Essaouira’s 18th Annual Gnaoua Music Festival

Essaouira 18th Annual Gnaoua Festival

Essaouira 18th Annual Gnaoua Festival

Every year, the sun-bleached, windswept city of Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast plays host to a festival of Gnaoua and World Music. Normally it is held in June, but this year’s 18th edition will take place – like many of the main Moroccan music festivals – in May, to avoid a clash with the holy month of Ramadan. The dates for this year’s event are 14-17 May 2015.

The principal feature of the festival is the celebration of Gnaoua music and rituals. The Gnaoua movement is a form of Islamic Sufism. The roots of Gnaoua (or Gnawa) lie in sub-Saharan Africa and reflect pre-Islamic traditions. Successive Moorish sultans brought African slaves to Morocco and their traditions became integrated into Islamic Sufism.

Gnaoui (as practioners are known), like other Sufis, are organized into brotherhoods gathered around a Master, or maalem. These brotherhoods are based in a zawiya – a center of religious teaching, healing and practice found in towns and cities across Morocco. Sufis are known for their communion with God (Allah) through rituals such as music or dancing based on repetitive rhythms, known as samaa. The gnaoua hold spiritual events known as a lila, where the objective is for participants to reach a trance-like state of ecstasy to reach deeper spiritual knowledge. The lila rhythms and rituals are said to call up ancestral spirits to drive out evil and cure ills.

A typical instrument of the gnaoua is the gimbri, a three stringed bass lute covered in camel skin. The skin creates a deep reverberation, creating the soul-stirring basis of gnaoua music. The maalem typically plays the gimbri seated, singing the verse of a song (typically praising Allah or venerating a gnaoua saint). A chorus line of young adherents respond to his call while playing a percussive rhythm on the krakeb, iron castanets said to echo the sound of the slaves’ chains. As their clackety-clack beats hasten, the rhythm reaches a crescendo and Gnaoui may enter a trace or break ranks to demonstrate acrobatic dancing and whirling.

At the Gnaoua Festival in Essaouira, the audience has an opportunity to see both the brightly-colored, energetic spectacle of Gnaoua groups performing on large open-air stages (on Place Moulay Hassan and near the beach) as well as at more intimate concerts which simulate some of the atmosphere of a lila in smaller venues such as Dar Souiri or a zawiya. The best venue for the late night, smaller, concerts is the Borj Bab Marrakech. Lying on rugs and cushions under the stars, within earshot of the waves crashing on the beach and with seagulls calling and swooping overhead, a special atmosphere is created for some of the best known artists on the program.

As well as offering the opportunity to see the best of local Swiri gnaoua maalems and their groups, such as Tyour Gnaoua with Maalem Abdeslam Alikane, brothers Maalem Mokhtar and Maalem Mahmoud Guinea or Gnaoua rockstar Omar Hayat, the festival also an insight into the full diversity of Moroccan Sufi music – such as the more traditional and contemplative style of the Hmadcha of Essaouira; the drum-led beats of the Issaoua brotherhood from Fes, or the modern fusion style of Maalem Hamid el Kasri from Rabat.

The festival program is interspersed with performances by international artists. At the end of each evening on the main stage is the highlight – a fusion concert between one of these invited musicians and a Moroccan Sufi group. These spectacles are remarkable not only in their combination of musical genres and traditions, but also in the collaboration between artists of very different spiritual, religious and cultural traditions.

Invited guests this year include Afrobeat veteran, Nigerian drummer Tony Allen; Guadeloupian percussionist, Sonny Troupé; the latter’s sometime collaborator, US jazz saxophonist and flautist Kenny Garrett, and long-standing Gnaoua Festival supporter and collaborator, Franco-Algerian drummer Karim Ziad.

Those seeking a sample of Morocco’s diverse modern music scene, will want to catch Darga, a band from Casablanca playing a fusion of gnaoua, traditional and Western styles on the beach stage or Hindi Zahra, who has been compared to Norah Jones and Patti Smith, on the main stage.

The Festival opens with a spectacular parade of giant marionettes and all the participating Sufi groups on the Thursday afternoon. Seek out a position early on the main street through the medina from Bab Doukkala and get your camera in position!

