Moulay Idriss, Morocco, September 28, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Friday, September 28, 2007

The route from Asilah to Morocco's interior was through a varied and bountiful countryside of the Mediterranean world - vineyards and olive groves, grain fields and orchards in a hilly landscape.  Particularly in the low mountains near Meknes and Fez the distant small villages and traditionally clad shepherds grazing their flocks in stubbly fields of harvested grain gave the land that biblical look that enables Morocco to substitute so well as a set for Israel in all those epic movies that have actually been filmed here.  
As in so much of the developing world, though, the built environment in rural Morocco is much less sublime than the agricultural landscape.  A great many houses in Morocco and other countries I've traveled in are ongoing construction projects, built gradually over long periods of time and added to as additional rooms are needed or funds become available to the family.  As I've seen before in countries like Egypt, Turkey, and Mexico, where loans are expensive for poor people or hard to come by and banks and financial markets are shaky, real estate becomes peoples' main store of wealth  and every other house is a work in progress, giving towns all the charm of construction projects.   
On the way to Fez we stopped for a couple hours in Moulay Idriss, a scenic small town built on the steep slopes of two hills that is considered the Morocco's holiest city.  The town is named after Morocco's most revered saint and the great grandson of the prophet Mohammed who converted the region to Islam and established Morocco's first royal dynasty.  Moulay Idriss has a number of sights, including a mosque with the only cylindrical minaret in Morocco and the Mausoleum of Mulay Idriss, the main pilgrimage spot in Morocco.  Unfortunately, though, for infidels like me, these Islamic shrines (like most) are closed to non-believers, so I had to satisfy myself with peering down into the mausoleum's courtyards from the hillside above. 
I began to notice in Moulay Idriss that many Moroccans, especially women, are unwilling to have their pictures taken, something I generally haven't experienced elsewhere in the Moslem world.  This is true not only individually when asked but also in open markets, where many people turned away or covered their faces when they saw the camera so as not to appear in a general market panorama photo.  I suspect they may fear the camera as a soul-stealing "evil eye", a traditional belief that prevails in many parts of the Mediterranean world.  Although the belief is not Islamic in origin, in Morocco and other modern countries "The Evil Eye" is warded off by the Hand of Fatima, small metal hands which represent protection by Mohammed's daughter Fatima and adorn everything from houses to automobiles to horse-drawn carts to necklaces and other jewelry.
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