Sunday, June 12, 2016

MEKNES, MOROCCO: ARTISANS, THE PRISON DE KARA, THE GRANARY, AND THE ROYAL STABLE

As we walked between sites in Meknes, my eye was caught by this colorful flag:
Our guide told us it is the flag of the Berbers, the indigenous people of North Africa. The red symbol in the center is the Berber letter yaz, and symbolizes "the free man." The blue represents the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Oceans, the green is the coastal farmlands and mountains, and the yellow is the Sahara Desert. The flag was created in the 1970s by Berber activists. All together the flag shows man living in harmony with the land. We saw this flag fairly often. The Berbers are the dominant group here, the men being easily identified by their hooded robes. Our guide Hassan was a Berber and grew up in the Middle Atlas region.

The actual Moroccan flag is quite simple--a green star on a red background:
I kept thinking it was a Christmas decoration, but then remembered that Muslims don't celebrate Christmas. The five-pointed star is the seal of Solomon, and green is the color of Islam. Red symbolizes courage and strength.

Anyway, when we walked over to look at the Berber flag, we happened upon this metalworks shop:
It's not often one runs across a kangaroo in Morocco, especially one standing in a fountain.

I absolutely love this regal lion. Good thing it wouldn't fit in our luggage. It probably costs as much as our car:


We watched an artist at work for a few minutes. He carved fine lines into the black form, then lightly tapped silver wire into the groove to make the designs.Areas that look like solid silver on the lion above are actually rows of silver thread packed tightly together. Everything was being done freehand.

The level of artisanship in Morocco is mind boggling. Work like this must take years to learn and perfect. I think Moroccans must be the most artistic people we have ever run across.

Our next stop was the Prison de Kara. Moulay Ismail built the vast network of  rooms under the old city to house the Christian prisoners captured at sea by Barbary pirates. (Note: The word "Barbary" comes from "Berber" and refers to the North Coast of Africa where the Berbers were the indigenous people.) Those prisoners helped to build Ismail's monuments. The prison was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, but much has been done to restore it in recent years. Unfortunately, it was completely unlit. The only light we had was the flashlight on my cell phone. That didn't make for good picture-taking, so I borrowed a photo from the internet:
Photo borrowed from here

Next we visited the Royal Granary. Moulay Ismail--or one of his engineers--devised an ingenious way of keeping the granary cool. It is a series of stone rooms connected by curved hallways that force the cooling breeze into the side rooms. We could feel the air moving through the portals as we walked through. In addition, water was forced through underground channels to help keep things cool. Genius.
These rooms were used not for storing grains for the local people, but for Moulay Ismail's 12,000 horses.
Yes, 12,000. He needed a lot of storage space for that much feed.

On the far side of the granary is the Royal Stable. It takes a pretty big stable to care for 12,000 horses. (Did I mention he had a lot of horses?)

We happened to be the only tourists at the stables at the end of the day. The light was magical, casting a glow over the stone that made the colors appear to be super-saturated.
The light played tricks with our eyes, making the colors shift and change depending on which direction we faced:   

Standing in the center of the stables was like standing in an orchard, except where there are trees planted in fixed horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines in an orchard, there are doors in the stable, and everywhere we looked was perfectly lined up.





2 comments:

  1. The royal stables was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Really an amazing place. I also really loved the artisan using the silver thread. Good memories.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would have been tempted to walk that metal lion home.
    12,000 horses? Why? And just who is the person in charge of counting them?

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