Alongside the main concert program are also events such as the Forum – a seminar series, this year about African Women – and the Arbre à Palabre discussions held at the French Institute. This year there will be a smaller stage with afternoon concerts at Bab el Minzeh near the port. The open air concerts (on Place Moulay Hassan, at Bab el Minzeh and at the beach) are all free, although they can get crowded at night. VIP passes for an enclosed area near the stage can be purchased on site. The intimate concerts are ticketed (for example, concerts on the roof of the Borj Bab Marrakech at 250 dirhams) and places are limited.

Essaouira’s range of festivals throughout the year (such as the Alizés Festival in April and the Andalusian Festival in the Fall) highlight the melting pot of musical and cultural influences that is Morocco, but the Gnaoua World Music Festival is unparalleled in its showcasing of gnaoua music in its original form as well as in fusion with a range of world music styles. If you are in Morocco this May, don’t miss it!

ESSAOUIRA 18TH ANNUAL GNAOUA FESTIVAL PROGRAM

THURSDAY, MAY 14TH:
PLACE MOULAY HASSAN
OPENING CONCERT RÉSIDENCE HUMAYUN KHAN AND MAÂLEM HAMID EL KASRI
CONCERT MAÂLEM MOKHTAR GUINEA
CONCERT MIKKEL NORDSØ BAND AND MAÂLEM MUSTAPHA BAQBOU
CONCERT MAÂLEM ABDELKEBIR MERCHANE

DAR SOUIRI
INTIMATE CONCERTS HMADCHA D’ESSAOUIRA
TE CONCERTS MAÂLEM ABDENBI EL GUEDARI

ZAOUIA ISSAOUA
INTIMATE CONCERTS MAÂLEM ABDELLAH AKHARAZ AND MAÂLEM SAID EL BOURKI

FRIDAY, MAY 15TH

PLACE EL MINZEH
CONCERT GANGA D’AGADIR AND ISSAOUA D’ESSAOUIRA

ARBRE À PALABRE
ARBRE À PALABRE

PLACE MOULAY HASSAN
CONCERT SONNY TROUPÉ
CONCERT MAÂLEM OMAR HAYAT

FUSION SONNY TROUPÉ AND MAÂLEM OMAR HAYAT

CONCERT TONY ALLEN

FUSION TONY ALLEN AND MAÂLEM MOHAMED KOUYOU
CONCERT HINDI ZAHRA

 

LA SCÈNE DE LA PLAGE

JAUK, LE GNAOUI BLANC ET MAÂLEM AZIZ BAQBOU JAUK, LE GNAOUI BLANC AND MAÂLEM AZIZ BAQBOU

CONCERT MAÂLEM FATHALLAH CHAOUKI

CONCERT DARGA
FUSION MIKKEL NORDSØ BAND AND MAÂLEM MUSTAPHA BAQBOU

BORJ BAB MARRAKECH

INTIMATE CONCERTS TIMBUKTU

INTIMATE CONCERTS MAÂLEM ABDELKEBIR MERCHANE

ZAOUIA ISSAOUA

INTIMATE CONCERTS MAÂLEM ALLAL SOUDANI AND MAÂLEM RACHID BENTAIR

SATURDAY, MAY 16TH

PLACE EL MINZEH
FORUM “L’AFRIQUE À VENIR
CONCERT HMADCHA D’ESSAOUIRA AND ISSAOUA D’ESSAOUIRA

ARBRE À PALABRE

PLACE MOULAY HASSAN
CONCERT MAÂLEM HASSAN BOUSSOU
CONCERT KENNY GARRETT
FUSION KENNY GARRETT AND MAÂLEM HASSAN BOUSSOU
CONCERT LES AMBASSADEURS

CONCERT AZIZ SAHMAOUI

LA SCÈNE DE LA PLAGE
CONCERT DIAPA ZONE
CONCERT BARRY
CONCERT MEHDI NASSOULI
CONCERT HUMAYUN KHAN AND MÂALEM HAMID EL KASRI

