The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in opening hours, road conditions, flight schedules etc. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. Meals included in the tour price are indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=light lunch (2-courses) and D=evening meal. Bottled water will also be provided daily during site excursions.
Rabat - 2 nights
Rabat is situated on the southern bank of the Bu Regreg River, across from the town of Salé. A Roman town existed in the vicinity but modern Rabat is a Muslim foundation. The name ‘Rabat’ comes from the Arabic word ribat, which means a fort on the Islamic frontier, usually manned by Muslims as a religious duty. Such a fort existed on the site of modern Rabat by the 10th century. Rabat’s earliest monuments, however, date from the Almohad period (1147-1248). The Almohads expanded the settlement by building a kasbah, or fortress, during the reign of ‘Abd al-Mu’min, the second leader of the Almohad movement. ‘Abd al-Mu’min’s grandson, Ya’qub al-Mansur, transformed Rabat into his capital by constructing an extensive defensive wall around the town, and initiating the construction of the huge Hassan Mosque, the sister to the Almohad mosques in Seville and Marrakesh.
The three-mile Almohad walls and kasbah boast six fine monumental gateways including the Bab al-Udaya and the Bab al-Ruwah. Foremost among these is the Bab al-Udaya, the gateway to the Kasbah of the Udaya, which possesses extremely fine sculptural proportions. This gateway served a symbolical rather than military purpose: it acted as a triumphal arch leading into the kasbah, a fortress and palace in one. The gateway contains three domed chambers which served as anterooms for those wishing to enter the kasbah, and created an angled entrance, a common feature in later Islamic palaces such as the Alhambra. The Bab al-Ruwah on the southern side of Rabat was equally ornate. The gateway was flanked by two huge square turrets which were intended to be massive but simple frames for the portal façade rather than defences. Both gateways are decorated with characteristic Almohad blind cusped arches and scallops carved in stone, a motif which influenced many church portals on the pilgrim route to Santiago.
Rabat’s other Almohad monument, the Hassan Mosque, was never finished and all that remains are a series of huge columns from its hypostyle prayer hall, and the Hassan Tower, originally the mosque’s minaret. The size of the Hassan Mosque gives a measure of the ambition of its founder; its length of 1800 feet and width of 1377 feet, would have made it one of the largest mosques in the Islamic world. Only the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq, no longer in use by the time of Ya’qub al-Mansur, surpassed these dimensions. The minaret (1195-1196), stands to the north of the mosque’s forecourt on an axis with its mihrab in order to emphasize the mosque’s orientation. It was meant to be one of the largest minarets in the world, although its upper section was either never built, or collapsed in an earthquake. The structure and decoration of the Hassan Tower, including the blind arches and beautiful decorative screen-work on its upper façade, provided the prototype for the Giralda of Seville, and the minaret of the Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakesh. The mausoleum of Muhammad V, an example of modern Moroccan architecture, is located at the south end of the Hassan Mosque site.
The dynasty which succeeded the Almohads, the Marinids (1248-1540), also contributed to Rabat’s cultural heritage. The Marinids gave the city a new great mosque and constructed the royal necropolis of Chellah (1310-1339) outside the city walls on the site of the Roman port of Sala Colonia. Chellah was a true ‘city of the dead’ with its own ramparts and funerary buildings which centred around a mosque/mausoleum and a later zawiya or retreat for mystics. The complex also includes a well dating to the Roman period and the mausoleums of later holy men. Nowadays Chellah’s tall ramparts enclose a verdant garden within which the tombs of members of the Marinid lineage, the ruins of the funerary mosque and zawiya, and other shrines nestle. The complex is also home to numerous storks, considered by Moroccans to be sacred birds as a result of their predilection for nesting in religious buildings.
Day 1: Wednesday 4 April, Arrive Casablanca – Rabat
- Arrival transfer from Casablanca to Rabat for participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated flight’
- Light Evening Meal
Participants taking ASA’s designated flights are scheduled to arrive in Casablanca in the early afternoon. Upon arrival we shall transfer directly from the airport to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. After checking in and taking some time to freshen up from the flight we commence our program with a light evening meal. (Overnight Rabat) D
Day 2: Thursday 5 April, Rabat
- Royal Palace (exterior)
- Musée Mohammed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain
- Marinid Necropolis of Chellah
- Medina of Rabat
- Kasbah of the Udaya (Gardens & Mint Tea)
- Welcome Dinner at Restaurant Le Ziryab
This morning we start our tour of Rabat with a visit to the Almohad walls and gateways, the royal palace complex (exterior only) and the nearby necropolis of Chellah. We also visit the Musée Mohammed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. Opened in 2014, this three-level building designed by architect Karim Chakor, is Morocco’s first museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art.
Following lunch at a local restaurant with views over the Atlantic, we take a walk through the old town of Rabat, finishing with a visit to the Kasbah of the Udaya with its gardens, café and museum.
Our day concludes with a welcome dinner at Restaurant Le Ziryab serving traditional Moroccan gastronomy in the wonderful surroundings of a fine Moroccan residence. (Overnight Rabat) BLD
Tangier - 2 nights
Tangier is one of the oldest continuously inhabited urban sites in Morocco. A port called Tingi was founded by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC and then subsequently incorporated into the Roman Empire as Tingis, capital of the province of Mauretania Tingitania. In its heyday, Tingis rivalled the inland Roman city of Volubilis and by the 4th century it was the only significant Roman town in Morocco. Temporarily lost during the Vandal invasions, Tingis was recaptured by the Byzantines in the 6th century.
In the late 7th century, Tingis was captured by Arabo-Berber Muslim armies coming from Qayrawan in modern Tunisia and transformed into the Muslim garrison and port of Tangier. Along with Tétouan, Tangier served as a stepping-stone for Muslim armies travelling into the Iberian peninsula. Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed the straits from Tangier in 711, as did Yusuf ibn Tashfin in the late 11th century, although the next dynasty, the Almohads, preferred Rabat to Tangier as their main port on the route to Iberia.
