glimmer of hanging lamps falls on patches of gilding and mosaic, and
on veiled women prostrating themselves before an invisible shrine--for
this is the vestibule of the mosque of Moulay Idriss, where, on certain
days of the week, women are admitted to pray.

Moulay Idriss was not built over the grave of the Fatimite prophet,
first of the name, whose bones lie in the Zerhoun above his sacred town.
The mosque of Fez grew up around the tomb of his posthumous son, Moulay
Idriss II, who, descending from the hills, fell upon a camp of Berbers
on an affluent of the Sebou, and there laid the foundations of Fez, and
of the Moroccan Empire.

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

Fez--the Nedjarine fountain]

Of the original monument it is said that little remains. The
_zaouia_[A] which encloses it dates from the reign of Moulay-Ismael, the
seventeenth-century Sultan of Meknez, and the mosque itself, and the
green minaret shooting up from the very centre of old Fez, were not
built until 1820. But a rich surface of age has already formed on all
these disparate buildings, and the over-gorgeous details of the shrines
and fountains set in their outer walls are blended into harmony by a
film of incense-smoke, and the grease of countless venerating lips and

[Footnote A: Moslem monastery.]

Featureless walls of mean houses close in again at the next turn; but a
few steps farther another archway reveals another secret scene. This
time it is a corner of the jealously guarded court of ablutions in the
great mosque El Kairouiyin, with the twin green-roofed pavilions that
are so like those of the Alhambra.

Those who have walked around the outer walls of the mosque of the other
Kairouan, and recall the successive doors opening into the forecourt and
into the mosque itself, will be able to guess at the plan of the church
of Fez. The great Almohad sanctuary of Tunisia is singularly free from
parasitic buildings, and may be approached as easily as that of Cordova,
but the approaches of El Kairouiyin are so built up that one never knows
at which turn of the labyrinth one may catch sight of its court of
fountains, or peep down the endless colonnades of which the Arabs say:
"The man who should try to count the columns of Kairouiyin would go

Marble floors, heavy whitewashed piers, prostrate figures in the
penumbra, rows of yellow slippers outside in the sunlight--out of such
glimpses one must reconstruct a vision of the long vistas of arches, the
blues and golds of the _mirhab_,[A] the lustre of bronze chandeliers,
and the ivory inlaying of the twelfth-century _minbar_[B] of ebony and

[Footnote A: Niche in the sanctuary of mosques.]

[Footnote B: Movable pulpit.]

No Christian footstep has yet profaned Kairouiyin, but fairly definite
information as to its plan has been gleaned by students of Moroccan art.
The number of its "countless" columns has been counted, and it is known
that, to the right of the _mirhab_, carved cedar doors open into a
mortuary chapel called "the mosque of the dead"--and also that in this
chapel, on Fridays, old books and precious manuscripts are sold by

This odd association of uses recalls the fact that Kairouiyin is not
only a church but a library, the University of Fez as well as its
cathedral. The beautiful Medersas with which the Merinids adorned the
city are simply the lodging-houses of the students, the classes are all
held in the courts and galleries adjoining the mosque.

El Kairouiyin was originally an oratory built in the ninth century by
Fatmah, whose father had migrated from Kairouan to Fez. Later it was
enlarged, and its cupola was surmounted by the talismans which protect
sacred edifices against rats, scorpions and serpents, but in spite of
these precautions all animal life was not successfully exorcised from
it. In the twelfth century, when the great gate Ech Chemmain was
building, a well was discovered under its foundations. The mouth of the
well was obstructed by an immense tortoise, but when the workmen
attempted to take the tortoise out she said: "Burn me rather than take
me away from here." They respected her wishes and built her into the
foundations; and since then women who suffer from the back-ache have
only to come and sit on the bench above the well to be cured.

The actual mosque, or "praying-hall," is said to be formed of a
rectangle or double cube of 90 metres by 45, and this vast space is
equally divided by rows of horseshoe arches resting on whitewashed piers
on which the lower part is swathed in finely patterned matting from
Sale. Fifteen monumental doorways lead into the mosque. Their doors are
of cedar, heavily barred and ornamented with wrought iron, and one of
them bears the name of the artisan, and the date 531 of the Hegira (the
first half of the twelfth century). The mosque also contains the two
halls of audience of the Cadi, of which one has a graceful exterior
facade with coupled lights under horseshoe arches; the library, whose
20,000 volumes are reported to have dwindled to about a thousand, the
chapel where the Masters of the Koran recite the sacred text in
fulfilment of pious bequests; the "museum" in the upper part of the
minaret, wherein a remarkable collection of ancient astronomical
instruments is said to be preserved; and the _mestonda_, or raised hall
above the court, where women come to pray.

But the crown of El Kairouiyin is the Merinid court of ablutions. This
inaccessible wonder lies close under the Medersa Attarine, one of the
oldest and most beautiful collegiate buildings of Fez, and through the
kindness of the Director of Fine Arts, who was with us, we were taken up
to the roof of the Medersa and allowed to look down into the enclosure.

It is so closely guarded from below that from our secret coign of
vantage we seemed to be looking down into the heart of forbidden things.
Spacious and serene the great tiled cloister lay beneath us, water
spilling over from a central basin of marble with a cool sound to which
lesser fountains made answer from under the pyramidal green roofs of the
twin pavilions. It was near the prayer-hour, and worshippers were
flocking in, laying off their shoes and burnouses, washing their faces
at the fountains and their feet in the central tank, or stretching
themselves out in the shadow of the enclosing arcade.

This, then, was the famous court "so cool in the great heats that
seated by thy beautiful jet of water I feel the perfection of bliss"--as
the learned doctor Abou Abd Allah el Maghili sang of it, the court in
which the students gather from the adjoining halls after having
committed to memory the principles of grammar in prose and verse, the
"science of the reading of the Koran," the invention, exposition and
ornaments of style, law, medicine, theology, metaphysics and astronomy,
as well as the talismanic numbers, and the art of ascertaining by
calculation the influences of the angels, the spirits and the heavenly
bodies, "the names of the victor and the vanquished, and of the desired
object and the person who desires it."

Such is the twentieth-century curriculum of the University of Fez.
Repetition is the rule of Arab education as it is of Arab ornament. The
teaching of the University is based entirely on the mediaeval principle
of mnemonics, and as there are no examinations, no degrees, no limits to
the duration of any given course, nor is any disgrace attached to
slowness in learning, it is not surprising that many students, coming as
youths, linger by the fountain of Kairouiyin till their hair is gray.
One well-known _oulama_ has lately finished his studies after
twenty-seven years at the University, and is justly proud of the length
of his stay. The life of the scholar is easy, the way of knowledge is
long, the contrast exquisite between the foul lanes and noisy bazaars
outside and this cool heaven of learning. No wonder the students of
Kairouiyin say with the tortoise, "Burn me rather than take me away."



Outside the sacred precincts of Moulay Idriss and Kairouiyin, on the
other side of the Oued Fez, lies El Andalous, the mosque which the
Andalusian Moors built when they settled in Fez in the ninth century.

It stands apart from the bazaars, on higher ground, and though it is not
_horm_ we found it less easy to see than the more famous mosques, since
the Christian loiterer in its doorways is more quickly noticed. The Fazi
are not yet used to seeing unbelievers near their sacred places. It is
only in the tumult and confusion of the _souks_ that one can linger on
the edge of the inner mysteries without becoming aware of attracting
sullen looks, and my only impression of El Andalous is of a magnificent
Almohad door and the rich blur of an interior in which there was no time
to single out the details.

Turning from its forbidden and forbidding threshold we rode on through a
poor quarter which leads to the great gate of Bab F'touh. Beyond the
gate rises a dusty rocky slope extending to the outer walls--one of
those grim intramural deserts that girdle Fez with desolation. This one
is strewn with gravestones, not enclosed, but, as in most Moroccan
cemeteries, simply cropping up like nettles between the rocks and out of
the flaming dust. Here and there among the slabs rises a well-curb or a
crumbling _koubba_. A solitary palm shoots up beside one of the shrines.
And between the crowded graves the caravan trail crosses from the outer
to the inner gate, and perpetual lines of camels and donkeys trample the
dead a little deeper into the dusty earth.

This Bab F'touh cemetery is also a kind of fondak. Poor caravans camp
there under the walls in a mire of offal and chicken-feathers and
stripped date-branches prowled through by wolfish dogs and buzzed over
by fat blue flies. Camel-drivers squat beside iron kettles over heaps of
embers, sorcerers from the Sahara offer their amulets to negro women,
peddlers with portable wooden booths sell greasy cakes that look as if
they had been made out of the garbage of the caravans, and in and out
among the unknown dead and sleeping saints circulates the squalid
indifferent life of the living poor.

A walled lane leads down from Bab F'touh to a lower slope, where the
Fazi potters have their baking-kilns. Under a series of grassy terraces
overgrown with olives we saw the archaic ovens and dripping wheels which
produce the earthenware sold in the _souks_. It is a primitive and
homely ware, still fine in shape, though dull in color and monotonous in
pattern; and stacked on the red earth under the olives, the rows of jars
and cups, in their unglazed and unpainted state, showed their classical
descent more plainly than after they have been decorated.

This green quiet hollow, where turbaned figures were moving attentively
among the primitive ovens, so near to the region of flies and offal we
had just left, woke an old phrase in our memories, and as our mules
stumbled back over the graves of Bab F'touh we understood the grim
meaning of the words: "They carried him out and buried him in the
Potters' Field."



Fez, for two centuries and more, was in a double sense the capital of
Morocco: the centre of its trade as well as of its culture.

Culture, in fact, came to northwest Africa chiefly through the Merinid
princes. The Almohads had erected great monuments from Rabat to
Marrakech, and had fortified Fez, but their "mighty wasteful empire"
fell apart like those that had preceded it. Stability had to come from
the west; it was not till the Arabs had learned it through the Moors
that Morocco produced a dynasty strong and enlightened enough to carry
out the dream of its founders.

Whichever way the discussion sways as to the priority of eastern or
western influences on Moroccan art--whether it came to her from Syria,
and was thence passed on to Spain, or was first formed in Spain, and
afterward modified by the Moroccan imagination--there can at least be no
doubt that Fazi art and culture, in their prime, are partly the
reflection of European civilization.

Fugitives from Spain came to the new city when Moulay Idriss founded it.
One part of the town was given to them, and the river divided the Elbali
of the Almohads into the two quarters of Kairouiyin and Andalous, which
still retain their old names. But the full intellectual and artistic
flowering of Fez was delayed till the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries. It seems as though the seeds of the new springtime of art,
blown across the sea from reawakening Europe, had at last given the
weltering tribes of the desert the force to create their own type of

Nine Medersas sprang up in Fez, six of them built by the princes who
were also creating the exquisite collegiate buildings of Sale, Rabat and
old Meknez, and the enchanting mosque and minaret of Chella. The power
of these rulers also was in perpetual flux, they were always at war with
the Sultans of Tlemcen, the Christians of Spain, the princes of
northern Algeria and Tunis. But during the fourteenth century they
established a rule wide and firm enough to permit of the great outburst
of art and learning which produced the Medersas of Fez.