BORJ BAB MARRAKECH
INTIMATE CONCERTS ISSAOUA DE FÈS
INTIMATE CONCERTS MARIFAT SUFI BAND

DAR SOUIRI

INTIMATE CONCERTS ISSAOUA D’ESSAOUIRA

INTIMATE CONCERTS MAALEM LOTFI BENALI

ZAOUIA ISSAOUA

NTIMATE CONCERTS MAÂLEM ABDELLATIF EL MAKHZOUMI AND MAÂLEM MOHAMED QAQA

INTIMATE CONCERTS MAÂLEM ABDELLATIF EL MAKHZOUMI AND MAÂLEM MOHAMED QAQA

SUNDAY, MAY 17TH:

PLACE MOULAY HASSAN
CONCERT DE CLÔTURE KARIM ZIAD AND MAÂLEM MAHMOUD GUINEA

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Essaouira’s 18th Annual Gnaoua Festival or an Essaouira Tour

Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

 

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A Guide to Morocco’s Jewish Heritage Sites

Ibn Danon Synagogue, Fes

Ibn Danon Synagogue, Fes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morocco’s Jewish Heritage sites are some of the most widely visited in the world. When traveling to Morocco on a Private Jewish Heritage Tour sightseeing at Jewish formidable sites of historical prominence are important highlights not to be missed.  Moroccan Jewish Heritage sites consist of Synagogues, Cemeteries, Zaouias and Mellahs, all preserved respectively in the the former Jewish neighborhoods of the medinas. All Jewish Heritage sites in Morocco are either UNESCO World Heritage sites or protected by the Moroccan King and government. The Jewish Heritage sites in Morocco are regularly under renovation and preservation as to ensure they remain a part of Morocco’s Jewish Heritage.

Tomb of Solica, Fes Jewish Heritage Tour

Tomb of Solica, Fes Jewish Heritage Tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some examples of the sites visited on a Jewish Heritage tour are  Jewish Synagogues: Temple Beth-El in Casablanca, Ibn Dannon Synagogue in Fes and The Lazama Synagogue in Marrakech. Guided by local experts on Jewish life, travelers will also visit the Jewish Mellah in Fes, famous for it’s sprawling out door terraces, the Jewish Mellah in Marrakech and two Jewish Cemeteries along with the Tomb of Solica in Fes. In Essaouira the renowned Chaim Pinto Synagogue is an important treasure along with the Slat Lkahal Synagogue, a former community synagogue, currently under a historic renovation. On a Jewish Heritage Tour Shabbat services at a synagogue and dinner at a Rabbi’s home can also be arranged to round out a private morocco travel experience.

Morocco is also home to the only Jewish museum in the Muslim World. The Museum of Moroccan Judaism is open daily six days a week with private appointments available during Sundays. The Museum of Moroccan Judaism was created by the Jewish community in Casablanca in 1997. It is a museum of both history and ethnography. Tucked away in a Casablanca neighborhood the Jewish Museum holds a treasure trove of collectables such as Hanukkah menorahs, oil lamps, marriage contracts and traditional costumes. It also has a library and video library.

Haim Pinto Synagogue, Essaouira Jewish Heritage Tour

Haim Pinto Synagogue, Essaouira

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The history of Moroccan Jews’ arrival dates back to pre Christian times as they accompanied the Phoenicians on their trade expeditions across Europe. Jews also joined the various waves of Muslims who escaped persecution during Christian contests of Southern Spain in 1492. Since the Arabic-Islamic colonization Morocco from the 7th century Muslims and Jews have coexisted peacefully together.

For more information about Moroccan Heritage Sites or a Jewish Heritage Tour

Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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The 6 Best Views of Morocco, Morocco Tour Guide

Morocco is such a photogenic country. The Best Times to Travel to Morocco and discover the 6 Best Views is spring and fall. The bright, Mediterranean sunshine makes for a special light, whether you are photographing deserts, mountains, cities, dunes or coastal scenery. The colors of the natural elements, the architecture and the handicrafts such as carpets, highly polished teapots, hand-stitched and embroidered leather babouches slippers or flowing caftans make for great subjects, as do the people and animals of Morocco. It’s best to always ask before taking someone’s picture and don’t be offended if they refuse given many Moroccans are modest and private. Morocco also has several stunning vistas which you will want to snap during your trip. Here is a lowdown of where to go to capture the six best views of Morocco.