As the Castilians advanced southwards in Spain, and Fes and Marrakesh became Morocco’s main commercial and cultural centres, Tangier and Tétouan on the northern coast went into decline. Tangier was a regular victim of Portuguese raids throughout the 15th century and was finally captured late in the century. After a brief period as a Spanish enclave in the 16th century whilst Spain ruled Portugal, Tangier was returned to Portuguese hands. It was ceded to the British in the 17th century as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza.
The expense of retaining Tangier in the face on constant ‘Alawi attacks persuaded the British to withdraw in 1684. After two centuries of European rule, Tangier again became a Muslim city, peopled in part by earlier Muslim migrants from Spain. New defences and an ‘Alawi kasbah were added to the city, which soon took its place alongside Tétouan, Larache and Rabat-Salé as a small port trading with Cadiz and other Spanish ports, as well as North European traders.
In the 19th century, Tangier was transformed into the ‘City of the Consuls’, the residence of diplomats from the European nations represented in Morocco who presented their complaints and requests to the governor of Tangier, who doubled as Morocco’s foreign minister. Tangier’s pivotal role in Moroccan foreign relations in the 19th century paved the way for her designation as an international zone in the early twentieth century during the Protectorate. It is to this period that Tangier’s shady reputation for espionage, prostitution and drug-smuggling dates. Since 1956 the city has been gradually reintegrated into the Moroccan cultural mainstream.
Day 3: Friday 6 April, Rabat – Salé – Tangier
- Hassan Tower
- Mausoleum of Muhammad V
- Bab Mrisa, Salé
- Marinid Madrasa, Salé
We begin our day with a visit to the Tour Hassan and the Mausoleum of Muhammad V. We shall then drive across the Bu Regreg river, which separates Rabat from its sister town of Salé, to see the Almohad fortifications of the town. These include the Bab Mrisa, which originally stood over the canal that allowed ships access to the heart of Salé. We shall also visit the 14th-century madrasa or theological college constructed in Salé by the Marinid dynasty. It is a sister to the Marinid madrasas of Meknes, Fes and Marrakesh.
Following lunch at a local fish restaurant we shall leave Rabat and drive north to Tangier, where we shall spend two nights. (Overnight Tangier) BL
Day 4: Saturday 7 April, Tangier
- Anglican Church of St Andrew
- Galerie d’Art Contemporain Mohamed Drissi
- Lunch at the Hôtel Nord-Pinus
- Medina of Tangier
- Kasbah, Tangier
This morning we walk a short way from our hotel to the Anglican church of St Andrew, where many of the colourful British characters who resided in Tangier are buried. Foremost among them was Harry Maclean, a Scotsman who trained and commanded generations of Moroccan soldiers in the late 19th century.
Nearby we also visit the Galerie d’Art Contemporain Mohamed Drissi, housed in a late 19th-century villa originally built for the British consulate. The museum has a particular focus on contemporary paintings and features the artwork of Chrabia Tallal, Fatima Hassan, Mohammed Kacimi, Abdelkebir Rabia, Fouad Belamine and many others.
Lunch will be served at the Hôtel Nord-Pinus, a renovated pasha’s palace overlooking Tangier’s old port.
In the afternoon we take a tour through the old town where traces of Tangier’s intimate relations with Europe abound. Many consular buildings, such as the American Legation, dot its narrow streets and its architectural styles bear witness to ongoing northern Mediterranean influence. While in the old town we also visit the 17th century ‘Alawi citadel, which was constructed above the sea defences of the town. (Overnight Tangier) BL
Chefchaouen - 1 night
Day 5: Sunday 8 April, Tangier – Tétouan – Chefchaouen
- The Royal Artisan School, Tetouan (Dar Sanaa)
- Medina of Tétouan
- Old Town of Chefchaouen
This morning we travel along the picturesque mountain road from Tangier to Chefchaouen, a small town nestling in a deep, narrow valley at the western end of the Rif mountains, where we spend the night.
We break our journey in the city of Tétouan situated on the slopes of the fertile Martil Valley. Tétouan, from the Berber word tit’ta’ouin, means ‘springs’, which explains the greenery of the town, its many fountains, its flowering gardens and its surrounding fertile plains. The city was of particular importance from the 8th century onwards as it served as the main point of contact between Morocco and Andalusia. After the Spanish Reconquest, the town was rebuilt by Andalusian refugees who had been expelled by Isabella and Ferdinand (1492). This is reflected in its art and architecture, which reveal clear Andalusian influences.
On arrival we begin with a visit to Dar Sanaa, the Royal Artisan School, where local children are apprenticed to masters for 4 years of intense training in traditional artisan work (this school is typically closed on weekends, but we can still visit its workshops).
Tétouan’s ancient walled medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site whose houses reflect a rich aristocratic tradition. Their tiled lintels, wrought-iron balconies, courtyard gardens and extravagant interiors have a lot in common with the old Muslim quarters of Córdoba or Seville. Despite subsequent conquests, the medina has remained largely intact and one of the most complete in Morocco. Inside the medina proper are most of Tétouan’s food and crafts souqs, including the Souq el-Hots, where Berber rugs and foutas (woven cotton cloth) are sold. Throughout Morocco we will find carpets, textiles and leather that are dyed with natural pigments that are derived from indigenous plants. Deftly woven carpets, expertly crafted leatherwork, intricately carved woodwork, superbly tooled metal work, colourful tiles and exquisite ceramics are all to be found in Tétouan.
Chefchaouen is a Berber name, meaning ‘two horns’, which refers to two rocky peaks that dominate the town. The town was founded in the 15th century by a descendant of the Prophet, called Mawlay ‘Ali ibn Rashid, and refugees from Spain who sought to create a mountain stronghold where they would be safe at last from the Christians. Around 1760 Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdallah (Mohammed III) ordered the Jewish families to move into the medina, their mellah (walled Jewish quarter of a city) taking in the area that today encompasses the southern quarter between the kasbah and Bab el Aïn. Until this century, Chefchaouen was completely closed to Europeans, who risked their lives if they tried to enter its gates.
