Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fall Break part 1

We just finished our fall break, a two-week vacation including the holidays of Eid al-Adha and the Green March.
Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, starts on the tenth day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar, exactly seventy days after Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. Eid al-Adha is also known as Eid Kbiir, the "big feast," as opposed to Eid al-Fitr, which is Eid Saghiir ("little feast."). It celebrates Abraham's willingness to follow God's commandment to sacrifice his son Ishmael. (This was a test of obedience. At the last minute Abraham was told not to kill his son and was rewarded for his faith. See Q. 37 and Genesis 22.) In remembrance of this every family sacrifices a sheep, of which one-third of the meat is given to the poor, one-third is shared with friends and neighbors, and one-third is kept and eaten with family. 

Quite literally, as a sheep to the slaughter.
On the terrace outside our apartment there were in fact three sheep slaughtered in a row: one for our host family, one for relatives who came for the holidays, and one for the family next door. After this (I won't include pictures) the sheep were skinned and began to be cut up. That day and the next we ate all the best parts: heart, liver, stomach, and intestines on Friday, then kidneys, lungs, and brain on Saturday. The next few days we ate a lot of mutton.

The following week we took our first group trip outside of Rabat. We went to Fès and nearby Meknès, a few hours to the east.
Meknès was the capital of Morocco during the reign of Moulay Ismail in the 17th century. We visited the old stone fortress as well as a large underground prison.

An impressive bab (gate) leading into the Meknès medina. The petits taxis
are light blue here, and red in Fès.

The compound seen from the outside
The granary, with very thick walls

Moulay Ismail is known for being a cruel ruler. This complex
 held thousands of prisoners in dark, crowded conditions.

Ruins of the extensive stables

Next we went to Volubilis, the ruins of a Roman town. The Romans abandoned it in the third century but until then it marked the southwestern boundary of the Empire. The settlement became wealthy through growing olives, and there are many upper-class houses. The site, like most of the ruins in Morocco, was largely destroyed by the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

The temple of Jupiter

Overlooking the surrounding countryside
A mosaic in one of the houses

The triumphal arch.
From Volubilis we set off to Fès. When we arrived it was already fairly late so we didn't see anything that night but checked into our hotel and went for dinner. The next morning we got into our tour bus--clearly emblazoned with the word TOURISME--and headed into town.

(The rest of this post is continued below. Technical difficulties.)

Fall Break part 2

(continued from above.)

The bab of the royal palace. Note the ridiculously conspicuous tourists to the left.
The medina, seen from above. This medina is the largest in the world, and
probably the most extensive car-free urban area anywhere.
The main entrance into the medina.
All your bab are belong to us.

Just as in the Rabat medina, you can buy pretty much anything here. The Fès medina, however, is much more crowded and there are throngs and throngs of tourists.
One place we visited in the medina was the Medersa Bou Inania, an old Islamic school with a mosque inside. This is the only madrasa in Fès that has a minaret tower.

The Fès medina is huge. We went through a residential quarter--there are 100,000 people living in the medina--as well as centers for handicrafts and metalwork. We visited a traditional Berber carpet shop:

Traditional dyes include blue indigo, green mint, and
yellow saffron.
This blanket is made with white sheep, black sheep, and
camel wool.
We also visited a shop that sold fabric made from cactus fiber. Other destinations we visited are the shrine of Moulay Idriss and the al-Quaraouiyine mosque school, (debatably) the oldest university in the world.
The couscous I had for lunch was particularly good.
Our last stop was the famous tannery quarter. Here animal hides are turned into all sorts of leather goods, but especially baboush, the traditional Moroccan slippers.

It doesn't smell that bad...
Yellow slippers are especially traditional.

All sorts of nice leather things

The next day we had planned to go back to the medina, but never made it. On the way home we stopped by Moulay Yacoub, a site with natural sulfur hot springs. The hammams there are a popular destination for Moroccans on vacation, and we got our first authentic hammam experience.

I would have loved to spend more time in Fès, and it's far enough away that we probably won't be back, but now at least I've been. We saw the famous medina, and got Meknès and Volubilis as well. Now it's back to school until Christmas break. Sometime in the spring we'll once again dress up as tourists and visit another of Morocco's great cities.