The New York Times, December 5, 1884, p.2:|
FEZ AND GETTING THERE.Letter from Fez to the London Standard.
It is just 10 days since I was in Gibraltar, eight since the caravan of which I formed a unit jogged out of Tangier, and barely double the time since I was quietly at work in a London library, so that it is hard to realize the fact that I am at this moment sitting in a Moorish palace, under an orange grove, in the northern capital of Morocco.
When the untraveled Englishman arrives at Gibraltar he feels at once that he is on the borderland between Europe and Africa. He is in the meeting place of nations. Swarthy men from every port of the Mediterranean crowd the main thoroughfare, speaking in half a dozen tongues and chattering in every dialect understood from Andalusia to the Red Sea.
Here, also for the first time, he sees the Moor, whose huge personality has been looming on him ever since he sighted the coast of Spain. No sooner does the tawny African shore face the equally brown fields of Andalusia than the eye is attracted by the square towers placed at brief intervals on prominent points, for the purpose of watching the Moorish invader, whose descents were at one time so dreaded by the Spaniard--by those very Spaniards who are now dreaming of reciprocating the wrongs inflicted on their ancestors, though in reality it is to the Arab builders of the Alhambra, to their learning, their courage, and their energy that Spain owes nearly everything which enables the world to hold its past history in respectful remembrance.
In the great English fortress the traveler sees the countrymen of Othello for the first time, turban, snowy jellaba, bare legs, yellow slippers and all; and certainly, amid the weazen-faced mongrels who are known as "Rock scorpions," and even alongside the smart officers, smart soldiers, and smart ladies who are taking their evening ride in the direction of the "Lines," the Moor holds his own very favorably.
It is in the far interior, at Fez, Mekines, and the city of Morocco, that the Moor, pure and undiluted, can best be seen. In these capitals of the three kingdoms which make up the empire the people live as they lived a thousand years ago, and customs at which civilization turns pale are practiced openly, without the Faithful ever dreaming of the opinions of the Unbelievers who are not there to witness them, or if they were, without power to check these time-honored practices.
Long before a caravan sets out, the journey is the talk of the place, and it must be undertaken very quietly if the beggars and saints of the town--who are very numerous--do not get wind of it and are not at the place of departure, ostensibly to pray for the adventurers' safety, but in reality to benefit by the alms which are expected as the reward of such good offices. Undesirous of such a public farewell, we managed to be astir early enough to get the start of the fraternity in question, so that a solitary dervish mumbling a petition to Allah was the only person to benefit by a few handfuls of "floss"--a Moorish coin, struck as Sydney Smith said about threepenny bits, "to enable Scotchmen to be generous."
Within a few minutes of leaving Tangier every trace of civilization, even of the Tangier kind, disappeared, and from the first day to the last, with the exception of the filthy city of Al Cazar, built for the most part by Christian slaves, the same description might in general terms apply. The country is full of human interest, but one more monotonous in its features it is scarcely possible to imagine.
Rolling brown hills, dotted with scrub palmetto, in one instance by heather, or, when not cultivated, by luxuriant crops of thistles, are everywhere the salient characteristics of this country. Rarely is it possible to fix on any prominent landmark, for until we approach the spurs of the Atlas near Fez the elevations are comparatively low, and the absence of timber renders it hard for the eye to distinguish one square mile of brown hill from the next 20 which may succeed it.
Until well beyond Al Cazar "Saint Houses," whitened sepulchres held in profound veneration, and on no account to be defiled by the presence of the infidel, are numerous, but after that point, until near Fez, the evidences of piety are rare.
The country is very thinly peopled. Every now and then we met droves of laden camels, bound for Tangier, or trains of donkeys laden with reed crates of hens destined for the same market. At places the fowls would be allowed freedom to feed, as if they had been a herd of cattle, and then, after they had picked up sufficient grasshoppers to satisfy their hunger, they would be secured, and the caravan continue its route. But altogether, first and last, we did not come in contact with 5,000 people, taking the villages into the calculation.
The country is scarcely cultivated. Capable of supporting millions, a patch here and there is about all that the people find it necessary to till by their rude appliances, though, after leaving out of account the stony hill tops and other places fit only for grazing, the amount of good clay land and flat river bottoms and black vegetable mold, capable of growing wheat enough to supply all of Europe, is enormous. Any semi-tropical crop can be reared, as night frosts are unknown, and the Winter rains, except in rare years, generally sufficient.