The Hispanic origin of Chefchaouen’s inhabitants is clearly evident in the architecture of this little town which has much in common with villages of southern Spain. Small, whitewashed ochre houses with balconies, windows covered by ornate metal grilles, tiled roofs and Andalusian-style courtyards, pile up upon one another. Chefchaouen’s famous shades of blue arose when the Jews added indigo into the whitewash to contrast the mellah against the traditional green of Islam. The town’s stone-built Friday mosque resembles rural Spanish churches. The focus of town life is the central plaza where the inhabitants promenade in the balmy dusk air. In the late afternoon we shall explore the old town of Chefchaouen. (Overnight Chefchaouen) BLD
Fes - 4 nights
Fes is the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities and although Rabat has been the political capital since 1912, Fes remains its historic religious and cultural centre. The contemporary city of Fes is actually three discrete entities: Fes al-Bali (old Fes), wedged into the narrow valley of the Wad Fes (River Fes); Fes al-Jadid (New Fes), originally a royal complex; and the Ville Nouvelle (New Town), the modern French-built section of the city.
The oldest section of the city, Fes al-Bali, was founded by Idris I around 799. During the reign of his son, Idris II, Fes, previously a small Berber town, took on a new character. Idris II made Fes his capital in 809 and in subsequent years the population was swelled by immigrants from other Arabo-Islamic lands. In 818 hundreds of Hispano-Muslims, who had rebelled unsuccessfully against Umayyad authority, arrived from Córdoba and founded the al-Andalus quarter of Fes. They were followed by migrants from Qayrawan in Tunisia, also unsuccessful rebels seeking refuge, who founded the Qarawiyyin quarter on the other side of the Wad Fes. Although the Qarawiyyin quarter was slightly larger than the al-Andalus quarter, the Andalusian connection was of greater significance in the long term due to the proximity of Muslim Spain.
Under Idris II’s successors, Fes became an important centre for religious scholarship, commerce and artisanship. Scholars from Córdoba, other Hispano-Muslim cities, and from Qayrawan established themselves in the great mosques of the al-Andalus and Qarawiyyin quarters, making Fes a regional centre for scholarship. Commercially, Fes benefited from her position at the juncture of land trade routes to and from al-Andalus, sub-Saharan Africa and the Islamic east. As the Idrisi dynasty weakened, local Berber tribes gained control of Fes’s hinterland and the city entered a lean period. Nonetheless contact with Umayyad Córdoba remained strong and Fes, along with much of North Morocco, became a dependant of Córdoba.
The 11th-12th century Almoravid dynasty restored order to North Morocco and then incorporated Muslim Spain into its empire. This created greater cultural and commercial exchange between Spain and Morocco which benefitted cities like Fes. Although the Almoravids founded Marrakesh as their capital in 1070, they also sponsored many buildings in Fes: mosques; baths; funduqs (multi-storey lodging houses for merchants and their wares); and fountains. The al-Andalus and Qarawiyyin quarters were amalgamated into a single city, and many Hispano-Muslim artisans moved to Fes to work on Almoravid buildings, which were renowned for their stuccowork decoration.
In 1154 Fes was captured by the Almohad leader ‘Abd al-Mu’min, already ruler of south Morocco and much of Islamic Spain. The Almohads disparaged the luxury of the later Almoravid period and destroyed much of the stucco decoration which graced their buildings in Fes. They did, however, give the city extensive new walls which have defined the limits of Fes al-Bali to the present day. Although not an Almohad capital, Fes benefited from the creation of a stable empire incorporating most of North Africa and Spain. In addition, many who fell foul of the Almohads in Spain moved to Fes either permanently or as a prelude to travelling further east. By the 13th century Fes was one of the largest and richest cities in the empire.
During these centuries the original Idrisi great mosque was gradually supplanted by the Qarawiyyin mosque, built by immigrants from Qayrawan in the 9th century. The Umayyads, Almoravids and Almohads steadily enlarged the mosque, creating a vast ritual space with the capacity to hold approximately 20,000 worshippers. It rapidly became a centre of learning second only to Córdoba, and after the fall of Muslim Spain the Qarawiyyin preserved the tradition lost in al-Andalus. Nonetheless the Qarawiyyin is quite different to Hispano-Muslim mosques and medieval European cathedral architecture. Despite its vast size it hides within the narrow streets of the city and has no defined exterior or monumental façade: its glory lay in its interior and its prestige as a centre of learning.
In the 1240s the Almohad Empire crumbled and the dynasty was replaced by the Banu Marin, or Marinid dynasty. The Banu Marin, who were not leaders of a religious movement as the Almoravids and Almohads had been, prepared their bid for power by fighting against the Christians in Spain. The southward movement of the frontier in Spain made it henceforth imperative for Moroccan rulers to show dedication to holy war, jihad, to preserve Muslim territory. In order to improve their credentials further, the Marinids decided to identify themselves with the Idrisids and make Fes their capital. After an interlude of several centuries Fes again became a capital and much of the material culture which we shall see dates from the 13th to 15th-century Marinid period.
The Marinids used the services of the rising numbers of Hispano-Muslim craftsmen migrating to Morocco from Spain. Their architecture therefore amalgamated Moroccan and Hispanic elements in a style subsequently known as ‘Andalusian’. This style has remained dominant in Fes and other Moroccan cities to this day. Marinid construction altered Fes in several ways. Firstly, they built the royal complex of Fes al-Jadid which included palaces, mosques and residential quarters for the sultan’s troops. Secondly, they commissioned a series of palaces and funduqs or caravanserais in Fes al-Bali.
Thirdly, and most importantly, they introduced the institution of the madrasa or theological college to Morocco and constructed a series of these buildings in Fes to house students studying at the Qarawiyyin mosque, and to provide supplementary teaching. The Marinid madrasas of Fes and other Moroccan cities are all formed of a central courtyard, a prayer hall located along one side of the courtyard, and several storeys of student rooms wrapped around the courtyard and prayer hall, insulating them from the world outside. They are all decorated in the distinctive registers of carved cedarwood, stuccowork, and mosaic tile which came to be the hallmark of the Moroccan Andalusian style.
