Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "There's always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 3

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter



    Many-walled Fez rose up before us out of the plain toward the end of the

    The walls and towers we saw were those of the upper town, Fez Eldjid
    (the New), which lies on the edge of the plateau and hides from view Old
    Fez tumbling down below it into the ravine of the Oued Fez. Thus
    approached, the city presents to view only a long line of ramparts and
    fortresses, merging into the wide, tawny plain and framed in barren
    mountains. Not a house is visible outside the walls, except, at a
    respectful distance, the few unobtrusive buildings of the European
    colony, and not a village breaks the desolation of the landscape.

    As we drew nearer, the walls towered close over us, and skirting them we
    came to a bare space outside a great horseshoe gate, and found
    ourselves suddenly in the foreground of a picture by Carpaccio or
    Bellini. Where else had one seen just those rows of white-turbaned
    majestic figures, squatting in the dust under lofty walls, all the pale
    faces ringed in curling beards turned to the story-teller in the centre
    of the group? Transform the story-teller into a rapt young Venetian, and
    you have the audience and the foreground of Carpaccio's "Preaching of
    St. Stephen," even to the camels craning inquisitive necks above the
    turbans. Every step of the way in North Africa corroborates the close
    observation of the early travellers, whether painters or narrators, and
    shows the unchanged character of the Oriental life that the Venetians
    pictured, and Leo Africanus and Windus and Charles Cochelet described.

    There was time, before sunset, to go up to the hill from which the
    ruined tombs of the Merinid Sultans look down over the city they made
    glorious. After the savage massacre of foreign residents in 1912 the
    French encircled the heights commanding Fez with one of their admirably
    engineered military roads, and in a few minutes our motor had climbed
    to the point from which the great dynasty of artist-Sultans dreamed of
    looking down forever on their capital.

    Nothing endures in Islam, except what human inertia has left standing
    and its own solidity has preserved from the elements. Or rather, nothing
    remains intact, and nothing wholly perishes, but the architecture, like
    all else, lingers on half-ruined and half-unchanged. The Merinid tombs,
    however, are only hollow shells and broken walls, grown part of the
    brown cliff they cling to. No one thinks of them save as an added touch
    of picturesqueness where all is picturesque: they survive as the best
    point from which to look down at Fez.

    There it lies, outspread in golden light, roofs, terraces, and towers
    sliding over the plain's edge in a rush dammed here and there by
    barriers of cypress and ilex, but growing more precipitous as the ravine
    of the Fez narrows downward with the fall of the river. It is as though
    some powerful enchanter, after decreeing that the city should be hurled
    into the depths, had been moved by its beauty, and with a wave of his
    wand held it suspended above destruction.

    At first the eye takes in only this impression of a great city over a
    green abyss, then the complex scene begins to define itself. All around
    are the outer lines of ramparts, walls beyond walls, their crenellations
    climbing the heights, their angle fortresses dominating the precipices.
    Almost on a level with us lies the upper city, the aristocratic Fez
    Eldjid of painted palaces and gardens, then, as the houses close in and
    descend more abruptly, terraces, minarets, domes, and long reed-thatched
    roofs of the bazaars, all gather around the green-tiled tomb of Moulay
    Idriss and the tower of the Almohad mosque of El Kairouiyin, which
    adjoin each other in the depths of Fez, and form its central sanctuary.

    From the Merinid hill we had noticed a long façade among the cypresses
    and fruit-trees of Eldjid. This was Bou-Jeloud, the old summer-palace of
    the Sultan's harem, now the house of the Resident-General, where
    lodgings had been prepared for us.

    The road descended again, crossing the Oued Fez by one of the fine old
    single-arch bridges that mark the architectural link between Morocco
    and Spain. We skirted high walls, wayside pools, and dripping
    mill-wheels; then one of the city gates engulfed us, and we were in the
    waste spaces of intramural Fez, formerly the lines of defense of a rich
    and perpetually menaced city, now chiefly used for refuse-heaps,
    open-air fondaks, and dreaming-places for rows of Lazaruses rolled in
    their cerements in the dust.