Until a year or two ago these collegiate buildings were as inaccessible
as the mosques, but now that the French government has undertaken their
restoration strangers may visit them under the guidance of the Fine Arts

All are built on the same plan, the plan of Sale and Rabat, which (as M.
Tranchant de Lunel[A] has pointed out) became, with slight
modifications, that of the rich private houses of Morocco. But
interesting as they are in plan and the application of ornament, their
main beauty lies in their details, in the union of chiselled plaster
with the delicate mosaic work of niches and revetements, the web-like
arabesques of the upper walls and the bold, almost Gothic sculpture of
the cedar architraves and corbels supporting them. And when all these
details are enumerated, and also the fretted panels of cedar, the bronze
doors with their great shield-like bosses, and the honeycombings and
rufflings of the gilded ceilings, there still remains the general tinge
of dry disintegration, as though all were perishing of a desert
fever--that, and the final wonder of seeing before one, in such a
setting, the continuance of the very life that went on there when the
tiles were set and the gold was new on the ceilings.

[Footnote A: In _France-Maroc, No._ 1.]

For these tottering Medersas, already in the hands of the restorers, are
still inhabited. As long as the stairway holds and the balcony has not
rotted from its corbels, the students of the University see no reason
for abandoning their lodgings above the cool fountain and the house of
prayer. The strange men giving incomprehensible orders for unnecessary
repairs need not disturb their meditations, and when the hammering grows
too loud the _oulamas_ have only to pass through the silk market or the
_souk_ of the embroiderers to the mosque of Kairouiyin, and go on
weaving the pattern of their dreams by the fountain of perfect bliss.

One reads of the bazaars of Fez that they have been for centuries the
central market of the country. Here are to be found not only the silks
and pottery, the Jewish goldsmiths' work, the arms and embroidered
saddlery which the city itself produces, but "morocco" from Marrakech,
rugs, tent-hangings and matting from Rabat and Sale, grain baskets from
Moulay Idriss, daggers from the Souss, and whatever European wares the
native markets consume. One looks, on the plan of Fez, at the space
covered by the bazaars, one breasts the swarms that pour through them
from dawn to dusk--and one remains perplexed, disappointed. They are
less "Oriental" than one had expected, if "Oriental" means color and

Sometimes, on occasion, it does mean that: as, for instance, when a
procession passes bearing the gifts for a Jewish wedding. The gray crowd
makes way for a group of musicians in brilliant caftans, and following
them comes a long file of women with uncovered faces and bejewelled
necks, balancing on their heads the dishes the guests have sent to the
feast--_kouskous_, sweet creams and syrups, "gazelles' horns" of sugar
and almonds--in delicately woven baskets, each covered with several
squares of bright gauze edged with gold. Then one remembers the
marketing of the Lady of "The Three Calendars," and Fez again becomes
the Bagdad of Al Raschid.

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

Fez--the bazaars. A view of the Souk el Attarine and the Quaisarya (silk

But when no exceptional events, processions, ceremonies and the like
brighten the underworld of the _souks_, their look is uniformly
melancholy. The gay bazaars, the gaily-painted houses, the flowers and
flute-playing of North Africa, are found in her Mediterranean ports, in
contact with European influences. The farther west she extends, the more
she becomes self-contained, sombre, uninfluenced, a gloomy fanatic with
her back to the walls of the Atlantic and the Atlas. Color and laughter
lie mostly along the trade-routes, where the peoples of the world come
and go in curiosity and rivalry. This ashen crowd swarming gloomily
through the dark tunnels represents the real Moghreb that is close to
the wild tribes of the "hinterland" and the grim feudal fortresses of
the Atlas. How close, one has only to go out to Sefrou on a market-day
to see.

Sefrou is a military outpost in an oasis under the Atlas, about forty
miles south of Fez. To most people the word "oasis" evokes palms and
sand; but though Morocco possesses many oases it has no pure sand and
few palms. I remember it as a considerable event when I discovered one
from my lofty window at Bou-Jeloud.

The _bled_ is made of very different stuff from the sand-ocean of the
Sahara. The light plays few tricks with it. Its monotony is wearisome
rather than impressive, and the fact that it is seldom without some form
of dwarfish vegetation makes the transition less startling when the
alluvial green is finally reached. One had always half expected it, and
it does not spring at a djinn's wave out of sterile gold.

But the fact brings its own compensations. Moroccan oases differ one
from another far more than those of South Algeria and Tunisia. Some have
no palms, others but a few, others are real palm-oases, though even in
the south (at least on the hither side of the great Atlas) none spreads
out a dense uniform roofing of metal-blue fronds like the date-oases of
Biskra or Tozeur. As for Sefrou, which Foucauld called the most
beautiful oasis of Morocco, it is simply an extremely fertile valley
with vineyards and orchards stretching up to a fine background of
mountains. But the fact that it lies just below the Atlas makes it an
important market-place and centre of caravans.

Though so near Fez it is still almost on the disputed border between the
loyal and the "unsubmissive" tribes, those that are _Blad-Makhzen_ (of
the Sultan's government) and those that are against it. Until recently,
therefore, it has been inaccessible to visitors, and even now a strongly
fortified French post dominates the height above the town. Looking down
from the fort, one distinguishes, through masses of many-tinted green, a
suburb of Arab houses in gardens, and below, on the river, Sefrou
itself, a stout little walled town with angle-towers defiantly thrust
forth toward the Atlas. It is just outside these walls that the market
is held.

It was swarming with hill-people the day we were there, and strange was
the contrast between the crowd inside the circle of picketed horses and
the white-robed cockneys from Rabat who fill the market-place of Sale.
Here at last we were in touch with un-Arab Morocco, with Berbers of the
_bled_ and the hills, whose women know no veils and no seclusion, and
who, under a thin surface of Mahometanism, preserve their old stone and
animal worship, and all the gross fetichistic beliefs from which
Mahomet dreamed of freeing Africa.

The men were lean and weather-bitten, some with negroid lips, others
with beaked noses and gaunt cheek-bones, all muscular and
fierce-looking. Some were wrapped in the black cloaks worn by the Blue
Men of the Sahara,[A] with a great orange sun embroidered on the back,
some tunicked like the Egyptian fellah, under a rough striped outer
garment trimmed with bright tufts and tassels of wool. The men of the
Rif had a braided lock on the shoulder, those of the Atlas a ringlet
over each ear, and brown woollen scarfs wound round their temples,
leaving the shaven crown bare.

[Footnote A: So called because of the indigo dye of their tunics, which
leaves a permanent stain on their bodies.]

The women, squatting among their kids and poultry and cheeses, glanced
at us with brilliant hennaed eyes and smiles that lifted their short
upper lips maliciously. Their thin faces were painted in stripes and
patterns of indigo. Silver necklets covered their throats, long earrings
dangled under the wool-embroidered kerchiefs bound about their temples
with a twist of camel's hair, and below the cotton shifts fastened on
their shoulders with silver clasps their legs were bare to the knee, or
covered with leather leggings to protect them from the thorny _bled_.

They seemed abler bargainers than the men, and the play of expression on
their dramatic and intensely feminine faces as they wheedled the price
of a calf out of a fierce hillsman, or haggled over a heap of dates that
a Jew with greasy ringlets was trying to secure for his secret
distillery, showed that they knew their superiority and enjoyed it.

Jews abounded in the market-place and also in the town. Sefrou contains
a large Israelite colony, and after we had wandered through the steep
streets, over gushing waterfalls spanned by "ass-backed" Spanish
bridges, and through a thatched _souk_ smelling strong of camels and the
desert, the French commissioner (the only European in Sefrou) suggested
that it might interest us to visit the _Mellah_.

It was our first sight of a typical Jewish quarter in Africa. The
_Mellah_ of Fez was almost entirely destroyed during the massacres of
1912 (which incidentally included a _pogrom_), and its distinctive
character, happily for the inhabitants, has disappeared in the
rebuilding. North African Jews are still compelled to live in ghettos,
into which they are locked at night, as in France and Germany in the
Middle Ages, and until lately the men have been compelled to go unarmed,
to wear black gabardines and black slippers, to take off their shoes
when they passed near a mosque or a saint's tomb, and in various other
ways to manifest their subjection to the ruling race. Nowhere else do
they live in conditions of such demoralizing promiscuity as in some of
the cities of Morocco. They have so long been subject to unrestricted
extortion on the part of the Moslems that even the wealthy Jews (who are
numerous) have sunk to the habits and appearance of the poorest; and
Sefrou, which has come so recently under French control, offers a good
specimen of a _Mellah_ before foreign sanitation has lighted up its dark

Dark indeed they were. After wandering through narrow and malodorous
lanes, and slipping about in the offal of the _souks_, we were suddenly
led under an arch over which should have been written "All light
abandon--" and which made all we had seen before seem clean and bright
and airy.

The beneficent African sun dries up and purifies the immemorial filth
of Africa, where that sun enters there is none of the foulness of damp.
But into the _Mellah_ of Sefrou it never comes, for the streets form a
sort of subterranean rabbit-warren under the upper stories of a solid
agglomeration of tall houses--a buried city lit even at midday by
oil-lamps hanging in the goldsmiths' shops and under the archways of the
black and reeking staircases.

It was a Jewish feast-day. The Hebrew stalls in the _souks_ were closed,
and the whole population of the _Mellah_ thronged its tunnels in holiday
dress. Hurrying past us were young women with plump white faces and
lovely eyes, turbaned in brilliant gauzes, with draperies of dirty
curtain muslin over tawdry brocaded caftans. Their paler children
swarmed about them, little long-earringed girls like wax dolls dressed
in scraps of old finery, little boys in tattered caftans with
long-lashed eyes and wily smiles, and, waddling in the rear, their
unwieldy grandmothers, huge lumps of tallowy flesh who were probably
still in the thirties.

With them were the men of the family, in black gabardines and
skull-caps, sallow striplings, incalculably aged ancestors,
round-bellied husbands and fathers bumping along like black balloons,
all hastening to the low doorways dressed with lamps and paper garlands
behind which the feast was spread.

One is told that in cities like Fez and Marrakech the Hebrew quarter
conceals flowery patios and gilded rooms with the heavy European
furniture that rich Jews delight in. Perhaps even in the _Mellah_ of
Sefrou, among the ragged figures shuffling past us, there were some few
with bags of gold in their walls and rich stuffs hid away in painted
coffers, but for patios and flowers and daylight there seemed no room in
the dark _bolgia_ they inhabit. No wonder the babies of the Moroccan
ghettos are nursed on date-brandy, and their elders doze away to death
under its consoling spell.



It is well to bid good-by to Fez at night--a moonlight night for choice.

Then, after dining at the Arab inn of Fez Eldjid--where it might be
inconvenient to lodge, but where it is extremely pleasant to eat
_kouskous_ under a grape-trellis in a tiled and fountained patio--this
pleasure over, one may set out on foot and stray down the lanes toward
Fez Elbali.

Not long ago the gates between the different quarters of the city used
to be locked every night at nine o'clock, and the merchant who went out
to dine in another part of the town had to lodge with his host. Now this
custom has been given up, and one may roam about untroubled through the
old quarters, grown as silent as the grave after the intense life of the
bazaars has ceased at nightfall.