The Marinids also converted the Mosque of the Shurafa (descendants of the Prophet), located near the Qarawiyyin, into the shrine of Mawlay Idris II as part of their policy of self-identification with the 9th-century Idrisi dynasty. During restoration of the mosque in 1438 a body was found in the walls. The Marinids claimed that it was the body of Idris II and turned the mosque into his mausoleum. Idris II was already considered the patron saint of Fes and his new mausoleum soon became a centre for pilgrimage and a hurm or sanctuary. Marinid patronage of this shrine was an attempt to channel popular piety and belief in holy men into state-controlled channels. Subsequent dynasties embellished and restored the shrine which is a rich example of Andalusian architectural styles employed in a purely indigenous structure, a mausoleum.
In the 15th century Morocco entered a turbulent period in which the Portuguese and Spanish established enclaves along the coast. Although Fes remained the nominal capital, the country broke into small principalities ruled by anyone who could offer resistance to the Spanish and Portuguese aggressors. At the same time Jewish and Hispano-Muslim migrants flooded into Morocco in increasing numbers. Fes’ cultural and commercial life was enriched by these newcomers, despite her politically straitened circumstances. This guaranteed Fes’ importance as a religious and cultural centre, despite the new sixteenth century Sa’di dynasty’s choice of Marrakesh as their capital. In recognition of the importance of Fes, the Sa’diyyin restored the Qarawiyyin courtyard in Andalusian style, substituting marble for stucco as they did in other buildings. Under the ‘Alawi dynasty Fes became joint capital along with Marrakesh and the lesser capitals of Rabat and Meknes. The ‘Alawi sultans recognised the importance of Fes and added palaces and fortifications. They also sponsored the development of the Jewish quarter, or Mellah, which is adjacent to Fes al-Jadid.
Day 6: Monday 9 April, Chefchaouen – Volubilis – Fes
Today we travel south from Chefchaouen to Fes via Volubilis. The Roman city of Volubilis was built in the first century BC on the site of earlier prehistoric and Phoenician settlements when Morocco and Algeria were incorporated into the Roman Empire as the client kingdom of Mauretania. The kingdom was ruled by Juba II, the Roman-educated son of its vanquished Berber ruler. Juba II was a classmate of both Octavian and Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Antony and Cleopatra. When Octavian became Augustus, he married Juba II and Cleopatra Selene, and made them client rulers of Mauretania. They founded two capitals: Iol Caesarea in Eastern Algeria and Volubilis in Morocco. The wealth of Volubilis was based on local production of grain, olive oil and copper which were exported to the rest of the empire.
In AD 40 Caligula had Juba’s son, Ptolemy, assassinated. Mauretania went into revolt, only to be formally annexed to Rome and made into the directly-governed province of Mauretania Tingitania. Although Volubilis became politically second to Tangier for a time, the wealth of its agricultural hinterland ensured its ongoing importance to Roman Morocco. Despite the shrinking Roman presence in Morocco from the 3rd century onwards, Volubilis probably remained partly Romanised until the 7th century. This reflected the fact that Morocco was spared the invasion of barbarian peoples which undermined Roman society in Iberia and other parts of North Africa and was therefore a functioning late antique society when the first Arabs arrived in Morocco. Nonetheless, the increased precariousness of life had persuaded local urban populations to move from the plain to the nearby Jabal Zarhun massif, where a small fortified hill town emerged.
On arrival in the Jabal Zarhun area we visit the ruins of Volubilis. The majority date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD when the city was under direct Roman rule: these ruins include the Capitol, Basilica and Arch of Caracalla. Many fine works found at Volubilis have been removed from the site to museums, but the site boasts a magnificent collection of Roman mosaic floors which includes scenes of Diana surprised by Actaeon while bathing with her nymphs, and Hylas captured by nymphs. These are among the most important antique mosaics in the world. Monuments to be explored in addition to the Capitol, Basilica and Arch of Caracalla, are the House of Orpheus, the Baths of Gallienus, the Forum, the Temple of Saturn and a number of houses which, like those at Pompeii, are named after decorations or objects found in them.
From Volubilis we shall travel southeast into the Sais plain to the city of Fes, where we shall spend four nights. (Overnight Fes) BLD
Day 7: Tuesday 10 April, Fes
- Burj al-Janub
- Al-Andalus Mosque
- Sahrij Madrasa
- The Tanneries
- Marinid Funduq (subject to reopening in 2018)
- ‘Attarin Madrasa
- Souqs of Fes
- Dinner at Palais Schéhérazade
We shall start today with a visit to the Burj al-Janub, or South Tower, which gives a panoramic view of Fes from the alternate side to the North Tower. We then spend the remainder of the day in Fes al-Bali visiting the al-Andalus quarter; other Marinid madrasas in the city; areas of artisanal production; a Marinid funduq; and the souqs, or markets.
The al-Andalus quarter lies on the eastern side of the Wad Fes, and has its own great mosque with a dramatic monumental gateway with a horseshoe arch. One of the most beautiful Marinid madrasas in Morocco, the Sahrij Madrasa, is located close by. The small, perfectly proportioned courtyard of the madrasa is tiled with turquoise-tinted tiles whose colour is picked up and reflected by the large central pool. This intimate space is enclosed by carved wood screens.
From the Sahrij we descend to the river and cross to the Qarawiyyin quarter of the city to see the tanneries and the Marinid funduq decorated in a similar style to the Marinid madrasas. The other madrasa we shall see today is the ‘Attarin Madrasa. Built around 1325, the ‘Attarin, like the Sahrij, is relatively small and intimate, and decorated with rich tilework. Both served as residences for students at the great mosques of Fes rather than as teaching centres.
Dinner tonight will be at the Palais Schéhérazade, a charming 19th-century palace, lovingly restored by local artisans and featuring ceramic zelliges, plaster and sculpted wood. (Overnight Fes) BLD
Day 8: Wednesday 11 April, Fes
- Jewish Cemetery
- Fes al-Jadid (exterior)
- Bu Jallud Gardens
- Batha Museum
- Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa
- Burj al-Shamal & Weaponry Museum
- Qarawiyyin Mosque (exterior)
- Shrine of Mawlay Idris II (exterior)
- Dinner at La Maison Bleue restaurant
On our second day in Fes we begin with a visit to the Jewish cemetery and the adjacent royal complex of Fes al-Jadid (exterior only).