Fes Medina View

Fes Medina View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fes

The ancient capital of Fes is such a dense, labyrinthine city that when you are in it, it is hard to imagine getting an overview of the place. To get the best view, it is necessary to climb above the hustle and bustle of street level, to get away from the jostle of the souk and rise above the walls. The best place to do this is actually outside the medina (old city) at Les Merinides Hotel. Situated on a hill overlooking the medina, this five-star hotel has three restaurants (La Kouba du Ciel on the top floor; L’Impérial French restaurant and La Terrasse de Fès at the poolside), all of which offer panoramic views of Old Fes.

Moulay Idriss View

Moulay Idriss View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moulay Idriss

The main draw of this most holy of Moroccan cities is the mausoleum of Idriss I, the founder of the Kingdom of Morocco and credited with the introduction of Islam to this north western corner of Africa. The mausoleum occupies a large footprint in the medina, but is not accessible to non-Muslims. However, it is still worthwhile stopping at Moulay Idriss and hiking up to the highest point in the medina to look down on the huge mausoleum complex with its mosaic patios and glazed green roofs. From here, it is also possible to see the full extent of the ruins of the Roman city at Volubilis, just a few miles away.

Mosque of Koutoubia Marrakech View

Mosque of Koutoubia Marrakech View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marrakech

The most special moment in Marrakech occurs just before dusk. Pick your spot on a roof terrace in one of the many cafes which surround Place Jmaa el Fna and watch the magic unfold. As the sun begins to set, the hawkers and street food vendors roll their mobile stalls onto the square to set up for the night. As the call to the sunset prayer sounds from the Koutoubia mosque’s minaret, the electric bulbs of the food stalls illuminate one by one, until the natural light has gone and the square is lit by hundreds of twinkling lights. Get to your chosen cafe early to secure a front-row seat and snap the sun setting behind the Koutoubia.

Portuguese Ramparts on Water, Essaouira

Portuguese Ramparts on Water, Essaouira

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essaouira

The classic picture of Essaouira, which you will find on postcards all over town, is shot through a round window in the fortifications (skala) of the port. Entrance is 10DH and as well as great views looking back to the white-washed medina, you will get an aerial view of the functioning port and the canons lining the crenulations, as well seeing swooping seagulls and the islands out in the bay. For the best sunset views, head to the medina skala, or one of the many bars and restaurants along the beachfront, and wait for the sun to sink into the Atlantic.

Dades Valley Pins

Dades Valley Pins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dades Gorge

The best views of the stunning Dades Gorge are from the Auberge Chez Pierre, in the gorge itself. The ochre and red landscapes are an essential sight on your route to Zagora. Even if a night at Chez Pierre isn’t on your itinerary, it is worth stopping for lunch or a drink on their terrace. The hotel is built in the traditional local style amid terraces of fruit trees, offering fantastic views of the surrounding gorge.

Sahara Caravan

Sahara Caravan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erg Chebbi Dunes

It is not always easy to get an accurate impression of the sheer size and majesty of the magnificent Erg Chebbi sand dunes. However, the Yasmina Hotel offers unbeatable views due to its sheer remoteness. It is located right on the edge of the dune complex and the slightly longer drive from all sense of civilization is worth it for the absolute peace and calm that gives visitors a true feeling of the vastness Great Sahara. The best views of the dunes are at sunrise and sunset. For this reason, you may not choose to sleep at Yasmina – many guests use it as a stopping point before heading into the dunes on camel-back for a night under the stars in tents.

This list is offers edited and subjective highlights of our favorite views. On your Morocco trip you will certainly experience many others, take many photos and create special memories for the years ahead.