Nobody is in the streets wandering from ghostly passage to passage, one
hears no step but that of the watchman with staff and lantern. Presently
there appears, far off, a light like a low-flying firefly, as it comes
nearer, it is seen to proceed from the _Mellah_ lamp of open-work brass
that a servant carries ahead of two merchants on their way home from
Elbali. The merchants are grave men, they move softly and slowly on
their fat slippered feet, pausing from time to time in confidential
talk. At last they stop before a house wall with a low blue door barred
by heavy hasps of iron. The servant lifts the lamp and knocks. There is
a long delay, then, with infinite caution, the door is opened a few
inches, and another lifted light shines faintly on lustrous tiled walls,
and on the face of a woman slave who quickly veils herself. Evidently
the master is a man of standing, and the house well guarded. The two
merchants touch each other on the right shoulder, one of them passes in,
and his friend goes on through the moonlight, his servant's lantern
dancing ahead.

But here we are in an open space looking down one of the descents to El
Attarine. A misty radiance washes the tall houses, the garden-walls, the
archways, even the moonlight does not whiten Fez, but only turns its
gray to tarnished silver. Overhead in a tower window a single light
twinkles: women's voices rise and fall on the roofs. In a rich man's
doorway slaves are sleeping, huddled on the tiles. A cock crows from
somebody's dunghill, a skeleton dog prowls by for garbage.

Everywhere is the loud rush or the low crooning of water, and over every
wall comes the scent of jasmine and rose. Far off, from the red
purgatory between the walls, sounds the savage thrum-thrum of a negro
orgy, here all is peace and perfume. A minaret springs up between the
roofs like a palm, and from its balcony the little white figure bends
over and drops a blessing on all the loveliness and all the squalor.





There are countless Arab tales of evil Djinns who take the form of
sandstorms and hot winds to overwhelm exhausted travellers.

In spite of the new French road between Rabat and Marrakech the memory
of such tales rises up insistently from every mile of the level red
earth and the desolate stony stretches of the _bled_. As long as the
road runs in sight of the Atlantic breakers they give the scene
freshness and life, but when it bends inland and stretches away across
the wilderness the sense of the immensity and immobility of Africa
descends on one with an intolerable oppression.

The road traverses no villages, and not even a ring of nomad tents is
visible in the distance on the wide stretches of arable land. At
infrequent intervals our motor passed a train of laden mules, or a group
of peasants about a well, and sometimes, far off, a fortified farm
profiled its thick-set angle-towers against the sky, or a white _koubba_
floated like a mirage above the brush, but these rare signs of life
intensified the solitude of the long miles between.

At midday we were refreshed by the sight of the little oasis around the
military-post of Settat. We lunched there with the commanding officer,
in a cool Arab house about a flowery patio, but that brief interval
over, the fiery plain began again. After Settat the road runs on for
miles across the waste to the gorge of the Oued Ouem, and beyond the
river it climbs to another plain so desperate in its calcined aridity
that the prickly scrub of the wilderness we had left seemed like the
vegetation of an oasis. For fifty kilometres the earth under our wheels
was made up of a kind of glistening red slag covered with pebbles and
stones. Not the scantest and toughest of rock-growths thrust a leaf
through its brassy surface, not a well-head or a darker depression of
the rock gave sign of a trickle of water. Everything around us
glittered with the same unmerciful dryness.

A long way ahead loomed the line of the Djebilets, the Djinn-haunted
mountains guarding Marrakech on the north. When at last we reached them
the wicked glister of their purple flanks seemed like a volcanic
upheaval of the plain. For some time we had watched the clouds gathering
over them, and as we got to the top of the defile rain was falling from
a fringe of thunder to the south. Then the vapours lifted, and we saw
below us another red plain with an island of palms in its centre.
Mysteriously, from the heart of the palms, a tower shot up, as if alone
in the wilderness, behind it stood the sun-streaked cliffs of the Atlas,
with snow summits appearing and vanishing through the storm.

As we drove downward the rock gradually began to turn to red earth
fissured by yellow streams, and stray knots of palms sprang up, lean and
dishevelled, about well-heads where people were watering camels and
donkeys. To the east, dominating the oasis, the twin peaked hills of the
Ghilis, fortified to the crest, mounted guard over invisible Marrakech;
but still, above the palms, we saw only that lonely and triumphant

Presently we crossed the Oued Tensif on an old bridge built by Moroccan
engineers. Beyond the river were more palms, then olive-orchards, then
the vague sketch of the new European settlement, with a few shops and
cafes on avenues ending suddenly in clay pits, and at last Marrakech
itself appeared to us, in the form of a red wall across a red

We passed through a gate and were confronted by other ramparts. Then we
entered an outskirt of dusty red lanes bordered by clay hovels with
draped figures slinking by like ghosts. After that more walls, more
gates, more endlessly winding lanes, more gates again, more turns, a
dusty open space with donkeys and camels and negroes; a final wall with
a great door under a lofty arch--and suddenly we were in the palace of
the Bahia, among flowers and shadows and falling water.



Whoever would understand Marrakech must begin by mounting at sunset to
the roof of the Bahia.

Outspread below lies the oasis-city of the south, flat and vast as the
great nomad camp it really is, its low roofs extending on all sides to a
belt of blue palms ringed with desert. Only two or three minarets and a
few noblemen's houses among gardens break the general flatness; but they
are hardly noticeable, so irresistibly is the eye drawn toward two
dominant objects--the white wall of the Atlas and the red tower of the

Foursquare, untapering, the great tower lifts its flanks of ruddy stone.
Its large spaces of unornamented wall, its triple tier of clustered
openings, lightening as they rise from the severe rectangular lights of
the first stage to the graceful arcade below the parapet, have the stern
harmony of the noblest architecture. The Koutoubya would be magnificent
anywhere; in this flat desert it is grand enough to face the Atlas.

The Almohad conquerors who built the Koutoubya and embellished
Marrakech dreamed a dream of beauty that extended from the Guadalquivir
to the Sahara; and at its two extremes they placed their watch-towers.
The Giralda watched over civilized enemies in a land of ancient Roman
culture, the Koutoubya stood at the edge of the world, facing the hordes
of the desert.

The Almoravid princes who founded Marrakech came from the black desert
of Senegal, themselves were leaders of wild hordes. In the history of
North Africa the same cycle has perpetually repeated itself. Generation
after generation of chiefs have flowed in from the desert or the
mountains, overthrown their predecessors, massacred, plundered, grown
rich, built sudden palaces, encouraged their great servants to do the
same, then fallen on them, and taken their wealth and their palaces.
Usually some religious fury, some ascetic wrath against the
self-indulgence of the cities, has been the motive of these attacks, but
invariably the same results followed, as they followed when the Germanic
barbarians descended on Italy. The conquerors, infected with luxury and
mad with power, built vaster palaces, planned grander cities, but
Sultans and Viziers camped in their golden houses as if on the march,
and the mud huts of the tribesmen within their walls were but one degree
removed from the mud-walled tents of the _bled_.

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

Marrakech--The "Little Garden" (with painted doors) in background,
Palace of the Bahia]

This was more especially the case with Marrakech, a city of Berbers and
blacks, and the last outpost against the fierce black world beyond the
Atlas from which its founders came. When one looks at its site, and
considers its history, one can only marvel at the height of civilization
it attained.

The Bahia itself, now the palace of the Resident General, though built
less than a hundred years ago, is typical of the architectural
megalomania of the great southern chiefs. It was built by Ba-Ahmed, the
all-powerful black Vizier of the Sultan Moulay-el-Hassan.[A] Ba-Ahmed
was evidently an artist and an archaeologist. His ambition was to
re-create a Palace of Beauty such as the Moors had built in the prime of
Arab art, and he brought to Marrakech skilled artificers of Fez, the
last surviving masters of the mystery of chiselled plaster and ceramic
mosaics and honeycombing of gilded cedar. They came, they built the
Bahia, and it remains the loveliest and most fantastic of Moroccan

[Footnote A: Moulay-el-Hassan reigned from 1873 to 1894.]

Court within court, garden beyond garden, reception halls, private
apartments, slaves' quarters, sunny prophets' chambers on the roofs and
baths in vaulted crypts, the labyrinth of passages and rooms stretches
away over several acres of ground. A long court enclosed in pale-green
trellis-work, where pigeons plume themselves about a great tank and the
dripping tiles glitter with refracted sunlight, leads to the fresh gloom
of a cypress garden, or under jasmine tunnels bordered with running
water; and these again open on arcaded apartments faced with tiles and
stucco-work, where, in a languid twilight, the hours drift by to the
ceaseless music of the fountains.

The beauty of Moroccan palaces is made up of details of ornament and
refinements of sensuous delight too numerous to record, but to get an
idea of their general character it is worth while to cross the Court of
Cypresses at the Bahia and follow a series of low-studded passages that
turn on themselves till they reach the centre of the labyrinth. Here,
passing by a low padlocked door leading to a crypt, and known as the
"Door of the Vizier's Treasure-House," one comes on a painted portal
that opens into a still more secret sanctuary: The apartment of the
Grand Vizier's Favourite.

[Illustration: _From a photograph by Felix, Marrakech_

Marrakech--the great court, Palace of the Bahia]

This lovely prison, from which all sight and sound of the outer world
are excluded, is built about an atrium paved with disks of turquoise and
black and white. Water trickles from a central _vasca_ of alabaster into
an hexagonal mosaic channel in the pavement. The walls, which are at
least twenty-five feet high, are roofed with painted beams resting on
panels of traceried stucco in which is set a clerestory of jewelled
glass. On each side of the atrium are long recessed rooms closed by
vermilion doors painted with gold arabesques and vases of spring
flowers, and into these shadowy inner rooms, spread with rugs and divans
and soft pillows, no light comes except when their doors are opened into
the atrium. In this fabulous place it was my good luck to be lodged
while I was at Marrakech.

In a climate where, after the winter snow has melted from the Atlas,
every breath of air for long months is a flame of fire, these enclosed
rooms in the middle of the palaces are the only places of refuge from
the heat. Even in October the temperature of the favourite's apartment
was deliciously reviving after a morning in the bazaars or the dusty
streets, and I never came back to its wet tiles and perpetual twilight
without the sense of plunging into a deep sea-pool.

From far off, through circuitous corridors, came the scent of
citron-blossom and jasmine, with sometimes a bird's song before dawn,
sometimes a flute's wail at sunset, and always the call of the muezzin
in the night, but no sunlight reached the apartment except in remote
rays through the clerestory, and no air except through one or two broken

Sometimes, lying on my divan, and looking out through the vermilion
doors, I used to surprise a pair of swallows dropping down from their
nest in the cedar-beams to preen themselves on the fountain's edge or in
the channels of the pavement, for the roof was full of birds who came
and went through the broken panes of the clerestory. Usually they were
my only visitors, but one morning just at daylight I was waked by a soft
tramp of bare feet, and saw, silhouetted against the cream-coloured
walls, a procession of eight tall negroes in linen tunics, who filed
noiselessly across the atrium like a moving frieze of bronze. In that
fantastic setting, and the hush of that twilight hour, the vision was so
like the picture of a "Seraglio Tragedy," some fragment of a Delacroix
or Decamps floating up into the drowsy brain, that I almost fancied I
had seen the ghosts of Ba-Ahmed's executioners revisiting with dagger
and bowstring the scene of an unavenged crime.