We shall then cross the tranquil Bu Jallud gardens which separate Fes al-Jadid from Fes al-Bali and enter the latter through the vividly decorated Bu Jallud gate. Fes al-Bali is unique in its maintenance of an urban plan dating to the 9th century. The narrowness of its steep, winding streets means that motor vehicles may not enter and donkeys, mules and handcarts still transport food and merchandise around the city. Many of the religious, domestic and commercial structures lining the streets date to the 14th century, providing a unique insight into the physical experience of living in a medieval city.
In Fes al-Bali we commence with a visit to the Batha Museum, a collection of antique Moroccan woodwork, marblework and other craftwork housed in a converted ‘Alawi palace. This museum contains the original carved wood doors of some of Fes’ madrasas and a marble doorway from the Sa’di palace in Marrakesh, along with many other artefacts which demonstrate Moroccan adaptation of Hispano-Muslim styles.
We also visit the 14th century Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa, an excellent example of Marinid architecture. The madrasa, which functioned both as an educational institute and as a congregational mosque, is the only madrasa in Fes with a minaret.
Following lunch at a local restaurant we visit the ‘Alawi Burj al-Shamal, or Northern Tower, to get a panoramic view of the city and see the weaponry museum. From here we return to the heart of Fes al-Bali to visit the Qarawiyyin Mosque and the shrine of Mawlay Idris II. These two buildings form the sacred core of the city, and the prestigious markets for perfumes, spices and silk garments are located nearby adding pungency and fragrance to the air. Although non-Muslims may not enter these buildings, we can view their interiors through their gateways.
Dinner tonight will be at La Maison Bleue restaurant, a traditional Moroccan residence built in 1915 by Sidi Mohammed El Abbadi, a judge and astronomer. (Overnight Fes) BLD
Day 9: Thursday 12 April, Fes – Meknes – Fes
- City Walls of Meknes & Bab al-Khamis
- Granaries & Pool of Mawlay Isma’il
- Bab Mansur
- Mausoleum of Mawlay Isma’il
- Qubbat al-Khayyatin
- Dar al-Kabira
- Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa
- Dar Jami’i Museum
This morning we depart Fes and travel west on a day’s excursion to the city of Meknes, located on the edge of the Jabal Zarhun massif. Meknes was founded in the 10th century by the Maknasa Berbers as a market centre for the rich agricultural area around it. During the Almoravid (1062-1147), Almohad (1147-1248) and Marinid (1248-1540) periods, Meknes remained a provincial market town and was therefore less touched by Hispanic-North African interaction than Fes and Rabat. The city briefly became a capital during the reign of the ‘Alawi sultan, Mawlay Isma’il (1672-1727) but subsequently shared imperial status with Fes, Marrakesh and Rabat. Meknes acts as a counterpoint to Moroccan cities more deeply influenced by Andalusian culture and shows a different juxtaposition of Hispanic and indigenous elements.
Few monuments remain from Almoravid, Almohad and Marinid Meknes. The few that do remain include an Almohad gate, the Bab al-Khamis, embellished with blue and green tiles by Mawlay Isma’il, and the magnificent Marinid Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa. The Bu ‘Inaniyya was commissioned by Abu-l-Hassan (1331-1350) and completed by Abu ‘Inan (1350-1358). Like other Marinid madrasas, its decoration was inspired by the architectural styles of Islamic Spain. The carved wood screens which separate the central court from its portico, the stucco and tilework, and the mihrab are especially admirable examples of Hispano-Moroccan craftsmanship.
In the mid-17th century, Meknes was made into an imperial capital by Mawlay Isma’il, the first important sultan of the ‘Alawi dynasty, and Meknes is above all his city. His choice of capital reflected his desire to distance himself from the existing capitals of Fes and Marrakesh, and his need for a secure food supply for his army. During the 1670s Mawlay Isma’il slowly constructed a huge new royal city adjacent to the existing town to house his black slave army. Black slaves and Christian prisoners of war toiled together on the project, and contemporaries wryly noted that Mawlay Isma’il’s passion for building was only matched by his passion for destruction.
The royal quarter was planned as a monumental expression of dynastic power and it drew on a range of styles: classical, Andalusian, African and even European elements mingled to create a unique palatial vision of power. Mawlay Isma’il’s city is notable for its massive size: four concentric sets of walls punctuated with grandiose gateways stretch for 25 kilometres and, despite modern urban expansion, tracts of land within the walls remain unoccupied. These walls and ramparts were designed for architectural effect and were almost worthless as defences.
The main gateway was the spectacular Bab Mansur which was started by Mawlay Isma’il and completed by his son, Mawlay ‘Abd Allah in 1732. Bab Mansur, which conflates classical form with Andalusian tilework, is one of the most splendid and well-proportioned monumental gateways in the Islamic world. Bab Mansur leads into the reception court of the palace complex, which included a small pavilion, the Qubbat al-Khayyatin, where foreign ambassadors were probably received by the sultan. Beyond lay the private palace of Mawlay Isma’il, decorated in an eclectic combination of Muslim and European styles, now his mausoleum, and the residential quarters of his slave army.
Whilst in Meknes we shall tour the city walls including the Bab al-Khamis. We shall then visit various parts of Mawlay Isma’il’s palace complex: the granaries and neighbouring reservoir; Bab Mansur; the Qubbat al-Khayyatin; Mawlay Isma’il’s mausoleum; and the Dar al-Kabira quarter. We shall also visit the Marinid Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa and the Dar Jami’i Museum located in the 19th-century palace of the Jami’i family who served as ministers to the ‘Alawi sultans. The museum has fine cedar wood ceilings and a beautiful salon with the master’s chair and chairs for his four wives. The museum contains an interesting collection of ironwork, Meknes pottery, Berber jewellery, Andalusian tiles, traditional kaftans, and a large collection of embroidery.
