Magnificent Morocco – 26. The Aben Danan synagogue

DSCF8348 1024When walking around some confusing alleyways a small child asked me I wanted to see the synagogue, I guess this was a popular place foreign visitors were looking for.   After being dead set against being canvassed by beggars most of the time, I decided to give this kid a few coins and go and see where this place was.

The Hebrew used here is a bit unusual as I think its transliterated from Arabic.   Ben/בן is son of in Hebrew and Iban/Aben/אבן is son of in Arabic.

Its sad to think once this had some happier times, and at the time I was travelling, this would of been the week of Purim.

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All the artifacts are here as this place has been restored.   This is not used for current religious worship, as there seems to be no practicing Jews to be seen in Fez.

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Wavy tiles and pale blue walls are beautiful and distinctly Moroccan.

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Mikvah bath.   Notice the lift up wooden trapdoor.   Reminds me of a church my parents took me where the baptism tank was hidden under a secret panel in the floor which fascinated me as a child.

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Torah scrolls still there in the ark.   This lady is a local Muslim who lives in the flat next door, it seems the Synagogue is owned by the Moroccan government as a tourist site.   I had to pay 20 Durhams plus a tip for this lady to take my photo.

There’s more information on this places of worship on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Danan_Synagogue_(Fes)

Previous 25. Music festival to unite the Middle East and Africa – except Israel

Next 27. The Jewish cemetery of Fez

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Magnificent Morocco – 23. Jewish treasures hidden in a Islamic city

There is many interesting souvenir shops in Fez

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A cheap popular gift is a small metal teapot (which is probably made in China)

As part of a tour I was with, we were taken into this particular store;

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The man behind me is an imam, hes a Muslim priest who works part time taking tourists around Fez, and to these stores.   I think they earn most of the money in commission from the shopkeepers rather than the modest cost of the tour fee itself.

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Seder plate used for Passover

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I love this lamp!   I don’t think think these metal lamps would transport easily in my airline case though.

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Metal Torah in frame behind the shopkeeper’s counter on the wall.

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I think a lot of the Judaica items here are vintage, or recent pieces made by Muslim people who make them as a copy from another piece or from some drawings.   Its hard to see any Jews left here.

I’ll explain more about the Synagogue and cemetery and Jewish history of Fez a little later on.

Previous 22. Buying a magic carpet in Fez

Next 24. Lost in a maze in Fez

Magnificent Morocco – 22. Buying a magic carpet in Fez

A must have experience of visiting a country like Morocco is getting a traditional carpet.   My uncle has a couple he got from when he lived in Iran in 1970s.

This is a big grand place, there was a loom upstairs with a part finished one, but don’t think the actual manufacturing is done here.

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Notice the DHL poster.   As part of the deal on a larger carpet, the vendor says shipping is included.   One of the very large ones hung up had a price tag of $10,000

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In the true style of business in this part of the world, selling handicrafts has to be done an aggressive and fun way.   Here at this shop, we are given a tour of the place, some mint tea and a selection of carpets brought out for our perusal.

I think only myself and this American Jewish girl who was with our youth hostel bought a carpet (which hers was $200) which was meant to be a traditional Berber Jewish style pattern did some buying.

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The purple one in the top right is now mine 🙂   I think I got it for about £65 in the end.   There are cheers from the owner and his assistants as we each go over to the credit card terminals.   Its part of a big well rehearsed act, even though there is guilt as I try and work out how much money I have spent over my intended budget this week.

The owner says these carpets are all made unique, they will appreciate with age as an investment and could be resold at an auction.

I call mine a magic carpet, just as Morocco is a kind of magical place and it will be something to remember these fascinating places.   I was asked to give one of shop workers a small tip as he bundles the carpets upto into a neat sausage shaped bag to squeeze into my flight case for later.

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After all this hard work negotiating with eager shop keepers, its time for lunch with the folks I met at my youth hostel.

Previous 21. The Tannery

Next 23. Jewish treasures hidden in a Islamic city

Magnificent Morocco – 21. The tannery

The Moroccans are very talented at making jackets and bags.

I went past the tannery which has been here for centuries.

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This place still uses traditional processes to dye and treat leather.   These pools have men leave skins in there to achieve the desired colour then leave them to dry on the roofs and balconies.

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The dyes range from vegetable (I think beetroot) and pigeon poo.

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There is a nice veranda to stand on and look across the old city.   On your way out you will got through the showrooms of bags, men’s wear and women’s wear where you will battle to get out without the hard sell. 🙂    I think the treated fabrics are stitched in people’s homes who then bring them to the stores to be sold.

I got a nice brown jacket for about £100.   The usual practice of haggling is necessary, so much less than 50% of the original asking price is to be aimed for.

Previous 20. The palaces of Fez

Next 22. Buying a magic carpet

Magnificent Morocco – 19. Fez first impressions

fez station inside

This station looks even better than the others I saw!

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Stepping out of the station on to this neat garden

fez taxis

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At this point I resisted getting a taxi, as I wanted to get some lunch and thought I’d just have a wander around although the little wheels on my trolley are probably almost worn to the metal, as they are more suited to a shiny airport floor rather than gritty Saharan Africa…

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Fez is characterised by these ancient perimeter walls, this is an exciting place….

Previous 18. On the train to Fez

Next 20. The palaces of Fez

Magnificent Morocco – 18. On the train to Fez

This was Casablanca station when I originally got there, not a great pic, but its quite a huge looking station

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So now, I’m leaving for another city, Fez.

There is quite a large array of platforms as it seems Casablanca is quite a central hub for the rest of the country.

Once getting going, this was a 5 hour journey, with an hour stop in Rabat.   I found I could track my location on my Android phone as the GPS would show in Google Maps even with cellular data switched off which would be costly if I had this on.

