TIME JUST FLIES BY…..
It’s hard to believe that we are now already into our summer break before returning to Morocco for the September – December schedule ……. As I say, time just flies by…..
But in reality we find we are already heavily into our 2016 booking season where we find that more than half of next year’s  tours are already fully-booked, with very limited places remaining on those that are left.
Please note that tours dates showing "FULLY BOOKED" [Standby only]” mean just that i.e. they are already fully booked. However for any number of reasons and circumstances clients sometimes switch dates or may even have to cancel their tour, so you can reserve a place by going on a “Standby” list for a particular tour date. Your “reserved-standby” booking will of course be later allocated on a “First-Come-First-Booked” basis. OR, if you have a specific date in mind contact the office to see if there has been a change on the listings since publication.
For example…..As shown on our last [April] Blog listing both of our all new 40 Plus day tours were fully booked, but we now have a number of places  that have become available ……..
It’s also worth noting that at times we find ourselves heading off to Morocco on unscheduled trips…… if able clients can join us on very short notice. We are just waiting for specific dates of a wedding [Fatima at Meski] which we will not miss and there is the birth of A’Hammed’s [Tour Assistant] second child that we would like to celebrate with him…..then there’s the Imilchil Wedding Festival that we are planning to attend.
LATEST 2015 AVAILABILITY……………………….. YES, THIS YEAR!
Since the last blog entry was published we find that there are now ONLY THREE vehicle places remaining for the rest of 2015…….these are on the OCTOBER and NOVEMBER tours, if interested contact the office.
MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS…….
One of the better short videos of Morocco we have come across…….For those who have travelled on tour with us before you should recognize more than a few faces and locations.
Always a favorite with its informal woodland location, campfire into the night, shepherd for company and a nearby Berber village…. It’s what motor-homing should be about. You won’t find this hidden gem by yourself, unless you spot the hidden track, and if you do you will probably be moved-on by the “Ranger”…… But there is more, much more.
Warm afternoon breezes blow the rich scent of earth and olive trees across the fertile plains of the Saiss Valley every summer, as they have for thousands of years. On its journey between the Atlas and the Atlantic, the heated air brushes past the rolling hills and down the narrow lanes of the holy town of Moulay Idriss nestled at the base of Mount Zerhoun standing sentinel over the valley below.
Alongside the elevated P7014 road just outside town, one may spy the glint of sunshine reflecting off a collection of crumbling white columns only a few kilometers below. These simple ruins belie a complex past stretching centuries into antiquity and beyond and are the physical remains of a history both rich and varied.
One of the earliest known names for this site was Oualili, the local Amazigh name for the oleander flowers that grow wild on the plateau between the Oued Fertassa and Oued Khoumane upon which the ruins sit. Artifacts uncovered at the site from the late-seventh-century Umayyad conquest of the Maghreb refer to the town as Walila, and later sources label it as “Ksar Faraoun”…….the Castle of the Pharaohs. However, it is the region’s indomitable conquerors, the Romans, whose distorted name for the site…..Volubulis ….that most commonly remains with us to this day.
However, the Romans were by no means the first inhabitants of the site. Across the millennia, the Amazigh, who themselves have lived in the region for thousands of years, have been visited alternately by conquerors of Carthaginian and Phoenician origins as far back as the third century bce, and the warlord leaders of neighboring Maghrebi tribes before that. Indeed, the archaeological record indicates that the fertile land and strategic position of the site have drawn people to its location as far back as the Neolithic period some ten thousand years ago.
The Carthaginians and Phoenicians were skilled at utilizing the entrenched class stratification of the local peoples to their strategic advantage, but it is the Romans who raised this skill to an imperial, if insidious, fine art. Many local rulers near Oualili were able to keep the iron talons of the empire of the Seven Hills along the Tiber at bay, brave leaders like the Numidian King Jugurtha. After the mighty Jugurtha was captured by the Roman Republic’s General Sulla in 106 bce and starved to death in Rome’s Tullianum prison over the next two years, the ruling class of the Amazigh kingdom of Mauritania quickly saw the advantages of alliance with the invaders.
Perhaps one of the most noteworthy of these local rulers was the Numidian prince Juba II. This son of the Numdian king Juba I was born in Africa but, for reasons of imperial strategy and state-making, raised amid the cool marble and whispering fountains of Emperor Augustus’s personal palace. Indeed, the young Juba claimed to remember the trumpet blasts of cavalry horns and war elephants and the scent of incense and sweat on the day he was paraded as a boy by praetorian guards before the throngs of eager plebs assembled to witness Julius Caesar’s African triumph in Rome.