For more information about the Best 6 Views and our Splendors of Morocco Tour

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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Explore beyond Chefchaouen, Day Trips from the Blue City

Chefchaouen, Woman in Medina

Chefchaouen, Woman in Medina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chefchaouen, in the Rif Mountains of Morocco’s North, is a popular destination for visitors. Nestling in a valley beneath the “horns” of the mountains to which its name alludes (Ichawen means goat’s horns in the local Berber dialect), Chefchaouen is famous for the blue-painted houses in the steep and winding alleyways of the medina. This northern area of Morocco was once a Spanish Protectorate and there are many elements of Spanish culture and language still in evidence.

The city of Chefchaouen is well worth exploring for a day or two; the medina is attractive and small enough to navigate easily and you will find shops and artisans offering many local crafts. Near the river, you can see women washing laundry in the way they have for centuries, in their colorful striped aprons which are typical of the region.

Talassemtane National Park, Chefchaouen Region

Talassemtane National Park, Chefchaouen Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, if you have a little longer in the north of Morocco, the region around Chefchaouen is easily accessible and deserves some exploration. The city sits right on the border of the Talassemtane National Park. The park was designated in 1989 and covers some 145,000 hectares (358,000 acres). It is a great location for hiking and trekking and a number of routes are available for short half-day or day hikes as well as longer trekking and camping excursions. The park has a Mediterranean ecosystem including Rif Monkeys, native bird varieties and more than 239 plant species, many of which are endangered, such as the black pine, the Atlas cedar and the Elbow Tree (abbies marrocana), which grows only here in the whole of Africa.

Akchour Falls, Chefchaouen Region

Akchour Falls, Chefchaouen Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great day hike takes visitors to the Akchour Falls and/or the Bridge of God. The starting point is a short journey (around 40 minutes by car) outside Chefchaouen. From the same starting point at the small hydro-electric dam, paths run right and left. The easier hike is up to the right, to God’s Bridge, a steep cavern traversed by a wooden bridge with the river flowing far beneath it. The track is hilly but not too challenging and it takes less than one hour from the start to the bridge. In the tourist season, there are small cafes along the river bank offering cans of soda chilled in the river and tajines cooked on charcoal burners.

Either from the starting point, or from God’s Bridge (creating a large loop back to the start), the path to the stunning Akchour waterfalls – known as the Blue Pearl Falls – is more challenging, but very rewarding. To reach the falls from the starting point (or vice versa), it is necessary to cross the river several times. The ease of doing this depends on the season – after the spring snowmelts the river can be high and fast-flowing. A local guide can offer advice on the safest routes and times of year. Take a picnic with you from your hotel, or stop off on the way at one of the riverside cafes or roadside restaurants.

Another worthwhile excursion heads south out of Chefchaouen to Auberge Dardara. The Auberge is run by Jaber Elhababi, a charismatic Tanjoui (native of Tangiers), who has returned to his roots and the land of his forefathers to establish his business and social enterprise. The small complex features a restaurant, simple accommodation and a pool in summer. The trip is worth it for the restaurant alone, which uses local recipes and techniques and sources many of the ingredients from the Dardara market garden. A meal on the outside terrace with views of the surrounding Rif Mountains takes some beating!

If you feel like something more active, Dardara offers a number of activities such as local trekking in the Talassemtane National Park, cookery classes and mule riding. The emphasis is very much on sustainability and a respect for local communities and their traditions. Dardara also serves up daily three course lunches which and is noted for the best gastronomic farm-fresh cuisine in the region.

The city of Chefchaouen is a not-to-be-missed element of any tour of northern Morocco. However, a well-planned itinerary will also include time to get out of the city and into the stunning surrounding area of dramatic hills, wild rivers, rich agriculture and centuries of tradition.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Morocco Tours beyond Chefchaouen

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

 

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Responsible Travel in Morocco, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Akshor Waterfalls, Northern Morocco

Akshor Waterfalls, Northern Morocco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the expansion of routes from its international airports and the increase in low-cost airlines offering direct flights from European hubs, Morocco has become much more accessible in recent years. For many visitors, a trip to Morocco will be their first time in Africa or in a Muslim country. Morocco has become so close, yet still seems so exotic and different. As such, even the seasoned global traveler should consider some tips for visiting Morocco in an ethical, culturally and environmentally responsible way.