[Illustration: _From a photograph taken by Mme. la Marquis de Segonzac_

Marrakech--apartment of the grand vizier's favorite, Palace of the

A cock crew, and they vanished ... and when I made the mistake of asking
what they had been doing in my room at that hour I was told (as though
it were the most natural thing in the world) that they were the
municipal lamp-lighters of Marrakech, whose duty it is to refill every
morning the two hundred acetylene lamps lighting the palace of the
Resident General. Such unforeseen aspects, in this mysterious city, do
the most ordinary domestic functions wear.



Passing out of the enchanted circle of the Bahia it is startling to
plunge into the native life about its gates.

Marrakech is the great market of the south, and the south means not only
the Atlas with its feudal chiefs and their wild clansmen, but all that
lies beyond of heat and savagery, the Sahara of the veiled Touaregs,
Dakka, Timbuctoo, Senegal and the Soudan. Here come the camel caravans
from Demnat and Tameslout, from the Moulouya and the Souss, and those
from the Atlantic ports and the confines of Algeria. The population of
this old city of the southern march has always been even more mixed than
that of the northerly Moroccan towns. It is made up of the descendants
of all the peoples conquered by a long line of Sultans who brought their
trains of captives across the sea from Moorish Spain and across the
Sahara from Timbuctoo. Even in the highly cultivated region on the lower
slopes of the Atlas there are groups of varied ethnic origin, the
descendants of tribes transplanted by long-gone rulers and still
preserving many of their original characteristics.

In the bazaars all these peoples meet and mingle: cattle-dealers,
olive-growers, peasants from the Atlas, the Souss and the Draa, Blue Men
of the Sahara, blacks from Senegal and the Soudan, coming in to trade
with the wool-merchants, tanners, leather-merchants, silk-weavers,
armourers, and makers of agricultural implements.

Dark, fierce and fanatical are these narrow _souks_ of Marrakech. They
are mere mud lanes roofed with rushes, as in South Tunisia and
Timbuctoo, and the crowds swarming in them are so dense that it is
hardly possible, at certain hours, to approach the tiny raised kennels
where the merchants sit like idols among their wares. One feels at once
that something more than the thought of bargaining--dear as this is to
the African heart--animates these incessantly moving throngs. The Souks
of Marrakech seem, more than any others, the central organ of a native
life that extends far beyond the city walls into secret clefts of the
mountains and far-off oases where plots are hatched and holy wars
fomented--farther still, to yellow deserts whence negroes are secretly
brought across the Atlas to that inmost recess of the bazaar where the
ancient traffic in flesh and blood still surreptitiously goes on.

All these many threads of the native life, woven of greed and lust, of
fetichism and fear and blind hate of the stranger, form, in the _souks_,
a thick network in which at times one's feet seem literally to stumble.
Fanatics in sheepskins glowering from the guarded thresholds of the
mosques, fierce tribesmen with inlaid arms in their belts and the
fighters' tufts of wiry hair escaping from camel's-hair turbans, mad
negroes standing stark naked in niches of the walls and pouring down
Soudanese incantations upon the fascinated crowd, consumptive Jews with
pathos and cunning in their large eyes and smiling lips, lusty
slave-girls with earthen oil-jars resting against swaying hips,
almond-eyed boys leading fat merchants by the hand, and bare-legged
Berber women, tattooed and insolently gay, trading their striped
blankets, or bags of dried roses and irises, for sugar, tea or
Manchester cottons--from all these hundreds of unknown and unknowable
people, bound together by secret affinities, or intriguing against each
other with secret hate, there emanates an atmosphere of mystery and
menace more stifling than the smell of camels and spices and black
bodies and smoking fry which hangs like a fog under the close roofing of
the _souks_.

And suddenly one leaves the crowd and the turbid air for one of those
quiet corners that are like the back-waters of the bazaars, a small
square where a vine stretches across a shop-front and hangs ripe
clusters of grapes through the reeds. In the patterning of grape-shadows
a very old donkey, tethered to a stone-post, dozes under a pack-saddle
that is never taken off; and near by, in a matted niche, sits a very old
man in white. This is the chief of the Guild of "morocco" workers of
Marrakech, the most accomplished craftsman in Morocco in the preparing
and using of the skins to which the city gives its name. Of these sleek
moroccos, cream-white or dyed with cochineal or pomegranate skins, are
made the rich bags of the Chleuh dancing-boys, the embroidered slippers
for the harem, the belts and harnesses that figure so largely in
Moroccan trade--and of the finest, in old days, were made the
pomegranate-red morocco bindings of European bibliophiles.

From this peaceful corner one passes into the barbaric splendor of a
_souk_ hung with innumerable plumy bunches of floss silk--skeins of
citron yellow, crimson, grasshopper green and pure purple. This is the
silk-spinners' quarter, and next to it comes that of the dyers, with
great seething vats into which the raw silk is plunged, and ropes
overhead where the rainbow masses are hung out to dry.

Another turn leads into the street of the metal-workers and armourers,
where the sunlight through the thatch flames on round flanks of beaten
copper or picks out the silver bosses of ornate powder-flasks and
pistols, and near by is the _souk_ of the plough-shares, crowded with
peasants in rough Chleuh cloaks who are waiting to have their archaic
ploughs repaired, and that of the smiths, in an outer lane of mud huts
where negroes squat in the dust and sinewy naked figures in tattered
loincloths bend over blazing coals. And here ends the maze of the



One of the Almohad Sultans who, during their hundred years of empire,
scattered such great monuments from Seville to the Atlas, felt the need
of coolness about his southern capital, and laid out the olive-yards of
the Agdal.

To the south of Marrakech the Agdal extends for many acres between the
outer walls of the city and the edge of the palm-oasis--a continuous
belt of silver foliage traversed by deep red lanes, and enclosing a
wide-spreading summer palace and two immense reservoirs walled with
masonry, and the vision of these serene sheets of water, in which the
olives and palms are motionlessly reflected, is one of the most poetic
impressions in that city of inveterate poetry.

On the edge of one of the reservoirs a sentimental Sultan built in the
last century a little pleasure-house called the Menara. It is composed
of a few rooms with a two-storied loggia looking across the water to the
palm-groves, and surrounded by a garden of cypresses and orange-trees.
The Menara, long since abandoned, is usually uninhabited, but on the
day when we drove through the Agdal we noticed, at the gate, a group of
well-dressed servants holding mules with embroidered saddle-clothes.

The French officer who was with us asked the porter what was going on,
and he replied that the Chief of the Guild of Wool-Merchants had hired
the pavilion for a week and invited a few friends to visit him. They
were now, the porter added, taking tea in the loggia above the lake, and
the host, being informed of our presence, begged that we should do him
and his friends the honour of visiting the pavilion.

In reply to this amiable invitation we crossed an empty saloon
surrounded with divans and passed out onto the loggia where the
wool-merchant and his guests were seated. They were evidently persons of
consequence: large bulky men wrapped in fresh muslins and reclining side
by side on muslin-covered divans and cushions. Black slaves had placed
before them brass trays with pots of mint-tea, glasses in filigree
stands, and dishes of gazelles' horns and sugar-plums, and they sat
serenely absorbing these refreshments and gazing with large calm eyes
upon the motionless water and the reflected trees.

So, we were told, they would probably spend the greater part of their
holiday. The merchant's cooks had taken possession of the kitchens, and
toward sunset a sumptuous repast of many courses would be carried into
the saloon on covered trays, and the guests would squat about it on rugs
of Rabat, tearing with their fingers the tender chicken wings and small
artichokes cooked in oil, plunging their fat white hands to the wrist
into huge mounds of saffron and rice, and washing off the traces of each
course in the brass basin of perfumed water carried about by a young
black slave-girl with hoop-earrings and a green-and-gold scarf about her

Then the singing-girls would come out from Marrakech, squat round-faced
young women heavily hennaed and bejewelled, accompanied by gaunt
musicians in bright caftans; and for hours they would sing sentimental
or obscene ballads to the persistent maddening twang of violin and flute
and drum. Meanwhile fiery brandy or sweet champagne would probably be
passed around between the steaming glasses of mint-tea which the slaves
perpetually refilled; or perhaps the sultry air, the heavy meal, the
scent of the garden and the vertiginous repetition of the music would
suffice to plunge these sedentary worthies into the delicious coma in
which every festive evening in Morocco ends.

The next day would be spent in the same manner, except that probably the
Chleuh boys with sidelong eyes and clean caftans would come instead of
the singing-girls, and weave the arabesque of their dance in place of
the runic pattern of the singing. But the result would always be the
same: a prolonged state of obese ecstasy culminating in the collapse of
huge heaps of snoring muslin on the divans against the wall. Finally at
the week's end the wool-merchant and his friends would all ride back
with dignity to the bazaar.



"Should you like to see the Chleuh boys dance?" some one asked.

"There they are," another of our companions added, pointing to a dense
ring of spectators on one side of the immense dusty square at the
entrance of the _souks_--the "Square of the Dead" as it is called, in
memory of the executions that used to take place under one of its grim
red gates.

It is the square of the living now, the centre of all the life,
amusement and gossip of Marrakech, and the spectators are so thickly
packed about the story-tellers, snake-charmers and dancers who frequent
it that one can guess what is going on within each circle only by the
wailing monologue or the persistent drum-beat that proceeds from it.

Ah, yes--we should indeed like to see the Chleuh boys dance, we who,
since we had been in Morocco, had seen no dancing, heard no singing,
caught no single glimpse of merry-making! But how were we to get within
sight of them?

On one side of the "Square of the Dead" stands a large house, of
European build, but modelled on Oriental lines: the office of the French
municipal administration. The French Government no longer allows its
offices to be built within the walls of Moroccan towns, and this house
goes back to the epic days of the Caid Sir Harry Maclean, to whom it was
presented by the fantastic Abd-el-Aziz when the Caid was his favourite
companion as well as his military adviser.

At the suggestion of the municipal officials we mounted the stairs and
looked down on the packed square. There can be no more Oriental sight
this side of the Atlas and the Sahara. The square is surrounded by low
mud-houses, fondaks, cafes, and the like. In one corner, near the
archway leading into the _souks_, is the fruit-market, where the
red-gold branches of unripe dates[A] for animal fodder are piled up in
great stacks, and dozens of donkeys are coming and going, their panniers
laden with fruits and vegetables which are being heaped on the ground in
gorgeous pyramids: purple egg-plants, melons, cucumbers, bright orange
pumpkins, mauve and pink and violet onions, rusty crimson
pomegranates and the gold grapes of Sefrou and Sale, all mingled with
fresh green sheaves of mint and wormwood.

[Footnote A: Dates do not ripen in Morocco.]

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

Marrakech--a fondak]

In the middle of the square sit the story-tellers' turbaned audiences.
Beyond these are the humbler crowds about the wild-ringleted
snake-charmers with their epileptic gestures and hissing incantations,
and farther off, in the densest circle of all, we could just discern the
shaved heads and waving surpliced arms of the dancing-boys. Under an
archway near by an important personage in white muslin, mounted on a
handsome mule and surrounded by his attendants, sat with motionless face
and narrowed eyes gravely following the movements of the dancers.

Suddenly, as we stood watching the extraordinary animation of the scene,
a reddish light overspread it, and one of our companions exclaimed:
"Ah--a dust-storm!"