Rabat is Morocco’s capital.    I didn’t get to venture out properly except from with these pictures.    It looks quite modern and I like these tree lined boulevards that you see on a lot of streets here.

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DSCF8260 1024One of the tough parts of this whole trip is seeing some severe poverty.

Looking out of the window there are people living in shacks by the side of the track.   These people look ethnically different from average typical Moroccan (Berber or Arab or inbetween)   These people look like they were from more central Africa.    I’m guessing they are immigrants from maybe neighbouring Mauritania or Senegal.

This was just approaching Fez itself.

On my train in the same carriage, there was young couple very in love who looked in the early 20s, the girl looked Arab and the boy looked more Berber.   Although Morocco does seem to be loyally Islamic, I wonder if showing affection in public in much of the middle east would be possible.

I was looking forward to seeing the ancient city of Fez.

Previous 17. Scooter shops

Next 19. Fez first impressions

Magnificent Morocco – 17. Scooter shops

scootersIn Casablanca, a common way to get around is to get a motor scooter.

These are quite different from the mostly plastic bodied scooters I see in the UK.

I think the city could be characterised by the lot of small scale garages that do servicing and also small shops that do accessories and parts.

Previous – 16. Synagogue and Jewish museum of Casablanca

Next – 18. On the train to Fez

Magnificent Morocco – 10. Casablanca – Frankly my dear….

casablancamovieOk, I bought this film, but I haven’t seen it yet 🙂

Casablanca is a huge place, and very industrious.   Its night and day compared to Tangier, – like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv or London and Birmingham.

This place has 3.3 million people, its the 5th largest city in Africa.

Often this place is simply known by the locals as ‘Casa’

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I only spent two days there, it looks pretty modern, more like a large French city.   Perhaps a little cruelly, the guide book I had tells people its not worth visiting.   I did get to see a few surprises though.

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Looking closer at some of theses posters, I noticed something that seemed more common as getting further down away from Europe;

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These symbols show one of the Berber languages, that’s native to Morocco.  Actually theres at least 3 of these, and more types of this in the other north African nations.

Apparently, only 10% of Moroccans are pure Arabs, most of the people are ethnically Berbers or a mix of Berber and Arab.

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The city centre looks quite fresh and modern, and this lightrail tram looks really similar to the new one in Jerusalem.

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Government buildings, grand, bold, beautiful and unmistakably Moroccan.

Previous 9. Getting the train to Casablanca

Next. 11. The Grande Mosque

Magnificent Morocco – 5. The Riad in Tangier

Before I got there, my expectations of Morocco were to find these beautiful buildings that look lavish finished with black and white tile patterns, high ceilings and ornamental lamps.    Like some of the places I’ve seen like the Arab Christian youth hostel in Nazareth, but better as I’ve read so much about the Moroccan artisans and their incredible attention to detail.

This is Tangier looking from back to the port I came out of yesterday

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I got into a small taxi which the driver took me at full speed into the old city up a series of windy streets, I’m thinking we can’t get through that small doorway, with a lot of skill from the driver he weaves his way, finally getting through a tight bend which required a full left lock one direction, then puts the car in reverse and full right lock and then ahead. I was outside my hostel, actually the journey was very quick, I didn’t realise it was right across from the ferry terminal.   My journey is only 2 Euros.   I haven’t actually got any local money yet.

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This is the living room.   Lots of comfy seats and computer to borrow there.   Absolutely love the decorations here, the high ceilings, mosaic and tile work, coloured glass ornament lamp shades, and of course carpets.

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This place is on 3 floors, you can see all the way down through the glass floor from the top room where I was at.

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Star shaped iron work, pale pastel coloured walls, palm trees, – and – a glass floor revealing what is on the floors above and below you!!!   I think this place had been extensively renovated recently.

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This was my room for the night.   the bathroom is set inside this wardrobe-like partition.   This would be a pretty cool place for a honeymoon I think.

I was the only person in this place, I had it to myself!   Guess it was the quiet season.

I would thoroughly recommend staying at the Dar Jameel. 

I found out later that a Riad is a type of mansion that was popular with the wealthy here.   I think that’s where the city in Saudi Arabia of the same name comes from.  Its amazing this place has been built and kept in such beautiful condition.

Previous – 4. Sailing to Tangier

Next – 6. Jewish Tangier 

Magnificent Morocco trip – part 1

u2

Do have a watch of this – its a great song and video

A few years ago I was watching a music video by U2 of the song Magnificent.

It caught my eye that this was filmed in what looked like a middle eastern city, the floors, carpets, mosaics and ancient buildings looked attractive, so when I researched where it was, it turns out it was done in Fez Morocco.

Whilst out in the ministry field, I learned that some of my Israeli friends had Moroccan background, several of them also speak Arabic in addition to Hebrew.   Some had used France as a stepping stone before coming to Israel, as they had migrated twice, deeming France not a satisfying place to settle.

Looking on the news there is horrendous antisemitism in Europe, specifically France in recent years.   I’ve read there are some countries that used to have Jews such as Iraq, Iran and Yemen, which only a tiny handful remain.   In addition to this I was curious to know about Morocco and how other religious groups could live in a community which is predominantly Islamic.

I like cooking.   I think Couscous is underated, and done right it can be more interesting than rice for a meal.   There is lots of good food out of this country, I’m used to a Mediterranean diet and middle eastern cooking too.

The buildings look absolutely phemonal.    I decided I have to visit this country.   Many of the budget airlines go there, but I wondered it would be a bit crazy to get a boat over from Spain and also see Gibraltar….

so here marks my first journey to the African continent…..

Next 2. Spain, the bottom of Europe and the rock of Gibraltar