Morocco has a multi-cultural and multi-religious past but is a predominantly Muslim country today. Moroccans are typically tolerant of other religions and most visitors – particularly those of the Jewish or Catholic faiths will easily find places of worship in large cities.

There are a few simple words of advice which will ensure your visit to Morocco is respectful to local customs and Islamic practices. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter mosques. If you are interested in Moroccan Islamic history, practice and architecture, many historical madrasas (Koranic schools, for example in the cities of Fes and Marrakesh), marabouts (tombs of revered saints dotted all around the country and often pre-dating Islam) and zawiyas (homes to Sufi fraternities practicing music, song and trace – for example the gnaoua brotherhoods of Essaouira) are open to visitors.

Muslims are invited by the muezzin or adden to pray five times per day. You will hear the call to prayer in the largest cities and tiniest villages. Many attend the mosque at this time, although Muslims often pray wherever they are, for example at home, at work or at the side of the road if they are travelling. The prayer is generally short (except on Friday lunchtimes) and so if you see a storekeeper praying, or he is absent attending the mosque, just wait a few moments or come back later. Fridays are the main day for religious observance and many businesses shut for Friday prayers in the middle of the day or all afternoon. Many mosques cannot contain their congregations on a Friday, so praying men and their mats spill out into the street, especially during Ramadan (a holy month of fasting and religious observance which passes through the lunar calendar, beginning around 12 days earlier each year). If you can pass by, do so quietly and without staring and do not take photographs of those praying or of the inside of the mosque. There are many resources to introduce visitors to the principles of Islam and your guide will be happy to explain a few basic facts.

In general, Moroccans do not enjoy being photographed by strangers. Some have recognized that travelers like to capture the different, exotic and attractive aspects of Moroccan life on film and will sell the right to photograph them. It is your choice whether you go along with this. In any case, try to be discrete in your photography (a phone camera is much less obvious than a large SLR) and ask if you would like to take a direct portrait. Don’t be surprised if your request is refused, and if so, please respect this decision.

Visitors to Morocco are often surprised about the range of ways that Moroccan women dress. Most dress modestly, in keeping with Islamic custom, many wearing the jellaba (a hooded, ankle length robe) and headscarf. In cities, many wear Western dress with or without a headscarf. You will see few burqas of the type associated with the Gulf region or Afghanistan. In order to avoid stares or unwanted attention, it is best for visitors also to dress modestly. Keep your swimwear for the beach and always cover at least your shoulders. Women will find their visit much more pleasant if they also avoid revealing necklines and cover up down to the knees. A scarf or pashmina is also handy for moments when you feel the need to conceal your head or shoulders from unwanted stares, the hot sun or over-zealous aircon. In the evenings in the winter months (and even more so in the mountains or the desert), sunny days become chilly nights and you will need to bring a sweater or even a jacket.

On your trip to Morocco with Travel Exploration, you will be fortunate to visit bustling cities and untouched nature. The pace of development and increased tourist numbers put a pressure on local infrastructure with which the authorities are struggling to keep up. This is especially true of natural resources and the environment. Please be sensitive to the water use that your visit entails and try to conserve water where possible. Local tap water can antagonize foreign stomachs; consider using purification tablets or devices or at least buying bottled water in the biggest bottle you can carry to cut down on plastic waste. Dispose of your trash responsibly. In rural areas, where there are limited waste collection or treatment services, your guide will often advise you to bring your non-biodegradable trash out to the next large town.

Many under-educated young people flock from rural villages to cities and resorts in the hope of earning a living, but the limited number of jobs and their limited skills means that opportunities are few and these youngsters often resort to begging or scams to earn a crust. Poor families sometimes send their kids into the street to shine shoes, sell tissues or beg – a more immediate revenue stream than sending them to school. Ultimately, each tourist will make his or her own decision about how to deal with this situation. Recognizing the reasons behind it will help you remain polite, whatever your reaction to their need. If you decide to give, a few dirham is reasonable but you may prefer to give a child a pen or buy a beggar a meal rather than offer money. If you wish to make a donation to charities which seek to alleviate poverty and help families in difficult socio-economic situations, your Travel Exploration adviser can make a recommendation.