In that very moment it was upon us: a red cloud rushing across the
square out of nowhere, whirling the date-branches over the heads of the
squatting throngs, tumbling down the stacks of fruits and vegetables,
rooting up the canvas awnings over the lemonade-sellers' stalls and
before the cafe doors, huddling the blinded donkeys under the walls of
the fondak, and stripping to the hips the black slave-girls scudding
home from the _souks_.

Such a blast would instantly have scattered any western crowd, but "the
patient East" remained undisturbed, rounding its shoulders before the
storm and continuing to follow attentively the motions of the dancers
and the turns of the story-tellers. By and bye, however, the gale grew
too furious, and the spectators were so involved in collapsing tents,
eddying date-branches and stampeding mules that the square began to
clear, save for the listeners about the most popular story-teller, who
continued to sit on unmoved. And then, at the height of the storm, they
too were abruptly scattered by the rush of a cavalcade across the
square. First came a handsomely dressed man, carrying before him on his
peaked saddle a tiny boy in a gold-embroidered orange caftan, in front
of whom he held an open book, and behind them a train of white-draped
men on showily harnessed mules, followed by musicians in bright dresses.
It was only a Circumcision procession on its way to the mosque; but the
dust-enveloped rider in his rich dress, clutching the bewildered child
to his breast, looked like some Oriental prince trying to escape with
his son from the fiery embraces of desert Erl-maidens.

As swiftly as it rose the storm subsided, leaving the fruit-market in
ruins under a sky as clear and innocent as an infant's eye. The Chleuh
boys had vanished with the rest, like marionettes swept into a drawer by
an impatient child, but presently, toward sunset, we were told that we
were to see them after all, and our hosts led us up to the roof of the
Caid's house.

The city lay stretched before us like one immense terrace circumscribed
by palms. The sky was pure blue, verging to turquoise green where the
Atlas floated above mist; and facing the celestial snows stood the
Koutoubya, red in the sunset.

People were beginning to come out on the roofs: it was the hour of
peace, of ablutions, of family life on the house-tops. Groups of women
in pale tints and floating veils spoke to each other from terrace to
terrace, through the chatter of children and the guttural calls of
bedizened negresses. And presently, on the roof adjoining ours,
appeared the slim dancing-boys with white caftans and hennaed feet.

The three swarthy musicians who accompanied them crossed their lean legs
on the tiles and set up their throb-throb and thrum-thrum, and on a
narrow strip of terrace the youths began their measured steps.

It was a grave static dance, such as David may have performed before the
Ark; untouched by mirth or folly, as beseemed a dance in that sombre
land, and borrowing its magic from its gravity. Even when the pace
quickened with the stress of the music the gestures still continued to
be restrained and hieratic, only when, one by one, the performers
detached themselves from the round and knelt before us for the _peseta_
it is customary to press on their foreheads, did one see, by the
moisture which made the coin adhere, how quick and violent their
movements had been.

The performance, like all things Oriental, like the life, the patterns,
the stories, seemed to have no beginning and no end: it just went
monotonously and indefatigably on till fate snipped its thread by
calling us away to dinner. And so at last we went down into the dust of
the streets refreshed by that vision of white youths dancing on the
house-tops against the gold of a sunset that made them look--in spite of
ankle-bracelets and painted eyes--almost as guileless and happy as the
round of angels on the roof of Fra Angelico's Nativity.



On one of the last days of our stay in Marrakech we were told, almost
mysteriously, that permission was to be given us to visit the tombs of
the Saadian Sultans.

Though Marrakech has been in the hands of the French since 1912, the
very existence of these tombs was unknown to the authorities till 1917.
Then the Sultan's government privately informed the Resident General
that an unsuspected treasure of Moroccan art was falling into ruin, and
after some hesitation it was agreed that General Lyautey and the
Director of Fine Arts should be admitted to the mosque containing the
tombs, on the express condition that the French Government undertook to
repair them. While we were at Rabat General Lyautey had described his
visit to us, and it was at his request that the Sultan authorized us to
see the mosque, to which no travellers had as yet been admitted.

With a good deal of ceremony, and after the customary _pourparlers_ with
the great Pasha who controls native affairs at Marrakech, an hour was
fixed for our visit, and we drove through long lanes of mud-huts to a
lost quarter near the walls. At last we came to a deserted square on one
side of which stands the long low mosque of Mansourah with a
turquoise-green minaret embroidered with traceries of sculptured terra
cotta. Opposite the mosque is a gate in a crumbling wall; and at this
gate the Pasha's Cadi was to meet us with the keys of the mausoleum. But
we waited in vain. Oriental dilatoriness, or a last secret reluctance to
admit unbelievers to a holy place, had caused the Cadi to forget his
appointment, and we drove away disappointed.

The delay drove us to wondering about these mysterious Saadian Sultans,
who, though coming so late in the annals of Morocco, had left at least
one monument said to be worthy of the Merinid tradition. And the tale
of the Saadians is worth telling.

They came from Arabia to the Draa (the fruitful country south of the
Great Atlas) early in the fifteenth century, when the Merinid empire was
already near disintegration. Like all previous invaders they preached
the doctrine of a pure Islamism to the polytheistic and indifferent
Berbers, and found a ready hearing because they denounced the evils of a
divided empire, and also because the whole of Morocco was in revolt
against the Christian colonies of Spain and Portugal, which had
encircled the coast from Ceuta to Agadir with a chain of fortified
counting-houses. To _bouter dehors_ the money-making unbeliever was an
object that found adherents from the Rif to the Sahara, and the Saadian
cherifs soon rallied a mighty following to their standard. Islam, though
it never really gave a creed to the Berbers, supplied them with a
war-cry as potent to-day as when it first rang across Barbary.

The history of the Saadians is a foreshortened record of that of all
their predecessors. They overthrew the artistic and luxurious Merinids,
and in their turn became artistic and luxurious. Their greatest Sultan,
Abou-el-Abbas, surnamed "The Golden," after defeating the Merinids and
putting an end to Christian rule in Morocco by the crushing victory of
El-Ksar (1578), bethought him in his turn of enriching himself and
beautifying his capital, and with this object in view turned his
attention to the black kingdoms of the south.

Senegal and the Soudan, which had been Mohammedan since the eleventh
century, had attained in the sixteenth century a high degree of
commercial wealth and artistic civilization. The Sultanate of Timbuctoo
seems in reality to have been a thriving empire, and if Timbuctoo was
not the Claude-like vision of Carthaginian palaces which it became in
the tales of imaginative travellers, it apparently had something of the
magnificence of Fez and Marrakech.

The Saadian army, after a march of four and a half months across the
Sahara, conquered the whole black south. Senegal, the Soudan and Bornou
submitted to Abou-el-Abbas, the Sultan of Timbuctoo was dethroned, and
the celebrated negro jurist Ahmed-Baba was brought a prisoner to
Marrakech, where his chief sorrow appears to have been for the loss of
his library of 1,600 volumes--though he declared that, of all the
numerous members of his family, it was he who possessed the smallest
number of books.

Besides this learned bibliophile, the Sultan Abou-el-Abbas brought back
with him an immense booty, principally of ingots of gold, from which he
took his surname of "The Golden"; and as the result of the expedition
Marrakech was embellished with mosques and palaces for which the Sultan
brought marble from Carrara, paying for it with loaves of sugar from the
sugar-cane that the Saadians grew in the Souss.

In spite of these brilliant beginnings the rule of the dynasty was short
and without subsequent interest. Based on a fanatical antagonism against
the foreigner, and fed by the ever-wakeful hatred of the Moors for their
Spanish conquerors, it raised ever higher the Chinese walls of
exclusiveness which the more enlightened Almohads and Merinids had
sought to overthrow. Henceforward less and less daylight and fresh air
were to penetrate into the _souks_ of Morocco.

The day after our unsuccessful attempt to see the tombs of these
ephemeral rulers we received another message, naming an hour for our
visit; and this time the Pasha's representative was waiting in the
archway. We followed his lead, under the openly mistrustful glances of
the Arabs who hung about the square, and after picking our way through a
twisting land between walls, we came out into a filthy nettle-grown
space against the ramparts. At intervals of about thirty feet splendid
square towers rose from the walls, and facing one of them lay a group of
crumbling buildings masked behind other ruins.

We were led first into a narrow mosque or praying-chapel, like those of
the Medersas, with a coffered cedar ceiling resting on four marble
columns, and traceried walls of unusually beautiful design. From this
chapel we passed into the hall of the tombs, a cube about forty feet
square. Fourteen columns of colored marble sustain a domed ceiling of
gilded cedar, with an exterior deambulatory under a tunnel-vaulting also
roofed with cedar. The walls are, as usual, of chiselled stucco, above
revetements of ceramic mosaic, and between the columns lie the white
marble cenotaphs of the Saadian Sultans, covered with Arabic
inscriptions in the most delicate low-relief. Beyond this central
mausoleum, and balancing the praying-chapel, lies another long narrow
chamber, gold-ceilinged also, and containing a few tombs.

It is difficult, in describing the architecture of Morocco, to avoid
producing an impression of monotony. The ground-plan of mosques and
Medersas is always practically the same, and the same elements, few in
number and endlessly repeated, make up the materials and the form of the
ornament. The effect upon the eye is not monotonous, for a patient art
has infinitely varied the combinations of pattern and the juxtapositions
of color; while the depth of undercutting of the stucco, and the
treatment of the bronze doors and of the carved cedar corbels,
necessarily varies with the periods which produced them.

But in the Saadian mausoleum a new element has been introduced which
makes this little monument a thing apart. The marble columns supporting
the roof appear to be unique in Moroccan architecture, and they lend
themselves to a new roof-plan which relates the building rather to the
tradition of Venice or Byzantine by way of Kairouan and Cordova.

The late date of the monument precludes any idea of a direct artistic
tradition. The most probable explanation seems to be that the architect
of the mausoleum was familiar with European Renaissance architecture,
and saw the beauty to be derived from using precious marbles not merely
as ornament, but in the Roman and Italian way, as a structural element.
Panels and fountain-basins are ornament, and ornament changes nothing
essential in architecture; but when, for instance, heavy square piers
are replaced by detached columns, a new style results.

It is not only the novelty of its plan that makes the Saadian mausoleum
singular among Moroccan monuments. The details of its ornament are of
the most intricate refinement: it seems as though the last graces of the
expiring Merinid art had been gathered up into this rare blossom. And
the slant of sunlight on lustrous columns, the depths of fretted gold,
the dusky ivory of the walls and the pure white of the cenotaphs, so
classic in spareness of ornament and simplicity of design--this subtle
harmony of form and color gives to the dim rich chapel an air of
dream-like unreality.

[Illustration: _From a photograph by M. Andre Chevrillon_

Marrakech--Mausoleum of the Saadian Sultans (sixteenth century) showing
the tombs]

And how can it seem other than a dream? Who can have conceived, in the
heart of a savage Saharan camp, the serenity and balance of this hidden
place? And how came such fragile loveliness to survive, preserving,
behind a screen of tumbling walls, of nettles and offal and dead beasts,
every curve of its traceries and every cell of its honeycombing?