At night we encamped toward dusk, after the mules arrived, and as a rule obtained fowls, milk, indifferent butter, eggs, barley, and sometimes melons and pomegranates at the villages. With one exception the people were reasonably friendly, though a watch was kept at night in case they should be tempted to "requisition" our horses.
After our dinner, taken in the presence of a crowd of brown folk wrapped up in their white "jellabas," or robes, we "turned in" and slept as well as we could, despite the barking of dogs, the braying of donkeys, the neighing of the stallions which we rode, and the weird cries of our muleteers and soldiers as they prayed toward Mecca.
In the morning we were early astir. Again dogs barked, donkeys brayed, and our pious escort, as soon as the hour of prayer arrived, called on "Allah" to help us in the day then dawning, and by 7 o'clock we were on the march.
At one village the people would sell nothing except at extortionate prices, and it not being either our wish or our policy to cause unfriendly relations by using the authority which our letters to the Court might have enabled us to wield, they usually had the best of the argument. At other places the sheik would arrive almost as soon as we were in camp with abundance of barley, milk, honey, "kous-kous" fowls, eggs and cakes, and, with a dignity becoming an Arab gentleman, refuse to accept anything in the shape of payment, except a cup of tea in our tent door, though all the time he was wincing at the infliction of drinking what was not brewed according to the recognized Moorish standard of that beverage.
Twice we were soaked, and were in consequence somewhat delayed in order to get dried. Five days was the time reckoned for making the journey, but it was not until the morning of the eighth that the stream of people whom we met soon after fording the S'boo River, the olive chards, the veiled ladies and soldiers on fiery steeds, warned us that we were approaching some great city. There were, however, still interminable hills to be climbed and descended before from an eminence there burst before us on a plain running east and west and, except at one side, surrounded by mountains, the ancient, holy, and imperial city of Fez.
The New York Times, September 8, 1889, p.13:|
TETUAN AND FEZ VISITEDMOORS OF PURE BLOOD WHO STILL HOPE FOR SPAIN.
DIFFICULTIES OF A JOURNEY INLAND--A FAMOUS SEAT
OF LEARNING--BAD ROADS AND FALLEN GREATNESS.
CAMBRIDGE, England, Aug. 20.--The last chapter of my African journal did not leave space enough... But now it is full time to say something about the interior of the country, which I have already neglected far too long.
Among the excursions usually made by passing tourists it is hardly worth while to reckon Ceuta, Spain's parody upon Gibraltar, which stands almost directly opposite to it on a craggy headland of the Morocco coast, connected with the main shore, like its rival, by a low, sandy isthmus, upon which lies the town itself, while the fortress overlooks it from the rock above. In the first place, the trip is nearly always made by sea, and, in the second, there is nothing on earth to be seen in the place except convicts, while the sole historical association which Ceuta possesses is the fact of Luiz de Camoëns, the Homer of Portugal, having had his right eye knocked out there by a Moorish arrow in one of the hardest battles of 1552.
A much more interesting though somewhat less easy journey is the overland route to Tetuan, a port on the seaboard of Morocco, some distance from Ceuta, and about forty-five miles from Tangier in a tolerably direct line. But forty-five miles mean a good deal beneath an African sun and over such roads (if one may call them so) as are to be found in the Empire of Morocco, and even the most practiced horseman does not often show himself very enthusiastic about sightseeing on the morning after his arrival.
The best plan is to order your horses over night, start with the first gleam of daylight, and get over as many miles as possible before the sun is high in the sky. When the heat of day comes you may camp in some shady spot while emptying the lunch basket which you have brought with you, and start again in the afternoon, reaching Tetuan about nightfall. The town is already so advanced as to contain one hotel, kept by a native Jew, which, although somewhat of the roughest, is by no means to be despised in such a region as Morocco.
Fatiguing though it is, the trip is enjoyable enough for any man in good health who is not afraid of "roughing it" a little. In fact, the journey is now frequently made by ladies likewise, who bear the strain of it as manfully (or rather womanfully) as their brothers or husbands. It is true that the first few miles of the route--where it traverses a flat sandy plain cut up by vagrant brooks and alternating between ankle-deep dust and knee-deep mud--form a rather uncompromising commencement. But when once you are past this and fairly in among the bold, ridgy hills beyond, the picturesqueness of this strange region begins to assert itself in earnest.