Tonight we dine together at the hotel. (Overnight Fes) BLD
Merzouga - 1 night
Day 10: Friday 13 April, Fes – Ifrane – Midelt – Merzouga
Today we travel from Fes to Erfoud, on the edge of the Sahara, via the Middle Atlas mountains. We shall pass through Ifrane, a small town built by the French as a summer resort. The small, steep-roofed houses of Ifrane recall the architecture of the Alps, and the town is famous for its gardens and population of storks. From Ifrane we will travel on through the mountains towards Midelt along one of the loveliest roads in Morocco.
En route we shall pass through Azrou, arriving at Midelt for lunch. Midelt marks the start of one of the main routes through the eastern High Atlas mountain range to the Sahara. This route, which we shall take to Erfoud, was carved through the mountains by the Wad Ziz, a river which snakes south alongside the road. As we travel south the cedars and oaks of the north gradually give way to barren rock, clusters of date palms marking water sources, and finally the sand of the desert. (Overnight Merzouga) BLD
Tineghir - 1 night
Day 11: Saturday 14 April, Merzouga – Rissani – Erfoud – Tineghir
- Dawn excursion to Merzouga (optional)
- Shrine of Mawlay ‘Ali al-Sharif, Rissani
- Ksar Oulad Abdelhalim
After an optional dawn excursion to the sand dunes of Merzouga to watch the sunrise, we depart for Rissani, 20 kilometres to the south, the capital of the province of Tafilalt, and the ancestral home of the ‘Alawi dynasty. Rissani lies alongside the ruins of the early Islamic town of Sijilmassa, which controlled Moroccan trade with sub-Saharan Africa from the early 8th century until the 14th century. Sijilmassa was founded by a Berber lineage called the Banu Midrar. In time it became part of the Almoravid, Almohad and the Marinid states. The vast area covered by Sijilmassa’s ruins, currently being excavated by archaeologists, indicates the wealth of the medieval city. Its commercial role was, however, dependent on its monopoly of access to West African gold producers. As centres of political power in West Africa shifted and trans-Saharan routes to the east and west emerged, Sijilmassa lost its commercial dominance and shrank in size.
The modern town of Rissani, constructed this century, itself grew out of the largest set of qsars in the vicinity, which were dependants of the ‘Alawiyyin, a lineage descended from the Prophet which moved to Tafilalt in the 12th century. In the 15th century the ‘Alawi Shurafa entered history as a result of their eponymous ancestor, Mawlay ‘Ali al-Sharif’s, participation in war against the Portuguese in North Morocco. Mawlay ‘Ali died a hero and his tomb in Tafilalt became a local shrine. In the 17th century, the ‘Alawiyyin transformed local religious prestige into political power and went on to create the ‘Alawi sultanate (1669- ). Their descendants still rule Morocco.
We shall visit the mausoleum of Mawlay ‘Ali al-Sharif (gardens only) and the Ksar Oulad Abdelhalim, a restored 18th-century kasbah or fortified house, where early ‘Alawi rulers kept their families. After lunch in Erfoud, we shall take the Tinjdad road west to the town of Tineghir at the mouth of the Tudgha Gorge. This road marks the start of the Route of the Kasbahs, so-called because of the many fortified houses which line its edges. (Overnight Tineghir) BLD
Ouarzazate - 3 nights
Day 12: Sunday 15 April, Tineghir – Tudgha Gorge – Ouarzazate
- Tudgha Gorge
- Kasbah of Tineghir: Optional walking tour of souq or visit to a local Berber Carpet/Silverware shop
In the vicinity of Tineghir, the High Atlas meets the Jabal Saghru, a small massif which is part of the Anti-Atlas. The deep gorges of Tudgha and Dades mark the fault line between these two mountain ranges. Both gorges were carved out of the rock by torrents of melt water from the peaks above them. At the head of the gorges waterfalls cascade down. As the gorges widen, small terraces of crops line the watercourse and villages cling to the sides, placed above the line of the torrential meltwaters which can close the gorges in spring. Here the mud-brick is the same brilliant red as the soil, creating a striking contrast to the green crops.
This morning we head up the spectacular Tudgha Gorge, the last 600 metres of which narrow to a flat stony track, in places as little as 10 metres wide, with sheer and smooth rock walls up to 160 metres high on each side. The scenery is spectacular. Local people live in the area and can be seen with their small donkeys or herding camels and goats.
We then return to the 16th-century kasbah of Tineghir where there will be time to either explore the souq or visit a local shop specialising in Berber carpets and silverware. After lunching at the Kasbah Lamrani, we shall return to the Route of the Kasbahs and continue west to Ouarzazate. (Overnight Ouarzazate) BLD
Day 13: Monday 16 April, Ouarzazate – Glawi Kasbahs – Tiffeltout – Ait Ben Haddu – Ouarzazate
- Ait Ben Haddu
- Tawrirt (Taourirt)
- Dinner at La Kasbah des Sables Restaurant, Ouarzazate
Today we explore Ait Ben Haddu, Tiffeltout, and Tawrirt, the fortified villages and fortresses under Glawi control in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Kasbah of Tawrirt is located in Ouarzazate itself while Tiffeltout and Ait Ben Haddou lie outside the town. The beauty of all three, and their dramatic settings, means that they are regularly used as settings for films. The historical significance of these kasbahs resides, however, in their connections to the Glawi tribal chiefs, an example of tribal notables from the periphery making a bid for power over the fertile heartlands of Morocco.
The Glawi, a lineage from the southern High Atlas, usurped power in the Ouarzazate region in the late nineteenth century. In 1893 the Glawi chief, al-Madani al-Glawi, hosted the sultan and was given a cannon in return, which he then used to exert Glawi control over the High Atlas and Ouarzazate. As European penetration destabilised the Moroccan sultanate in the early 20th century, al-Madani and his brother al-Tuhami further extended their power. They became the most powerful regional lords in Morocco, and in return for their loyalty the French granted them almost total control of the south. The fortunes of the Glawa became so closely tied to the French that al-Tuhami al-Glawi opposed Muhammad V’s calls for Moroccan independence and conspired to have him exiled. When Morocco became independent in 1956 and Muhammad V returned in triumph, al-Glawi was forced to beg forgiveness. He died soon afterwards.