If you are fortunate to be invited to eat with Moroccans, be aware that they often eat from a communal dish. Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and only eat with your right hand. Moroccans use bread like cutlery and to avoid touching food which might be eaten by another. Follow their lead or request a fork or a spoon. Eat what is in front of you without ‘invading’ the portion of your neighbor and politely refuse (at least once) before accepting the morsels which are likely to be proffered to you as the guest by the hosts. Moroccans are very proud and will often object to you paying for their meal or drink, but if you insist (and you win the battle), they will never forget your generosity and will seek to repay it.

Tourism provides an income for a large number of Moroccans and their families, but it also creates tensions as locals are exposed to different cultures, values (and money) that they often do not fully comprehend or appreciate. On the whole, Moroccans are extremely resilient, tolerant and hospitable people. If you make a small effort to respect their culture, religion and customs you are sure to have a rich and rewarding insight into a fascinating country and to create friendships and memories to last a lifetime.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Ethical Tourism and Responsible Travel in Morocco

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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The Artists of Essaouira and Joutiya Market

Naive Artist Studio, Essaouira

Naive Artist Studio, Essaouira

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The port city of Essaouira, on Morocco’s Southern Atlantic Coast, is known for its white-washed walled medina (old city), fabulous seafood from its working port, a windswept sandy beach great for watersports and swimming and its annual music festivals, which reflect its culturally diverse past. Essaouira is also known as a town of artists – both indigenous and international – who are inspired by the relaxed atmosphere, creative environment and fabulous light. The streets of the Essaouira medina are lined with boutiques and galleries, which present plenty of opportunities for purchasing locally produced pieces.

One famous gallery is the Galerie Damgaard near the clock tower. Danish collector Frederic Damgaard is credited with bringing the naive art of Swiris (native Essaouirans) to a wider, global audience. In the 1980s, he spotted the potential of self-taught local artists, many of whom were fishermen, farmers or members of the local Gnaoua brotherhoods of Muslim sufis who practice music, song and trance. Damgaard likened the style of these autodidactic artists, working in two and three dimensions, to the increasingly popular indigenous art of other cultures. Today, the work of the better-known artists such as Mohammed Tabal, Aberrahim Harabida and Fatima Ettalbi are regularly exhibited in Essaouira and internationally.

Joutiya Market Artist, Essaouira

Joutiya Market Artist, Essaouira

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those who seek direct contact with lesser-known artists, it is possible to visit their makeshift art studios in Essaouira’s quartier industriel (industrial quarter). The best time to visit is during the weekly Sunday flea market, known as the joutiya (from the French, jeter, to throw or discard), when an art tour can be combined with a rummage through the second-hand and antique treasures on the many stands lining the streets. You will also see junk stalls and architectural salvage yards where those restoring riad townhouses in the medina might find a period piece or a rare gem.

Joutiya Market, Expo

Joutiya Market, Expo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working with found materials, salvaged boards and other objects ripe for up-cycling, the Joutiya artists have their studios in unpaved alleyways running parallel to the ocean. They are surrounded by the materials of their craft: broken tiles, abandoned furniture, carpenter’s off cuts, shells and pebbles.

Joutiya Market Art, Essaouira

Joutiya Market Art, Essaouira

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although you can find the work of the joutiya artists such as Abdelaziz Baki, Ali Maimoune and Asmah Ennaji in the medina, they are happy to welcome you in to their studios, where they exhibit the full range of their work. In Baki’s studio you will find brightly coloured sculptures of fantastical beasts – half bird, half fish or part man, part animal. He also decorates small pieces of furniture in his inimitable style featuring eyes (the evil eye is common theme in Islamic and Jewish cultures) and dots reminiscent of Aboriginal art. Asmah’s paintings feature solemn-faced portraits of doe-eyed subjects, sometimes so tightly crammed into the frame as to be disturbing. Others seem positively benevolent and gentle. Look out also for Filali, whose naive portraits of local characters, simply portrayed on chipboard, are comical and appealing in their lack of perspective or conformity to accepted norms. His portrayal of marrying couples – sometimes looking a little reluctant – make a quirky gift.