Such questions inevitably bring one back to the central riddle of the
mysterious North African civilization: the perpetual flux and the
immovable stability, the barbarous customs and sensuous refinements, the
absence of artistic originality and the gift for regrouping borrowed
motives, the patient and exquisite workmanship and the immediate neglect
and degradation of the thing once made.

Revering the dead and camping on their graves, elaborating exquisite
monuments only to abandon and defile them, venerating scholarship and
wisdom and living in ignorance and grossness, these gifted races,
perpetually struggling to reach some higher level of culture from which
they have always been swept down by a fresh wave of barbarism, are
still only a people in the making.

It may be that the political stability which France is helping them to
acquire will at last give their higher qualities time for fruition; and
when one looks at the mausoleum of Marrakech and the Medersas of Fez one
feels that, were the experiment made on artistic grounds alone, it would
yet be well worth making.





To occidental travellers the most vivid impression produced by a first
contact with the Near East is the surprise of being in a country where
the human element increases instead of diminishing the delight of the

After all, then, the intimate harmony between nature and architecture
and the human body that is revealed in Greek art was not an artist's
counsel of perfection but an honest rendering of reality: there were,
there still are, privileged scenes where the fall of a green-grocer's
draperies or a milkman's cloak or a beggar's rags are part of the
composition, distinctly related to it in line and colour, and where the
natural unstudied attitudes of the human body are correspondingly
harmonious, however humdrum the acts it is engaged in. The discovery,
to the traveller returning from the East, robs the most romantic scenes
of western Europe of half their charm: in the Piazza of San Marco, in
the market-place of Siena, where at least the robes of the Procurators
or the gay tights of Pinturicchio's striplings once justified man's
presence among his works, one can see, at first, only the outrage
inflicted on beauty by the "plentiful strutting manikins" of the modern

Moroccan crowds are always a feast to the eye. The instinct of skilful
drapery, the sense of colour (subdued by custom, but breaking out in
subtle glimpses under the universal ashy tints) make the humblest
assemblage of donkey-men and water-carriers an ever-renewed delight. But
it is only on rare occasions, and in the court ceremonies to which so
few foreigners have had access, that the hidden sumptuousness of the
native life is revealed. Even then, the term sumptuousness may seem
ill-chosen, since the nomadic nature of African life persists in spite
of palaces and chamberlains and all the elaborate ritual of the Makhzen,
and the most pompous rites are likely to end in a dusty gallop of wild
tribesmen, and the most princely processions to tail off in a string of
half-naked urchins riding bareback on donkeys.

As in all Oriental countries, the contact between prince and beggar,
vizier and serf is disconcertingly free and familiar, and one must see
the highest court officials kissing the hem of the Sultan's robe, and
hear authentic tales of slaves given by one merchant to another at the
end of a convivial evening, to be reminded that nothing is as democratic
in appearance as a society of which the whole structure hangs on the
whim of one man.



In the verandah of the Residence of Rabat I stood looking out between
posts festooned with gentian-blue ipomeas at the first shimmer of light
on black cypresses and white tobacco-flowers, on the scattered roofs of
the new town, and the plain stretching away to the Sultan's palace above
the sea.

We had been told, late the night before, that the Sultan would allow
Madame Lyautey, with the three ladies of her party, to be present at
the great religious rite of the Aid-el-Kebir (the Sacrifice of the
Sheep). The honour was an unprecedented one, a favour probably conceded
only at the last moment: for as a rule no women are admitted to these
ceremonies. It was an opportunity not to be missed, and all through the
short stifling night I had lain awake wondering if I should be ready
early enough. Presently the motors assembled, and we set out with the
French officers in attendance on the Governor's wife.

The Sultan's palace, a large modern building on the familiar Arab lines,
lies in a treeless and gardenless waste enclosed by high walls and close
above the blue Atlantic. We motored past the gates, where the Sultan's
Black Guard was drawn up, and out to the _msalla_,[A] a sort of common
adjacent to all the Sultan's residences where public ceremonies are
usually performed. The sun was already beating down on the great plain
thronged with horsemen and with the native population of Rabat on
mule-back and foot. Within an open space in the centre of the crowd a
canvas palissade dyed with a bold black pattern surrounded the Sultan's
tents. The Black Guard, in scarlet tunics and white and green turbans,
were drawn up on the edge of the open space, keeping the spectators at a
distance; but under the guidance of our companions we penetrated to the
edge of the crowd.

[Footnote A: The _msalla_ is used for the performance of religious
ceremonies when the crowd is too great to be contained in the court of
the mosque.]

The palissade was open on one side, and within it we could see moving
about among the snowy-robed officials a group of men in straight narrow
gowns of almond-green, peach-blossom, lilac and pink; they were the
Sultan's musicians, whose coloured dresses always flower out
conspicuously among the white draperies of all the other court

In the tent nearest the opening, against a background of embroidered
hangings, a circle of majestic turbaned old men squatted placidly on
Rabat rugs. Presently the circle broke up, there was an agitated coming
and going, and some one said: "The Sultan has gone to the tent at the
back of the enclosure to kill the sheep."

A sense of the impending solemnity ran through the crowd. The mysterious
rumour which is the Voice of the Bazaar rose about us like the wind in
a palm-oasis; the Black Guard fired a salute from an adjoining hillock;
the clouds of red dust flung up by wheeling horsemen thickened and then
parted, and a white-robed rider sprang out from the tent of the
Sacrifice with something red and dripping across his saddle-bow, and
galloped away toward Rabat through the shouting. A little shiver ran
over the group of occidental spectators, who knew that the dripping red
thing was a sheep with its throat so skilfully slit that, if the omen
were favourable, it would live on through the long race to Rabat and
gasp out its agonized life on the tiles of the Mosque.

The Sacrifice of the Sheep, one of the four great Moslem rites, is
simply the annual propitiatory offering made by every Mahometan head of
a family, and by the Sultan as such. It is based not on a Koranic
injunction, but on the "Souna" or record of the Prophet's "custom" or
usages, which forms an authoritative precedent in Moslem ritual. So far
goes the Moslem exegesis. In reality, of course, the Moslem
blood-sacrifice comes, by way of the Semitic ritual, from far beyond and
behind it, and the belief that the Sultan's prosperity for the coming
year depends on the animal's protracted agony seems to relate the
ceremony to the dark magic so deeply rooted in the mysterious tribes
peopling North Africa long ages before the first Phoenician prows had
rounded its coast.

Between the Black Guard and the tents, five or six horses were being led
up and down by muscular grooms in snowy tunics. They were handsome
animals, as Moroccan horses go, and each of a different colour, and on
the bay horse was a red saddle embroidered in gold, on the piebald a
saddle of peach-colour and silver, on the chestnut, grass-green
encrusted with seed-pearls, on the white mare purple housings, and
orange velvet on the grey. The Sultan's band had struck up a shrill
hammering and twanging, the salute of the Black Guard continued at
intervals, and the caparisoned steeds began to rear and snort and drag
back from the cruel Arab bits with their exquisite _niello_
incrustations. Some one whispered that these were His Majesty's
horses--and that it was never known till he appeared which one he would

Presently the crowd about the tents thickened, and when it divided
again there emerged from it a grey horse bearing a motionless figure
swathed in blinding white. Marching at the horse's bridle, lean brown
grooms in white tunics rhythmically waved long strips of white linen to
keep off the flies from the Imperial Presence, and beside the motionless
rider, in a line with his horse's flank, rode the Imperial
Parasol-bearer, who held above the sovereign's head a great sunshade of
bright green velvet. Slowly the grey horse advanced a few yards before
the tent; behind rode the court dignitaries, followed by the musicians,
who looked, in their bright scant caftans, like the slender music-making
angels of a Florentine fresco.

The Sultan, pausing beneath his velvet dome, waited to receive the
homage of the assembled tribes. An official, riding forward, drew bridle
and called out a name. Instantly there came storming across the plain a
wild cavalcade of tribesmen, with rifles slung across their shoulders,
pistols and cutlasses in their belts, and twists of camel's-hair bound
about their turbans. Within a few feet of the Sultan they drew in, their
leader uttered a cry and sprang forward, bending to the saddle-bow,
and with a great shout the tribe galloped by, each man bowed over his
horse's neck as he flew past the hieratic figure on the grey horse.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

The Sultan of Morocco under the green umbrella (at Meknez, 1916)]

Again and again this ceremony was repeated, the Sultan advancing a few
feet as each new group thundered toward him. There were more than ten
thousand horsemen and chieftains from the Atlas and the wilderness, and
as the ceremony continued the dust-clouds grew denser and more
fiery-golden, till at last the forward-surging lines showed through them
like blurred images in a tarnished mirror.

As the Sultan advanced we followed, abreast of him and facing the
oncoming squadrons. The contrast between his motionless figure and the
wild waves of cavalry beating against it typified the strange soul of
Islam, with its impetuosity forever culminating in impassiveness. The
sun hung high, a brazen ball in a white sky, darting down metallic
shafts on the dust-enveloped plain and the serene white figure under its
umbrella. The fat man with a soft round beard-fringed face, wrapped in
spirals of pure white, one plump hand on his embroidered bridle, his
yellow-slippered feet thrust heel-down in big velvet-lined stirrups,
became, through sheer immobility, a symbol, a mystery, a God. The human
flux beat against him, dissolved, ebbed away, another spear-crested wave
swept up behind it and dissolved in turn; and he sat on, hour after
hour, under the white-hot sky, unconscious of the heat, the dust, the
tumult, embodying to the wild factious precipitate hordes a long
tradition of serene aloofness.



As the last riders galloped up to do homage we were summoned to our
motors and driven rapidly to the palace. The Sultan had sent word to
Mme. Lyautey that the ladies of the Imperial harem would entertain her
and her guests while his Majesty received the Resident General, and we
had to hasten back in order not to miss the next act of the spectacle.

We walked across a long court lined with the Black Guard, passed under a
gateway, and were met by a shabbily dressed negress. Traversing a hot
dazzle of polychrome tiles we reached another archway guarded by the
chief eunuch, a towering black with the enamelled eyes of a basalt bust.
The eunuch delivered us to other negresses, and we entered a labyrinth
of inner passages and patios, all murmuring and dripping with water.
Passing down long corridors where slaves in dim greyish garments
flattened themselves against the walls, we caught glimpses of great dark
rooms, laundries, pantries, bakeries, kitchens, where savoury things
were brewing and stewing, and where more negresses, abandoning their
pots and pans, came to peep at us from the threshold. In one corner, on
a bench against a wall hung with matting, grey parrots in tall cages
were being fed by a slave.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

A clan of mountaineers and their caid]

A narrow staircase mounted to a landing where a princess out of an Arab
fairy-tale awaited us. Stepping softly on her embroidered slippers she
led us to the next landing, where another golden-slippered being smiled
out on us, a little girl this one, blushing and dimpling under a
jewelled diadem and pearl-woven braids. On a third landing a third
damsel appeared, and encircled by the three graces we mounted to the
tall _mirador_ in the central tower from which we were to look down at
the coming ceremony. One by one, our little guides, kicking off their
golden shoes, which a slave laid neatly outside the door, led us on soft
bare feet into the upper chamber of the harem.