Ouarzazate nestles at the southern foot of the High Atlas, on the slim plain which divides the High and Anti-Atlas ranges. In the pre-colonial period, Ouarzazate was no more than a village resting in the shelter of the Glawi Kasbah of Tawrirt. In the late 1920s, however, the French made Ouarzazate into their provincial military headquarters to control the south. Since Moroccan independence it has become a major tourist destination and a centre of the Moroccan film industry.
Today’s program includes dinner at La Kasbah des Sables, mixing traditional Moroccan and nouvelle cuisine in a South Moroccan kasbah. (Overnight Ouarzazate) BLD
Day 14: Tuesday 17 April, Ouarzazate – Agdz – Ouarzazate
Today we travel south across the Anti-Atlas mountain range in order to visit Agdz (Berber, Agdez), a classic caravanserai oasis with ancient mud-brick kasbahs, in the Dra’a valley. The Dra’a valley follows the course of the Wad Dra’a from the Atlas mountains down into the Sahara where it loses itself in the sands, only to rise again and empty into the Atlantic. Like the Wad Ziz which ends at Tafilalt, the Wad Dra’a was an important route in the trans-Saharan caravan trade. Following lunch, we take a stroll through the vast Agdz palmeraie (palm grove), located to the north of the village. (Overnight Ouarzazate) BLD
Marrakesh - 4 nights
Marrakesh is the fourth Moroccan imperial city we visit. It was founded in 1070 by the Almoravid Abu Bakr but constructed and transformed into a capital by Abu Bakr’s cousin and successor Yusuf ibn Tashfin. They chose the site because it was well watered and flat: perfect as a camping ground for the Almoravid army, mostly nomads from the Sahara. Marrakesh began as the perfect springboard for the Almoravid conquest of North Morocco, but it soon became the Almoravid capital by virtue of its location on the trans-Saharan trade route which came up through the Dra’a valley and the Tiz n’Tishka to the Moroccan plains.
After incorporating North Morocco into his empire, Yusuf ibn Tashfin pushed northwards into the Iberian peninsula where the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba had fragmented into small, mutually antagonistic Muslim principalities, ruled by the Muluk al-Tawa’if or Party Kings. The Castilians and Aragonese exploited Muslim differences to push forwards. When Toledo fell in 1085, the Muluk al-Tawa’if asked for Almoravid help against the Christians, and in 1089 Yusuf ibn Tashfin crossed into Spain. Muslim Spain rapidly became part of the Almoravid Empire, much to the chagrin of the Muluk al-Tawa’if.
A period of cultural and artistic exchange ensued, during which the reformist religious orthodoxy of the Almoravids mixed with the sophisticated urban culture of al-Andalus. The Almoravids offered political stability and patronage and received the philosophical and artistic heritage of al-Andalus, enabling Marrakesh to act as the junction between Andalusian and Saharan culture. All that remains of Almoravid Marrakesh is an exquisite qubba, or domed chamber, which may indicate the site of the Almoravid great mosque of Marrakesh.
In 1147 Marrakesh fell to the Almohads, who went on to capture North Morocco, Muslim Spain, and eventually North Africa as far as Tunis. The most famous Almohad ruler, Ya’qub al-Mansur, builder of the Kasbah of the Udaya and Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda of Seville, showed a similar passion for construction in Marrakesh, the third of his capitals. The Almohads had already razed the Almoravid kasbah to the ground and Ya’qub al-Mansur constructed a spectacular Almohad great mosque, sister to the great mosques of Rabat and Seville, on its site. The great mosque and its minaret, which still dominates the skyline of Marrakesh, were completed in 1190. The mosque soon became known as the Kutubiyya, or Booksellers’ Mosque, as a result of the book market which grew up in its shadow.
The minaret of the Kutubiyya is one of the most important extant Almohad buildings as it is the only Almohad minaret which has survived intact. Like the Hassan Tower, the minaret’s façades are decorated with intricate screenwork, punctuated on the upper levels with small windows. The minaret is crowned with a small domed pavilion surmounted with a gold spike holding three gold balls and a crescent, and gives an impression of how the Hassan Tower would have looked. Ya’qub al-Mansur also enclosed the city in a new set of walls punctuated by gateways, of which the most important is the Bab Agnaou, a massive gateway reminiscent of Almohad gateways in Rabat. The Almohads also constructed the suburban Menara Gardens with their huge central tank and olive groves as a place for recreation and physical training of the Almohad religio-military cohorts.
The Almohads were followed by the Marinids, who showed little interest in Marrakesh. They nevertheless commissioned the Bin Yusuf or Yusufiyya Madrasa, which became Marrakesh’s foremost centre of religious learning. Like Morocco’s other Marinid madrasas, the Yusufiyya has a central courtyard leading to a prayer hall flanked by students’ cells. The madrasa was originally decorated in Marinid styles. Its current rich decoration, which incorporates carved marble panels and stepped cedar arches, however, dates to the 16th century, when the Sa’di dynasty renovated the madrasa as part of their project to beautify Marrakesh, which they chose as their capital after 1525.
The Sa’di dynasty added palaces, shrines and mosques to Marrakesh. The greatest Sa’di sultan, Ahmad al-Mansur al-Dhahabi, embellished the Sa’di tomb complex, renovated the Yusufiyya Madrasa and constructed the spectacular Badi’ palace. Much of this work entered into a dialectic with early Andalusian architecture and decoration. The hallmark of Sa’di style was the reinterpretation of Andalusian stuccowork in marble, frequently imported from Italy, and use of carved and stepped cedarwood arches. Little remains of the Badi’ palace which was sacked by Mawlay Isma’il in the 1670s, but its huge forecourt, pools and gardens hint at its former glory.
Mawlay Isma’il ‘s sack of the Badi’ marked the end of Marrakesh’s last period as sole capital of Morocco. The ‘Alawiyyin recognised that Morocco had many imperial cities, and Fes, Meknes, Rabat and Marrakesh all became ‘Alawi capitals. Nonetheless, many ‘Alawi sultans loved Marrakesh and built palaces and gardens here: Mawlay ‘Abd al-Rahman (1822-1859) restored the Agdal gardens, his son, Sidi Muhammad sponsored agricultural projects in the area, and ministers of his grandson, Mawlay al-Hassan (1873-1894), built the Bahia and Dar Si Sa’id palaces.
