As youtravel across Africa, you might have an impression that the universally appliedterm ‘Black Land’ is far from accurate. For how can the brick red robes of MasaiMara, the beaches of Mombasa, the snowy peak of Kilimanjaro, the sheer greeneryof Ethiopian highlands and the dazzling colors of tribal jewelry fit into theblack category? Color rules all over Africa – no doubt about that – but nowhereelse does the label seem less apt than in Morocco.
The varietyof hues on the Moroccan palette can really give you a headache. Food, spices,clothes, crafts, architecture – they all blend into an awe-inspiring mosaic of life,where everything goes with everything and everybody contributes to theunintended, natural artistic enterprise.
The old Berber tradition of adorning the body with intricate henna designs isstill a big thing among Moroccan women. And although an anonymous Arab poem says:
Decorate your eyes with kohl,
Your fingers with henna-
You will thus be more pleasing
In the eyes of God,
For you will be more loved
By your husbands.
… the role of body painting transcends that of beautyand decoration. Henna worn on hands and feet is believed to have Baraka (God’s blessing) and protectagainst evil Djinn (genie-like creatures in Arabfolklore).
Henna tattoos are supposed to bring joy, ensure luck and good health, promote fertility andoffer protection against witchcraft, and while todaya lot of Arab women apply henna for fun, some still take its supernaturalproperties for granted. In Morocco, you’ll often see a henna ceremony as part ofwedding festivities and other critical celebrations in the Islamic calendar.
Be it in the souq of Marrakesh or at a random roadsidestall, the abundance and vibrancy of Moroccan crafts is overwhelming. Among theflag products are definitely leather shoes, jewelry, carpets, textiles and pottery.
Unique fabrics and textiles, which are a very important part of Moroccan dress and interior decoration, are to be gotten in all sizes and color combinations. Silk scarves, hand-died bed covers, pillow cases and traditional rugs – plain, striped or with ethnic patterns – make for splendid souvenirs that will warm up your hearts on harsh, winter days back home.
The highlydecorative style of Moroccan ceramic products, with complex geometric andarabesque patterns, clearly reflects Moorish and Spanish influences. The maincenters for ceramics in the country are Safi and Fez, the latter known for itshand-painted, blue-and-white products.
They may not be as soft as your favorite fluffy sleepers but if you really want to have something traditional and unique, get a pair of babouches, for instance as a reward for holding strong during your visit to a leather tannery… unless you don’t want anything to remind you of that smelly experience.
As you walk along the Boulevard de Paris in central Casablanca or pamperyourself on the Atlantic-lapped shoresof Agadir, whatever you conceived of Africa before vanishes into thin air. Nevertheless,Morocco has plenty of what is considered a typical African experience, and forthat, head to the Sahara.
Traverse the stretches of fiercely orange sand on acamel’s back, sleep in traditional Berber tents, slide on the enormous dunes,have a delicious meal by the camp fire and finally, feed your eyes with themagic of a sunrise. Just remember that the night temperatures in the desert are far from stereotypically African.
The art of coloring
The awesome thing about Morocco is that you are notonly surrounded by colorful products, but can also see them being colored, or even get some of the fabulous powder tints torecreate the Moroccan ambiance at home.
A word of warning though… what pleases the eye is notalways a treat for the nose. Much as the traditional leather tanneries are a greatsight to see, the stenchthat drifts all around them can
put off even the sturdiest character.Nonetheless, the sensual torture is worth braving as you’re getting a unique chanceto see sites and procedures that have not changed for hundreds of years (thetannery in Fez dates back to the 11th century and is the oldestleather tannery in the world).
As might have been expected, Moroccan architecture is far from monochromatic too. Color hunters will take delight in the refreshing white-and-blue compositions of the coastal cities (Essaouira being the most prominent example), strain their cameras in the dim, pinkish streets of medinas, gawk at the clay marvel of Aït Benhaddou and get hypnotized tracing the omnipresent mosaic patterns.
The UNESCO-protected Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou, nestled on the southern slopes of the High Atlas, is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture and simply a must-do from Marrakesh. The collection of mud brick houses rests strategically against a mountain slope and surprisingly, has more open space inside the walls than the outside suggests. Sadly, the kashbas take damage with each rainstorm and only about 10 families still live within the ksar.
Rabat, the capital and third largest city of Morocco, may seem a rather dull metropolis at first glance, but once you penetrate a little deeper and get to the Kasbah des Oudaias, you’ll discover a phenomenal, white-and-blue residential area with a labyrinth of sparkling clean alleys.
Need abreath from flashy colors? High Atlas will greet you with a little subduedpalette, but “the awe factor” triples in return. The range extendsnortheastward for 460 miles (740 km) and boasts a number of peaks that exceed anelevation of 12,000 feet (3,660 metres), with Mount Toubkal (13,665 feet [4,165 metres]) as thecentral focus of trekking expeditions.
Ifyou’re not fit enough to embark on a trek, hire a car and take an unhurrieddrive from Marrakesh to the city of Ouarzazate, through the breathtaking Tizi n’Tichka pass. Along the route, fascinating contrasts abound, fromred farming plains and fertile valleys to snow-topped peaks and bluish, barren slopes.
Mostbasically fit people can embark upon the trek to Mt Toubkal, but itcertainly shouldn’t be approached nonchalantly. Make sure you do a good deal ofresearch about weather conditions and general climbing guidelines. It isadvisable that inexperienced climbers hire a guide.
In case you thought Moroccan bazaars were all about crafts … food is a totally separate color story. Smells, tastes and colorscaress the senses as you’ walk past the tall, cone-shaped mounds of fragrant,multicolored spices, world-famous sweets, carts overloaded with oranges and piledup jars of olives that can easily inspire envy in Greek, Italian or Spanish vendors.
Dotted with nuts and coming in the craziest of colors, Moroccan nougat almost looks like plastic, but it most certainly IS edible and in fact delicious. Just don’t go overboard with free samples – turron is loaded with calories!
Following active promotion of olive tree planting, Morocco recently moved ahead of Greece as the world’s second largest exporter of olives.
Finally,let’s not forget the most adorable, cultural tapestry is woven by the Moroccanpeople themselves. Vendors, fishermen, street musicians, local passersby and kidsplaying around. It seems this peculiar inclination for color is an integral part of their identities rather than a show they put up to impress. Does this make their lives brighter?Probably not, but it most certainly makes Morocco the world’s number onedestination for those who prefer life in Technicolor.
Been there, seen that? Share your color story!