Postcard from Sian in Morocco
Associate Professor Sian Davies-Vollum writes from an around-the-world voyage through the Semester at Sea program.
Casablanca, Morocco—In Morocco, I'd expected bright blue skies, a dry air that took your breath away. Instead, when I arrived in Casablanca, I got rain and overcast skies. Fortunately, the famous Moroccan desert and mystique was only a three-hour train ride away in Marrakech.
Marrakech is almost a victim of its own popularity, which draws tourists from all over and has seen Europeans buy up ancient property in the medina (old town) to be converted into deluxe riads (traditional Moroccan hotels); almost, but not quite. There are still dark, mysterious alleys in the medina that make navigation impossible, even with the best of maps, and ancient wooden doorways that have held their secrets for centuries.
The heart of the old town is the Djemaa el Fna. Here, at sundown every evening, it seems as though all of humanity is here, buying, selling, telling fortunes, charming snakes, telling stories and cooking couscous. The activities of the square are so remarkable that the area has been designated a world heritage site by virtue of its cultural importance.
I was there during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of day-time fasting. The breaking of the fast is a big event. Once the sun has set and the muezzin has called, restaurants start to serve delicious dishes to those who haven't eaten all day, and to those tourists lucky enough to be around to share this with them. Tourists then have to navigate the narrow streets of the medina in the dark, to find the old, wooden doorway to the relative tranquility of their own riad.