On a sudden you find yourself picking your way along a deep, narrow, winding gully, walled in on either side by the high earthen dikes of the Moorish gardens and plantations, which are crested with a formidable hedge of prickly pear, whose thick, fleshy bosses are unpleasantly suggestive of the flat heads of a coil of writhing snakes. No fear of theft here, for the most expert and daring marauder that ever stole an orange would scarcely be "hardened" enough to make his skin proof against the leveled bayonets of this terrible cordon through which (to quote the forcible language of an Eastern proverb) "an elephant could not break nor a serpent wriggle."
From this gully you emerge all at once into a wide stretch of grassy upland, on which are grazing, apparently unattended, (for neither man nor boy is anywhere to be seen,) a herd of the small, shaggy, wild-looking cattle peculiar to Morocco, with a sprinkling of sheep and goats. This smooth, firm turf is just the thing for a good stretching gallop, and away you go accordingly at full speed, rejoicing in the fresh morning breeze and the brightening sunshine.
But it is not long before you have to pull up again, for now there arises in front of you a steep, slippery incline, on the summit of which stands out against the warm, blue sky a small pointed boulder of gray stone. While you are wondering how it came there and what kind of antiquarian monument it can be, the stone suddenly gets up and begins to walk away, and then you perceive that the supposed monument is only a Moor in his gray mantle and pointed hood.
From the crest of this ridge your path descends by a steep zigzag into a charming little green hollow, sheltered by an overhanging cliff and shaded by several tall palm trees. You begin to think that it is the very place for the European resdents from the coast towns who will be pouring out into the country for their Spring holiday not many weeks hence, carrying with them the tents which are to house them on the open hillside all through the warm, bright months of April and May, when the annual rains are over.
But the sharp hiss of a snake that goes wriggling away into the long, rank grass from under your horse's very feet somewhat modifies your admiration of this "eligible Summer resort," and you go forward down the hill at a brisk pace.
The town of Tetuan itself, when you finally reach it, is certainly well worth seeing. In the first place, it is peopled to a great extent by pure-blooded Moors of the old Granada stock, who are a vast improvement upon the mongrel breed of Northwestern Morocco, in whose veins the blood of Arabs, negroes, Berbers, and Spaniards runs promiscuously.
Many of the houses, too, have preserved their ancient nationality as fully as their masters. You find here tesselated pavements, and shady courts echoing the splash of tiny fountains, and fretted niches, and carved gateways, and pillared arcades, and turrets inlaid with glittering mosaic of all the colors of the rainbow--a panorama worthy of the Alhambra itself.
And in truth the thoughts and wishes of these descendants of Spain's ancient conquerors are still fixed as firmly on their lost home upon the banks of the Xenil as when Boabdil El Chico (whose brief and disastrous reign closed the last Moorish dynasty of Granada) looked his last upon it in 1492. I can well remember how, in 1859, two Moors from Tetuan--a father and his only son--came to visit the Alhambra. The youth pressed eagerly through the gateway and stared around him with childish curiosity; but the old man, when he saw the forsaken palace where his forefathers had once sat enthroned as lords of all around them, burst into tears, and turned silently away without ever entering the place to visit which he had come so far.
See also: Spain News - Algeria News|
All of Morocco is one
time zone at GMT, with
no Daylight Savings Time.
In 788, about a century after the Arab conquest of North Africa, successive Moorish dynasties began to rule in Morocco . In the 16th century, the Sa'adi monarchy, particularly under Ahmad AL-MANSUR (1578-1603), repelled foreign invaders and inaugurated a golden age.
In 1860, Spain occupied northern Morocco and ushered in a half century of trade rivalry among European powers that saw Morocco's sovereignty steadily erode; in 1912, the French imposed a protectorate over the country.
A protracted independence struggle with France ended successfully in 1956. The internationalized city of Tangier and most Spanish possessions were turned over to the new country that same year.
Morocco virtually annexed Western Sahara during the late 1970s, but final resolution on the status of the territory remains unresolved.
Gradual political reforms in the 1990s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature, which first met in 1997. Improvements in human rights have occurred and there is a largely free press. Despite the continuing reforms, ultimate authority remains in the hands of the monarch.
CIA World Factbook: Morocco
Area of Morocco:
446,550 sq km
slightly larger than California
Population of Morocco:
July 2008 estimate
Languages of Morocco:
Arabic official, Berber dialects
French for business, gov't, & diplomacy
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