It was a large room, enclosed on all sides by a balcony glazed with
panes of brightly-coloured glass. On a gaudy modern Rabat carpet stood
gilt armchairs of florid design and a table bearing a commercial bronze
of the "art goods" variety. Divans with muslin-covered cushions were
ranged against the walls and down an adjoining gallery-like apartment
which was otherwise furnished only with clocks. The passion for clocks
and other mechanical contrivances is common to all unmechanical races,
and every chief's palace in North Africa contains a collection of
time-pieces which might be called striking if so many had not ceased to
go. But those in the Sultan's harem of Rabat are remarkable for the fact
that, while designed on current European models, they are proportioned
in size to the Imperial dignity, so that a Dutch "grandfather" becomes a
wardrobe, and the box-clock of the European mantelpiece a cupboard that
has to be set on the floor. At the end of this avenue of time-pieces a
European double-bed with a bright silk quilt covered with Nottingham
lace stood majestically on a carpeted platform.

But for the enchanting glimpses of sea and plain through the lattices of
the gallery, the apartment of the Sultan's ladies falls far short of
occidental ideas of elegance. But there was hardly time to think of
this, for the door of the _mirador_ was always opening to let in another
fairy-tale figure, till at last we were surrounded by a dozen houris,
laughing, babbling, taking us by the hand, and putting shy questions
while they looked at us with caressing eyes. They were all (our
interpretess whispered) the Sultan's "favourites," round-faced
apricot-tinted girls in their teens, with high cheek-bones, full red
lips, surprised brown eyes between curved-up Asiatic lids, and little
brown hands fluttering out like birds from their brocaded sleeves.

In honour of the ceremony, and of Mme. Lyautey's visit, they had put on
their finest clothes, and their freedom of movement was somewhat
hampered by their narrow sumptuous gowns, with over-draperies of gold
and silver brocade and pale rosy gauze held in by corset-like sashes of
gold tissue of Fez, and the heavy silken cords that looped their
voluminous sleeves. Above their foreheads the hair was shaven like that
of an Italian fourteenth-century beauty, and only a black line as narrow
as a pencilled eyebrow showed through the twist of gauze fastened by a
jewelled clasp above the real eye-brows. Over the forehead-jewel rose
the complicated structure of the headdress. Ropes of black wool were
plaited through the hair, forming, at the back, a double loop that stood
out above the nape like the twin handles of a vase, the upper veiled in
airy shot gauzes and fastened with jewelled bands and ornaments. On each
side of the red cheeks other braids were looped over the ears hung with
broad earrings of filigree set with rough pearls and emeralds, or gold
loops and pendants of coral, and an unexpected tulle ruff, like that of
a Watteau shepherdess, framed the round chin above a torrent of
necklaces, necklaces of amber, coral, baroque pearls, hung with
mysterious barbaric amulets and fetiches. As the young things moved
about us on soft hennaed feet the light played on shifting gleams of
gold and silver, blue and violet and apple-green, all harmonized and
bemisted by clouds of pink and sky-blue, and through the changing group
capered a little black picaninny in a caftan of silver-shot purple with
a sash of raspberry red.

But presently there was a flutter in the aviary. A fresh pair of
_babouches_ clicked on the landing, and a young girl, less brilliantly
dressed and less brilliant of face than the others, came in on bare
painted feet. Her movements were shy and hesitating, her large lips
pale, her eye-brows less vividly dark, her head less jewelled. But all
the little humming-birds gathered about her with respectful rustlings as
she advanced toward us leaning on one of the young girls, and holding
out her ringed hand to Mme. Lyautey's curtsey. It was the young
Princess, the Sultan's legitimate daughter. She examined us with sad
eyes, spoke a few compliments through the interpretess, and seated
herself in silence, letting the others sparkle and chatter.

Conversation with the shy Princess was flagging when one of the
favourites beckoned us to the balcony. We were told we might push open
the painted panes a few inches, but as we did so the butterfly group
drew back lest they should be seen looking out on the forbidden world.

Salutes were crashing out again from the direction of the _msalla_:
puffs of smoke floated over the slopes like thistle-down. Farther off, a
pall of red vapour veiled the gallop of the last horsemen wheeling away
toward Rabat. The vapour subsided, and moving out of it we discerned a
slow procession. First rode a detachment of the Black Guard, mounted on
black horses, and, comically fierce in their British scarlet and Meccan
green, a uniform invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century by
a retired English army officer. After the Guard came the
standard-bearers and the great dignitaries, then the Sultan, still
aloof, immovable, as if rapt in the contemplation of his mystic office.
More court officials followed, then the bright-gowned musicians on foot,
then a confused irrepressible crowd of pilgrims, beggars, saints,
mountebanks, and the other small folk of the Bazaar, ending in a line of
boys jamming their naked heels into the ribs of world-weary donkeys.

The Sultan rode into the court below us, and Vizier and chamberlains,
snowy-white against the scarlet line of the Guards, hurried forward to
kiss his draperies, his shoes, his stirrup. Descending from his velvet
saddle, still entranced, he paced across the tiles between a double line
of white servitors bowing to the ground. White pigeons circled over him
like petals loosed from a great orchard, and he disappeared with his
retinue under the shadowy arcade of the audience chamber at the back of
the court.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

The Sultan entering Marrakech in state]

At this point one of the favourites called us in from the _mirador_. The
door had just opened to admit an elderly woman preceded by a respectful
group of girls. From the newcomer's round ruddy face, her short round
body, the round hands emerging from her round wrists, an inexplicable
majesty emanated; and though she too was less richly arrayed than the
favourites she carried her headdress of striped gauze like a crown.

This impressive old lady was the Sultan's mother. As she held out her
plump wrinkled hand to Mme. Lyautey and spoke a few words through the
interpretess one felt that at last a painted window of the _mirador_ had
been broken, and a thought let into the vacuum of the harem. What
thought, it would have taken deep insight into the processes of the Arab
mind to discover; but its honesty was manifest in the old Empress's
voice and smile. Here at last was a woman beyond the trivial
dissimulations, the childish cunning, the idle cruelties of the harem.
It was not a surprise to be told that she was her son's most trusted
adviser, and the chief authority in the palace. If such a woman deceived
and intrigued it would be for great purposes and for ends she believed
in; the depth of her soul had air and daylight in it, and she would
never willingly shut them out.

The Empress Mother chatted for a while with Mme. Lyautey, asking about
the Resident General's health, enquiring for news of the war, and
saying, with an emotion perceptible even through the unintelligible
words: "All is well with Morocco as long as all is well with France."
Then she withdrew, and we were summoned again to the _mirador_.

This time it was to see a company of officers in brilliant uniforms
advancing at a trot across the plain from Rabat. At sight of the figure
that headed them, so slim, erect and young on his splendid chestnut,
with a pale blue tunic barred by the wide orange ribbon of the Cherifian
Order, salutes pealed forth again from the slope above the palace and
the Black Guard presented arms. A moment later General Lyautey and his
staff were riding in at the gates below us. On the threshold of the
inner court they dismounted, and moving to the other side of our balcony
we followed the next stage of the ceremony. The Sultan was still seated
in the audience chamber. The court officials still stood drawn up in a
snow-white line against the snow-white walls. The great dignitaries
advanced across the tiles to greet the General, then they fell aside,
and he went forward alone, followed at a little distance by his staff. A
third of the way across the court he paused, in accordance with the
Moroccan court ceremonial, and bowed in the direction of the arcaded
room; a few steps farther he bowed again, and a third time on the
threshold of the room. Then French uniforms and Moroccan draperies
closed in about him, and all vanished into the shadows of the audience

Our audience too seemed to be over. We had exhausted the limited small
talk of the harem, had learned from the young beauties that, though they
were forbidden to look on at the ceremony, the dancers and singers would
come to entertain them presently, and had begun to take leave when a
negress hurried in to say that his Majesty begged Mme. Lyautey and her
friends to await his arrival. This was the crowning incident of our
visit, and I wondered with what Byzantine ritual the Anointed One fresh
from the exercise of his priestly functions would be received among his

The door opened, and without any announcement or other preliminary
flourish a fat man with a pleasant face, his djellabah stretched over a
portly front, walked in holding a little boy by the hand. Such was his
Majesty the Sultan Moulay Youssef, despoiled of sacramental burnouses
and turban, and shuffling along on bare yellow-slippered feet with the
gait of a stout elderly gentleman who has taken off his boots in the
passage preparatory to a domestic evening.

The little Prince, one of his two legitimate sons, was dressed with
equal simplicity, for silken garments are worn in Morocco only by
musicians, boy-dancers and other hermaphrodite fry. With his ceremonial
raiment the Sultan had put off his air of superhuman majesty, and the
expression of his round pale face corresponded with the plainness of his
dress. The favourites fluttered about him, respectful but by no means
awestruck, and the youngest began to play with the little Prince. We
could well believe the report that his was the happiest harem in
Morocco, as well as the only one into which a breath of the outer world
ever came.

Moulay Youssef greeted Mme. Lyautey with friendly simplicity, made the
proper speeches to her companions, and then, with the air of the
business-man who has forgotten to give an order before leaving his
office, he walked up to a corner of the room, and while the
flower-maidens ruffled about him, and through the windows we saw the
last participants in the mystic rites galloping away toward the
crenellated walls of Rabat, his Majesty the Priest and Emperor of the
Faithful unhooked a small instrument from the wall and applied his
sacred lips to the telephone.



Before General Lyautey came to Morocco Rabat had been subjected to the
indignity of European "improvements," and one must traverse boulevards
scored with tram-lines, and pass between hotel-terraces and cafes and
cinema-palaces, to reach the surviving nucleus of the once beautiful
native town. Then, at the turn of a commonplace street, one comes upon
it suddenly. The shops and cafes cease, the jingle of trams and the
trumpeting of motor-horns die out, and here, all at once, are silence
and solitude, and the dignified reticence of the windowless Arab

We were bound for the house of a high government official, a Moroccan
dignitary of the old school, who had invited us to tea, and added a
message to the effect that the ladies of his household would be happy to
receive me.

The house we sought was some distance down the quietest of white-walled
streets. Our companion knocked at a low green door, and we were admitted
to a passage into which a wooden stairway descended. A brother-in-law
of our host was waiting for us; in his wake we mounted the ladder-like
stairs and entered a long room with a florid French carpet and a set of
gilt furniture to match. There were no fretted walls, no painted cedar
doors, no fountains rustling in unseen courts: the house was squeezed in
between others, and such traces of old ornament as it may have possessed
had vanished.

But presently we saw why its inhabitants were indifferent to such
details. Our host, a handsome white-bearded old man, welcomed us in the
doorway, then he led us to a raised oriel window at one end of the room,
and seated us in the gilt armchairs face to face with one of the most
beautiful views in Morocco.