    Through another gate and more walls we came to an arch in the inner line
    of defense. Beyond that, the motor paused before a green door, where a
    Cadi in a silken caftan received us. Across squares of orange-trees
    divided by running water we were led to an arcaded apartment hung with
    Moroccan embroideries and lined with wide divans; the hall of reception
    of the Resident-General. Through its arches were other tiled distances,
    fountains, arcades, beyond, in greener depths, the bright blossoms of a
    flower-garden. Such was our first sight of Bou-Jeloud, once the
    summer-palace of the wives of Moulay Hafid.

    Upstairs, from a room walled and ceiled with cedar, and decorated with
    the bold rose-pink embroideries of Salé and the intricate old
    needlework of Fez, I looked out over the upper city toward the mauve and
    tawny mountains.

    Just below the window the flat roofs of a group of little houses
    descended like the steps of an irregular staircase. Between them rose a
    few cypresses and a green minaret, out of the court of one house an
    ancient fig-tree thrust its twisted arms. The sun had set, and one after
    another bright figures appeared on the roofs. The children came first,
    hung with silver amulets and amber beads, and pursued by negresses in
    striped turbans, who bustled up with rugs and matting, then the mothers
    followed more indolently, released from their ashy mufflings and
    showing, under their light veils, long earrings from the _Mellah_[A] and
    caftans of pale green or peach color.

    [Footnote A: The Ghetto in African towns. All the jewellers in Morocco
    are Jews.]

    The houses were humble ones, such as grow up in the cracks of a wealthy
    quarter, and their inhabitants doubtless small folk, but in the
    enchanted African twilight the terraces blossomed like gardens, and when
    the moon rose and the muezzin called from the minaret, the domestic
    squabbles and the shrill cries from roof to roof became part of a story
    in Bagdad, overheard a thousand years ago by that arch-detective



    It is usual to speak of Fez as very old, and the term seems justified
    when one remembers that the palace of Bou-Jeloud stands on the site of
    an Almoravid Kasbah of the eleventh century, that when that Kasbah was
    erected Fez Elbali had already existed for three hundred years, that El
    Kairouiyin is the contemporary of Sant' Ambrogio of Milan, and that the
    original mosque of Moulay Idriss II was built over his grave in the
    eighth century.

    Fez is, in fact, the oldest city in Morocco without a Phenician or a
    Roman past, and has preserved more traces than any other of its
    architectural flowering-time, yet it would be truer to say of it, as of
    all Moroccan cities, that it has no age, since its seemingly immutable
    shape is forever crumbling and being renewed on the old lines.

    When we rode forth the next day to visit some of the palaces of Eldjid
    our pink-saddled mules carried us at once out of the bounds of time. How
    associate anything so precise and Occidental as years or centuries with
    these visions of frail splendor seen through cypresses and roses? The
    Cadis in their multiple muslins, who received us in secret doorways and
    led us by many passages into the sudden wonder of gardens and fountains;
    the bright-earringed negresses peering down from painted balconies, the
    pilgrims and clients dozing in the sun against hot walls, the deserted
    halls with plaster lace-work and gold pendentives in tiled niches; the
    Venetian chandeliers and tawdry rococo beds, the terraces from which
    pigeons whirled up in a white cloud while we walked on a carpet of their
    feathers--were all these the ghosts of vanished state, or the actual
    setting of the life of some rich merchant with "business connections" in
    Liverpool and Lyons, or some government official at that very moment
    speeding to Meknez or Casablanca in his sixty h.p. motor?

    We visited old palaces and new, inhabited and abandoned, and over all
    lay the same fine dust of oblivion, like the silvery mould on an
    overripe fruit. Overripeness is indeed the characteristic of this rich
    and stagnant civilization. Buildings, people, customs, seem all about to
    crumble and fall of their own weight: the present is a perpetually
    prolonged past. To touch the past with one's hands is realized only in
    dreams, and in Morocco the dream-feeling envelopes one at every step.
    One trembles continually lest the "Person from Porlock" should step in.

    He is undoubtedly on the way, but Fez had not heard of him when we rode
    out that morning. Fez Eldjid, the "New Fez" of palaces and government
    buildings, was founded in the fourteenth century by the Merinid princes,
    and probably looks much as it did then. The palaces in their overgrown
    gardens, with pale-green trellises dividing the rose-beds from the
    blue-and-white tiled paths, and fountains in fluted basins of Italian
    marble, all had the same drowsy charm, yet the oldest were built not
    more than a century or two ago, others within the last fifty years; and
    at Marrakech, later in our journey, we were to visit a sumptuous
    dwelling where plaster-cutters and ceramists from Fez were actually
    repeating with wonderful skill and spontaneity, the old ornamentation
    of which the threads run back to Rome and Damascus.