Juba, perhaps with little choice, eagerly took to the culture of his pseudo-captors. The young prince embraced with equal enthusiasm the bride his benefactor, Emperor Augustus, selected for him. As fate had it, his bride was also an orphan of empires much like himself, a beautiful young woman by the name of Silene or, more formerly, Cleopatra Selenus— the daughter of the ill-fated lovers Cleopatra VII Philopator of Egypt and Roman general Marcus Antonius, who chose death rather than life under the yoke of Augustus, who annihilated their meager force during the Battle of Actium in 30 bce.
Five years later Emperor Augustus perceived correctly that his young pupil and vassal was ready to be delivered back unto to the land of his birth in North Africa, and there he returned with his wife to rule as king of Mauritania at the capital of Caesarea in what is now Algeria. It was under Cleopatra and Juba’s reign in the region that Volubulis thrived from the production of olive oil for the empire yielded from the many groves that covered the valley.
The Roman town would continue to expand in both dividends and infrastructure in the ensuing years of Juba’s reign, but fate would not serve Juba’s son and heir as kindly. In 40 Ce after a parade in Rome honoring the deceased King Juba’s son, Ptolemy, his cousin, the maniacal Emperor Caligula, had the young Mauritanian despot murdered.
The independent Amazigh kingdom was thus no more, and the revolt that followed led by Ptolemy’s freed slave was viciously crushed. Mauritania was divided in twain, with Mauritania Caesariensis in the east with its capital at Caesarea, and Mauritania Tingitana to the west, with its capital at Tingi, or Tangiers. Volubulis in Mauritania Tingitana, well-versed in the power of the most powerful of Latin tribes, remained allied with Rome, and thus allowed to continue as a successful and productive Roman municipal. Under the protection of five forts (and a savvy alliance with the neighboring Amazigh Baquates tribe) Volubulis flourished for decades.
The reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second century saw sturdy city walls erected, as well as eight monumental gates flanked by towers. The town at the crossroads of Roman and Berber power further expanded under the emperor (and native of North Africa) Septimius Severus and his heirs, when a new monumental center was established in the town. The growth of Volubulis continued under Emperor Macrinus in the third century with the construction of the civil basilica, reorganized Forum, and Capitoline temple, still partially intact today. The similarly intact Arch of Triumph is dated to Emperor Caracalla, who granted the town’s residents Roman citizenship and removed the burden of taxation.
The town began to decline economically in 285 under Diocletian, when the Roman army, feeling the stress of an aging empire, pulled out of the southern reaches of Mauritania Tingitana. Thereafter the town would become home to a mixture of peoples of Amazigh, Italianate, Romano-Berber, and Levantine Jewish and Christian descent.
It was during this period in the middle centuries of the first millennium Ce that the name of Volubulis, the city of oleander flowers, was returned to Walila, and it was here in 788 that Moulay Idriss I, Arab protector of the Prophet Muhammed’s great-great-grandson, Husayn, fled from the Abbasids, bringing Islam to and taking refuge among the town’s multiethnic populace. Before his assassination a few years later, Idriss would go on to found the town that carries his name using portions of the ruins of the decaying Roman town. Moulay Idriss would also found a city along the Jawhar River that took its name from the old Berber word for the Middle Atlas, Fazaz. Idriss called it Madinat Fas……today, we know it as Fez.
Vanished from time are the horizon-spanning states of Carthage, Phoenicia, and Rome. But as the setting sun of late spring dapples the fields beside a winding road below a holy town on the plains of Saiss with blood orange light, the marble knees may buckle but the grand crown of history remains held high amid the ruins of a town with many times but one remarkable past.
I could go on and on, but if you join one of our tours [The Classic] you can visit the remains of Volubulis with a personal guide, amid the blooming oleander flowers at sunrise, and discover its past for yourself.
●4 tbsps olive oil for brushing the shells plus 2 tbsps for frying
● Salt and pepper
●1 onion, peeled and finely diced
●1 red pepper, diced
●2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
●4 tbsps flaked almonds
●8 soft dried apricots, cut into quarters
●1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
●1 tbsp finely chopped coriander plus 2 sprigs for decoration
●2 tsps rose harissa paste mixed with 2 tbsps olive oil
Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/gas mark 7.
Slice the aubergines lengthwise and, using the tip of a sharp knife, score a small border around the inside edge of the flesh. Using a spoon, scoop out the center of each aubergine and roughly chop the flesh. Brush the aubergine shells inside and out with the olive oil then lightly season the flesh sides with the salt and pepper. Cover these loosely with foil and bake them for 20-30 minutes or until just tender but not collapsed.
While these are baking, pan-fry the aubergine flesh in the olive oil on a medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until it is tender and cooked. Add the onion, red pepper and garlic then continue to fry for another 6-8 minutes to cook everything through. Add the almonds and apricots then cook for 2 minutes. Add the chopped herbs and ½ of the harissa oil then stir them through.
Remove the aubergine shells from the oven when ready then reduce the temperature to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/gas mark 6. Spoon the filling into the aubergine shells and return to the oven to heat through for 15-20 minutes.
Serve drizzled with the remaining harissa oil and coriander sprigs.