Below us lay the white and blue terrace-roofs of the native town, with
palms and minarets shooting up between them, or the shadows of a
vine-trellis patterning a quiet lane. Beyond, the Atlantic sparkled,
breaking into foam at the mouth of the Bou-Regreg and under the towering
ramparts of the Kasbah of the Oudayas. To the right, the ruins of the
great Mosque rose from their plateau over the river; and, on the
farther side of the troubled flood, old Sale, white and wicked, lay like
a jewel in its gardens. With such a scene beneath their eyes, the
inhabitants of the house could hardly feel its lack of architectural

After exchanging the usual compliments, and giving us time to enjoy the
view, our host withdrew, taking with him the men of our party. A moment
later he reappeared with a rosy fair-haired girl, dressed in Arab
costume, but evidently of European birth. The brother-in-law explained
that this young woman, who had "studied in Algeria," and whose mother
was French, was the intimate friend of the ladies of the household, and
would act as interpreter. Our host then again left us, joining the men
visitors in another room, and the door opened to admit his wife and

The mistress of the house was a handsome Algerian with sad expressive
eyes, the younger women were pale, fat and amiable. They all wore sober
dresses, in keeping with the simplicity of the house, and but for the
vacuity of their faces the group might have been that of a Professor's
family in an English or American University town, decently costumed for
an Arabian Nights' pageant in the college grounds. I was never more
vividly reminded of the fact that human nature, from one pole to the
other, falls naturally into certain categories, and that Respectability
wears the same face in an Oriental harem as in England or America.

My hostesses received me with the utmost amiability, we seated ourselves
in the oriel facing the view, and the interchange of questions and
compliments began.

Had I any children? (They asked it all at once.)

Alas, no.

"In Islam" (one of the ladies ventured) "a woman without children is
considered the most unhappy being in the world."

I replied that in the western world also childless women were pitied.
(The brother-in-law smiled incredulously.)

Knowing that European fashions are of absorbing interest to the harem I
next enquired: "What do these ladies think of our stiff tailor-dresses?
Don't they find them excessively ugly?"

"Yes, they do;" (it was again the brother-in-law who replied.) "But
they suppose that in your own homes you dress less badly."

"And have they never any desire to travel, or to visit the Bazaars, as
the Turkish ladies do?"

"No, indeed. They are too busy to give such matters a thought. In _our
country_ women of the highest class occupy themselves with their
household and their children, and the rest of their time is devoted to
needlework." (At this statement I gave the brother-in-law a smile as
incredulous as his own.)

All this time the fair-haired interpretess had not been allowed by the
vigilant guardian of the harem to utter a word.

I turned to her with a question.

"So your mother is French, _Mademoiselle_?"

"_Oui, Madame_."

"From what part of France did she come?"

A bewildered pause. Finally, "I don't know . . . from Switzerland, I
think," brought out this shining example of the Higher Education. In
spite of Algerian "advantages" the poor girl could speak only a few
words of her mother's tongue. She had kept the European features and
complexion, but her soul was the soul of Islam. The harem had placed its
powerful imprint upon her, and she looked at me with the same remote and
passive eyes as the daughters of the house.

After struggling for a while longer with a conversation which the
watchful brother-in-law continued to direct as he pleased, I felt my own
lips stiffening into the resigned smile of the harem, and it was a
relief when at last their guardian drove the pale flock away, and the
handsome old gentleman who owned them reappeared on the scene, bringing
back my friends, and followed by slaves and tea.



What thoughts, what speculations, one wonders, go on under the narrow
veiled brows of the little creatures destined to the high honour of
marriage or concubinage in Moroccan palaces?

Some are brought down from mountains and cedar forests, from the free
life of the tents where the nomad women go unveiled. Others come from
harems in the turreted cities beyond the Atlas, where blue palm-groves
beat all night against the stars and date-caravans journey across the
desert from Timbuctoo. Some, born and bred in an airy palace among
pomegranate gardens and white terraces, pass thence to one of the feudal
fortresses near the snows, where for half the year the great chiefs of
the south live in their clan, among fighting men and falconers and packs
of _sloughis_. And still others grow up in a stifling Mellah, trip
unveiled on its blue terraces overlooking the gardens of the great, and,
seen one day at sunset by a fat vizier or his pale young master, are
acquired for a handsome sum and transferred to the painted sepulchre of
the harem.

Worst of all must be the fate of those who go from tents and cedar
forests, or from some sea-blown garden above Rabat, into one of the
houses of Old Fez. They are well-nigh impenetrable, these palaces of
Elbali; the Fazi dignitaries do not welcome the visits of strange women.
On the rare occasions when they are received, a member of the family
(one of the sons, or a brother-in-law who has "studied in Algeria")
usually acts as interpreter; and perhaps it is as well that no one from
the outer world should come to remind these listless creatures that
somewhere the gulls dance on the Atlantic and the wind murmurs through
olive-yards and clatters the metallic fronds of palm-groves.

We had been invited, one day, to visit the harem of one of the chief
dignitaries of the Makhzen at Fez, and these thoughts came to me as I
sat among the pale women in their mouldering prison. The descent through
the steep tunnelled streets gave one the sense of being lowered into the
shaft of a mine. At each step the strip of sky grew narrower, and was
more often obscured by the low vaulted passages into which we plunged.
The noises of the Bazaar had died out, and only the sound of fountains
behind garden walls and the clatter of our mules' hoofs on the stones
went with us. Then fountains and gardens ceased also, the towering
masonry closed in, and we entered an almost subterranean labyrinth which
sun and air never reach. At length our mules turned into a _cul-de-sac_
blocked by a high building. On the right was another building, one of
those blind mysterious house-fronts of Fez that seem like a fragment of
its ancient fortifications. Clients and servants lounged on the stone
benches built into the wall; it was evidently the house of an important
person. A charming youth with intelligent eyes waited on the threshold
to receive us; he was one of the sons of the house, the one who had
"studied in Algeria" and knew how to talk to visitors. We followed him
into a small arcaded _patio_ hemmed in by the high walls of the house.
On the right was the usual long room with archways giving on the court.
Our host, a patriarchal personage, draped in fat as in a toga, came
toward us, a mountain of majestic muslins, his eyes sparkling in a
swarthy silver-bearded face. He seated us on divans and lowered his
voluminous person to a heap of cushions on the step leading into the
court, and the son who had studied in Algeria instructed a negress to
prepare the tea.

Across the _patio_ was another arcade closely hung with unbleached
cotton. From behind it came the sound of chatter, and now and then a
bare brown child in a scant shirt would escape, and be hurriedly pulled
back with soft explosions of laughter, while a black woman came out to
readjust the curtains.

There were three of these negresses, splendid bronze creatures, wearing
white djellabahs over bright-coloured caftans, striped scarves knotted
about their large hips, and gauze turbans on their crinkled hair. Their
wrists clinked with heavy silver bracelets, and big circular earrings
danced in their purple ear-lobes. A languor lay on all the other inmates
of the household, on the servants and hangers-on squatting in the shade
under the arcade, on our monumental host and his smiling son; but the
three negresses, vibrating with activity, rushed continually from the
curtained chamber to the kitchen, and from the kitchen to the master's
reception-room, bearing on their pinky-blue palms trays of Britannia
metal with tall glasses and fresh bunches of mint, shouting orders to
dozing menials, and calling to each other from opposite ends of the
court; and finally the stoutest of the three, disappearing from view,
reappeared suddenly on a pale green balcony overhead, where, profiled
against a square of blue sky, she leaned over in a Veronese attitude and
screamed down to the others like an excited parrot.

In spite of their febrile activity and tropical bird-shrieks, we waited
in vain for tea; and after a while our host suggested to his son that I
might like to visit the ladies of the household. As I had expected, the
young man led me across the _patio_, lifted the cotton hanging and
introduced me into an apartment exactly like the one we had just left.
Divans covered with striped mattress-ticking stood against the white
walls, and on them sat seven or eight passive-looking women over whom a
number of pale children scrambled.

The eldest of the group, and evidently the mistress of the house,
was an Algerian lady, probably of about fifty, with a sad and
delicately-modelled face; the others were daughters, daughters-in-law
and concubines. The latter word evokes to occidental ears images of
sensual seduction which the Moroccan harem seldom realizes. All the
ladies of this dignified official household wore the same look of
somewhat melancholy respectability. In their stuffy curtained apartment
they were like cellar-grown flowers, pale, heavy, fuller but frailer
than the garden sort. Their dresses, rich but sober, the veils and
diadems put on in honour of my visit, had a dignified dowdiness in odd
contrast to the frivolity of the Imperial harem. But what chiefly
struck me was the apathy of the younger women. I asked them if they had
a garden, and they shook their heads wistfully, saying that there were
no gardens in Old Fez. The roof was therefore their only escape: a roof
overlooking acres and acres of other roofs, and closed in by the naked
fortified mountains which stand about Fez like prison-walls.

After a brief exchange of compliments silence fell. Conversing through
interpreters is a benumbing process, and there are few points of contact
between the open-air occidental mind and beings imprisoned in a
conception of sexual and domestic life based on slave-service and
incessant espionage. These languid women on their muslin cushions toil
not, neither do they spin. The Moroccan lady knows little of cooking,
needlework or any household arts. When her child is ill she can only
hang it with amulets and wail over it, the great lady of the Fazi palace
is as ignorant of hygiene as the peasant-woman of the _bled_. And all
these colourless eventless lives depend on the favour of one fat
tyrannical man, bloated with good living and authority, himself almost
as inert and sedentary as his women, and accustomed to impose his whims
on them ever since he ran about the same _patio_ as a little
short-smocked boy.

The redeeming point in this stagnant domesticity is the tenderness of
the parents for their children, and western writers have laid so much
stress on this that one would suppose children could be loved only by
inert and ignorant parents. It is in fact charming to see the heavy eyes
of the Moroccan father light up when a brown grass-hopper baby jumps on
his knee, and the unfeigned tenderness with which the childless women of
the harem caress the babies of their happier rivals. But the
sentimentalist moved by this display of family feeling would do well to
consider the lives of these much-petted children. Ignorance,
unhealthiness and a precocious sexual initiation prevail in all classes.
Education consists in learning by heart endless passages of the Koran,
and amusement in assisting at spectacles that would be unintelligible to
western children, but that the pleasantries of the harem make perfectly
comprehensible to Moroccan infancy. At eight or nine the little girls
are married, at twelve the son of the house is "given his first
negress"; and thereafter, in the rich and leisured class, both sexes
live till old age in an atmosphere of sensuality without seduction.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

Women watching a procession from a roof]

The young son of the house led me back across the court, where the
negresses were still shrieking and scurrying, and passing to and fro
like a stage-procession with the vain paraphernalia of a tea that never
came. Our host still smiled from his cushions, resigned to Oriental
delays. To distract the impatient westerners, a servant unhooked from
the wall the cage of a gently-cooing dove. It was brought to us, still
cooing, and looked at me with the same resigned and vacant eyes as the
ladies I had just left. As it was being restored to its hook the slaves
lolling about the entrance scattered respectfully at the approach of a
handsome man of about thirty, with delicate features and a black beard.
Crossing the court, he stooped to kiss the shoulder of our host, who
introduced him as his eldest son, the husband of one or two of the
little pale wives with whom I had been exchanging platitudes.

From the increasing agitation of the negresses it became evident that
the ceremony of tea-making had been postponed till his arrival. A metal
tray bearing a Britannia samovar and tea-pot was placed on the tiles of
the court, and squatting beside it the newcomer gravely proceeded to
infuse the mint. Suddenly the cotton hangings fluttered again, and a
tiny child in the scantest of smocks rushed out and scampered across the
court. Our venerable host, stretching out rapturous arms, caught the
fugitive to his bosom, where the little boy lay like a squirrel,
watching us with great sidelong eyes. He was the last-born of the


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