If you aren’t in town on a Sunday, the newly renovated Centre Artisanal (Artisans Center, opposite L’Heure Bleue) is also a great place to discover local arts and crafts.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Essaouira Art at the Joutiya Market or an Essaouira Tour

Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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The Caravan Routes of Morocco

52 Days to Tombouctou Sign, Zagora

52 Days to Tombouctou Sign, Zagora

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a much-photographed sign in Zagora, in the spectacular Draa Valley in Morocco. Beside the image of a blue-swaddled desert nomad is written: “TOMBOUCTOU 52 JOURS.” The journey is considerably quicker today, but if you go by camel, it probably still takes 52 days. Zagora is a popular starting point for trips on camel back into the Sahara Desert and this famous sign gives some indication of the significance of this area back in the mists of history.

Camel caravans (or – more accurately – dromedary caravans, as it is the one-humped version that is used in the Sahara) have existed since the 3rd century; the last caravans were officially closed down during the French and Spanish Protectorates in 1933.

For centuries the camel trains were the main means of transportation of goods and people between North African ports and economic hubs (such as Marrakech and Fes), across the Sahara to sub-Saharan Africa and eventually the Levant. For example, the camels travelled from as far West as the Moroccan Atlantic Coast right across to Ethiopia and Sudan in East Africa. An important north-south trade was salt (from Morocco) with gold (from the then Ghana Empire). One of the key caravan routes connected Tifilalt in Morocco, one of the largest oases in the world; Sijilmassa, an important salt mine; Tindouf in the deep south of Algeria, and Timbuktu in Mali.

Map of Caravan Routes of Morocco

Map of Caravan Routes of Morocco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cloth, manufactured items and paper were brought in from Europe. On the return leg, they carried gold, slaves, ivory and ostrich feathers as well as beads and shells for currency. On the way, the traders may have picked up silver, salt, dates or handicrafts for exchanging on route. Slaves flowed in both directions, but particularly northwards. It has been estimated that from the 10th- 19th century, as many as 7,000 slaves were transported northwards into Morocco.

The procession of the camel train was a carefully planned affair. In previous times, the Sahara fringes and the Sahel were greener than today and the camels would be fattened for a number of months on the plains before being rounded into a caravan. The famous 14th century Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta, describes the size of the camel trains: 1,000 camels but occasionally as large as 12,000.

The leaders of this solemn procession were well-paid Berbers and Touareg tribesmen who literally knew the desert like the back of their hands. Along with their camel herds, this knowledge was a valuable commodity. Furthermore, they had invested time in building the relationships and connections necessary to ensure safe passage of the valuable cargo. The routes changed according to these allegiances, the rise and fall of economic might of different towns and cities and – importantly – the existence of rivers and oases, many of which in the desert are ephemeral and unpredictable. Runners would sometimes be sent ahead to oases to bring water back to the caravan because of the difficulty of transporting the water necessary between sources. It was not unusual for them to travel 3-4 days in each direction to provide this service.

The peak of the caravan trade coincided with the boom in the fortunes of the Islamic rulers of the greater Maghreb and Al-Andalus region, from the 8th century until the late 16th century. These routes were even responsible for the spreading of Islam from North Africa into West Africa. The decline was caused by improvements in maritime transport by the European powers and the discovery of gold in the Americas. However, the link between, for example, the port of Mogador (modern day Essaouira) and Timbuktu was significant as late as the 19th century, when Jewish traders in both cities exchanged goods and slaves from sub-Saharan Africa with produce imported from Europe and further afield, such as gunpowder tea from China.

Today, some sections of the routes are passable. In fact, many of the unmade trails used today by all-terrain vehicles to traverse the desert are actually the remnant of the old camel routes. Modern political tensions have made many Saharan borders impassable to tourists and travellers. However, the local tribesmen still know the routes and still use ancient navigation techniques passed down through the generations. It’s unlikely they would let a modern construct such as a line on a map hinder their passage!

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Moroccan Caravan Routes from Zagora or a Morocco Tour 

Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Morocco Sahara Travel, Morocco Travel