Day 15: Wednesday 18 April, Ouarzazate – Marrakesh
- Tiz n’Tishka Pass
- Bahia Palace
- Dar Si Sa’id Museum
This morning we cross the High Atlas by way of the Tiz n’Tishka Pass and travel down to Marrakesh, leaving behind the landscapes of the pre-Sahara; pisé kasbahs and qsars; the verdant palm groves of the Ziz and Dra’a valleys, and the rocky drama of the gorges.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we begin our tour of Marrakesh. We shall visit the 19th-century Bahia Palace and Dar Si Sa’id Museum, previously the homes of Ba Ahmad, chief minister to the ‘Alawi sultan, Mawlay al-Hassan, and his brother Si Sa’id. Both houses are examples of vernacular Andalusian-style architecture, and the Dar Si Sa’id is also a museum containing an impressive collection of Berber jewellery, bejewelled daggers and rifles, copper and brass utensils, silk garments and children’s toys. (Overnight Marrakesh) BLD
Day 16: Thursday 19 April, Marrakesh
- Almohad Walls
- Kutubiyya Mosque
- Mawwasin Quarter
- Almoravid Qubba (currently under renovation; exterior only)
- Yusufiyya Madrasa
- Jama’ al-Fana’
- Dinner at La Maison Arabe’s Les Trois Saveurs
We spend the morning in Marrakesh visiting the Almohad walls and the Kutubiyya Mosque. We shall also walk through the adjacent Mawwasin quarter where the Sa’di dynasty constructed their great mosque, and the souqs or markets of Marrakesh. The souqs of Marrakesh are renowned for their size, the quality of craftsmanship and the variety of goods on sale. As in other Moroccan cities, each craft can be found in a particular street or alley: we shall see streets dedicated to gold jewellery; silver; cedar work carvings; silk robes; cloth; leather slippers; copper utensils; ceramics; rugs and carpets. The market area is covered by reed lattices whose dappled shade cools the streets and shelters them from the hot southern sun.
In the afternoon we shall visit the religious heart of old Marrakesh where the Almoravid Qubba, the Yusufiyya Madrasa and Yusufiyya Mosque stand, probably on the site of the original great mosque of Marrakesh.
We shall finish with a walk through the old city to its commercial and recreational heart, the Jama’ al-Fana’, an extraordinary public arena lined with booths selling fresh orange and grapefruit juice, nuts and sweets. In the centre a number of stalls offer snacks and meals of infinite variety, and numerous people provide public services and entertainments. Dentists, preachers, acrobats, black musicians from the Gnawa religious brotherhood, snake charmers and story tellers all mingle in the Jama’ al-Fana’ from dusk late into the night. This square is very dear to the people of Marrakesh, a place to meet, to promenade, and also to reiterate communal identity – when Moroccans were fighting for independence from France, demonstrations in Marrakesh were held at the Jama’ al-Fana’.
In the evening we dine at the La Maison Arabe’s legendary Les Trois Saveurs restaurant which serves French, Moroccan and Asian dishes overlooking the pool patio and gardens. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy all ate here! (Overnight Marrakesh) BLD
Day 17: Friday 20 April, Marrakesh – Essaouira – Marrakesh
- Old Town, Essaouira
- Harbour, Essaouira
- Fortification, Essaouira
Today we drive to Essaouira, the port of Marrakesh, on the Atlantic coast. This port was constructed in the 18th century on the site of a Phoenician settlement. It was built on the orders of the ‘Alawi sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah in the 1760s. The sultan intended the town to become Morocco’s foremost port. He was partially successful: Essaouira became an important centre for Moroccan trade with Europe, but could not fully usurp the position of the northern port of Tangier.
Essaouira was known to Europeans as Mogador, from the Berber name of an earlier village, Amujdul. The town was built on a grid pattern within square outer walls. The houses within are tall and whitewashed with blue painted doors and Hispanic metal grilles over the windows. Essaouira had a very large Jewish mercantile population and this is reflected in the use of the Star of David as a decorative motif above many doorways. The town also has a fascinating harbour and coastal fortifications, put in place to defend the town against European naval attack.
The plains behind Essaouira are the home for the argan tree whose oil was traditionally used for lighting and the thuya tree. Craftsmen in Essaouira are famous for their thuya wood products, marquetry and mother-of-pearl inlay, and we shall see their workshops, nestling below the fortifications. In the afternoon, after time at leisure for lunch at one of the fish restaurants on the seashore, we shall return to Marrakesh. (Overnight Marrakesh) BD
Day 18: Saturday 21 April, Marrakesh
- Badi’ Palace
- Sa’di Necropolis
- Bab Agnaou
- Jardin Majorelle and the new Berber Museum
- Time at leisure
- Farewell Dinner at Dar Moha Restaurant
This morning we visit the Sa’di necropolis, Badi’ palace and the Bab Agnaou. We shall then transfer by coach to the Jardin Marjorelle, where lunch may be obtained at the garden’s delightful Café Bousafsaf which serves both international and Moroccan cuisine.
The Jardin Majorelle was created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962). The new Berber Museum displays an outstanding collection of Berber objects originating from diverse regions of Morocco, from the Rif to the Sahara. The museum is divided into four thematic rooms: the Berbers, Traditional Skills (craftwork, daily objects, festivals or ceremonies), Jewels (an exclusive panorama of Berber jewels from Morocco), and Finery (costumes and weaving, arms, doors, carpets and Berber musical instruments).
After time to explore both the gardens and museum, we return to our hotel where the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. In the evening there will be a special farewell dinner at the Dar Moha restaurant, renown for its Moroccan nouvelle cuisine. (Overnight Marrakesh) BD
Day 19: Sunday 22 April, Depart Marrakesh
- Departure transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends in Marrakesh. Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated flight’ will be transferred to Marrakesh Airport in the early morning. B