Handy hint: You could mix a little cooked couscous into the filling if you’d like.
Back in 2011 Saida Mellouki and Vincent Lieron cultivated the first Crocus sativus in the village of Serghina. This area in the Middle Eastern Atlas (Province of Fez-Boulemane) located at 1500 m altitude is now saffron territory, producing the highest grade of saffron - a product as precious as gold.
The mauve flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) is a precious commodity. The tiny threads of the stigmas are the saffron
The 2014 autumn harvest in Morocco was another good crop and Saida Mellouki produced kilos of this precious spice. Much of the saffron is sold into Europe, but thankfully, some is available in Fez.
Taliouine, between Ouarzazate and Agadir, is Morocco's capital of saffron and in ancient times women collected the stigma from each wild flower, a long and painstaking process, found growing on the mountainside. In more recent times, prior to the 1960's, the Jews of Taliouine helped finance saffron production and trade.
These days there are several hundred hectares of flowers grown on light chalky hillsides at an altitude of between 1200 and 2000 meters (4000 - 6500 feet). Each September the bulbs are planted and come into flower towards the end of October when the harvesting takes place. Harvesting is no easy job, the delicate procedure taking between fifteen and twenty days and only during the early hours of the morning before the flower heads open to the sun.
The stigmas are carefully removed, dried and stored in waterproof sacks, well away from direct light in order to preserve the quality and flavour. It is easier to understand the high price of saffron once you realise that it takes on average 100,000 flowers to produce a single kilogram of saffron.
Good saffron is readily available in Moroccan souks, but you should always buy the whole threads rather than powdered saffron which is quick to lose its flavour. The Serghina saffron comes in the distinctive small jars which are well sealed to preserve the saffron flavour.
ROMEO AND JULIET, MOROCCAN STYLE………
The Berber village of Imilchil, and the lakes of Tisly and Isli, are located in the region of the High Atlas of Morocco, where a myriad array of tribal cultures have mixed for centuries.
This is a land of many myths, one of which is the annual Imilchil Festival which celebrates the marriage of couples who they have only just met on the day of this ceremony. This ritual celebration is marked by its traditional tribal heritage. Each woman participant in this ceremony is asked to dress in the customary wardrobe to show men that she’s either divorced, never married, or widowed.
To the tribes of Ait Hdidou, the story of Romeo and Juliet is not only considered a mythical tragedy, but also a story of history of two actual lovers from the region’s past. Indeed, it is said that the Tisly and Isli lakes are filled by the tears of the ancient tribal lovers. These star-crossed lovers were victims of the unfair decision made by their families to reject their proposed marriage. It is in this combination of myth and history that the annual ceremony in Imilchil began to take shape as a symbol of love, giving all the right to choose one’s life partner in order to avoid the pain caused by hopeless love and rapture.
I was curious for a while, and decided to investigate deeper to uncover the hidden story of the women of the village and to discover if this festival gave men more choice in the arrangement than the women being selected. I was surprised by the local population stating that men do not have the power I presupposed, but must only make a first step using a sign that I will discuss later.
Many books and articles have been written on the women of North Africa without ethical considerations, which is very important. One book that discusses this topic is Amazigh Arts: Women Shaping Berber Identity by Cynthia Becker (2006). She addresses the topic of the strong Berber women of Ait Khabbash in Morocco. These women are known for their skill in weaving carpets and working in wool and illustrates the ability of these women to produce and work hard as active participants in Amazigh culture, while also producing a snapshot of the other tasks they perform to survive the trying conditions of the local weather.
Becker’s descriptions of the wool, the textile trade, and the steps needed for the local women to attain high quality creations from natural material relies on her visual metaphors drawn from within the Ait Kharbash culture, a culture with many similarities to other Berber tribes in concepts of gender identity.
Another book that discusses a similar topic is The Magical Life of Berber Women in Kabylia by Makilam. Adding to Becker’s discussion on the process of wool shearing and spinning preparations by women of this region, it also contains a very important discussion of body language, an entirely oral tradition that has never been written down, as most women of the region are illiterate.
This is partly related to the topic of this article, because the affirmation to a man’s proposal made by the admired woman in the celebration is based on her body signs and language.
During my inquiry into the topic of women in Imilchil and how they are representative of gender, power, and marriage in the region as evidenced in the annual festival organized in the village, I've attempted to consider other factors that encourage local women to participate in this marriage ceremony. One of many factors I've included in my observations has been the “spinster phenomenon,” which is common in Morocco.
This phenomenon represents an issue and cultural context within Morocco. Across the entire Kingdom, women who remain single in our society are believed to bring shame to their families. Also, the isolated location of the village and its lack of schools and possibility to meet potential mates represent a role in organizing the Imilchil Festival.
Imilchil is such a complex place with such a rich and diverse people that conclusions about power and gender in the region may yield fascinating results.