    Of really old private dwellings, palaces or rich men's houses, there are
    surprisingly few in Morocco. It is hard to guess the age of some of the
    featureless houses propping each other's flanks in old Fez or old Salé,
    but people rich enough to rebuild have always done so, and the passion
    for building seems allied, in this country of inconsequences, to the
    supine indifference that lets existing constructions crumble back to
    clay. "Dust to dust" should have been the motto of the Moroccan

    Fez possesses one old secular building, a fine fondak of the fifteenth
    century, but in Morocco, as a rule, only mosques and the tombs of saints
    are preserved--none too carefully--and even the strong stone buildings
    of the Almohads have been allowed to fall to ruin, as at Chella and
    Rabat. This indifference to the completed object--which is like a kind
    of collective exaggeration of the artist's indifference to his completed
    work--has resulted in the total disappearance of the furniture and works
    of art which must have filled the beautiful buildings of the Merinid
    period. Neither pottery nor brasswork nor enamels nor fine hangings
    survive; there is no parallel in Morocco to the textiles of Syria, the
    potteries of Persia, the Byzantine ivories or enamels. It has been said
    that the Moroccan is always a nomad, who lives in his house as if it
    were a tent; but this is not a conclusive answer to any one who knows
    the passion of the modern Moroccan for European furniture. When one
    reads the list of the treasures contained in the palaces of the
    mediaeval Sultans of Egypt one feels sure that, if artists were lacking
    in Morocco, the princes and merchants who brought skilled craftsmen
    across the desert to build their cities must also have imported
    treasures to adorn them. Yet, as far as is known, the famous
    fourteenth-century bronze chandelier of Tetuan, and the fine old ritual
    furniture reported to be contained in certain mosques, are the only
    important works of art in Morocco later in date than the Roman _sloughi_
    of Volubilis.



    The distances in Fez are so great and the streets so narrow, and in some
    quarters so crowded, that all but saints or humble folk go about on

    In the afternoon, accordingly, the pink mules came again, and we set out
    for the long tunnel-like street that leads down the hill to the Fez

    "Look out--'ware heads!" our leader would call back at every turn, as
    our way shrank to a black passage under a house bestriding the street,
    or a caravan of donkeys laden with obstructive reeds or branches of
    dates made the passers-by flatten themselves against the walls.

    On each side of the street the houses hung over us like fortresses,
    leaning across the narrow strip of blue and throwing out great beams and
    buttresses to prop each other's bulging sides. Windows there were none
    on the lower floors; only here and there an iron-barred slit stuffed
    with rags and immemorial filth, from which a lean cat would suddenly
    spring out, and scuttle off under an archway like a witch's familiar.

    Some of these descending lanes were packed with people, others as
    deserted as a cemetery; and it was strange to pass from the thronged
    streets leading to the bazaars to the profound and secretive silence of
    a quarter of well-to-do dwelling-houses, where only a few veiled women
    attended by negro slaves moved noiselessly over the clean cobblestones,
    and the sound of fountains and runnels came from hidden courtyards and
    over garden-walls.

    This noise of water is as characteristic of Fez as of Damascus. The Oued
    Fez rushes through the heart of the town, bridged, canalized, built
    over, and ever and again bursting out into tumultuous falls and pools
    shadowed with foliage. The central artery of the city is not a street
    but a waterfall, and tales are told of the dark uses to which, even now,
    the underground currents are put by some of the dwellers behind the
    blank walls and scented gardens of those highly respectable streets.

    The crowd in Oriental cities is made up of many elements, and in Morocco
    Turks, Jews and infidels, Berbers of the mountains, fanatics of the
    confraternities, Soudanese blacks and haggard Blue Men of the Souss,
    jostle the merchants and government officials with that democratic
    familiarity which goes side by side with abject servility in this land
    of perpetual contradictions. But Fez is above all the city of wealth and
    learning, of universities and counting-houses, and the merchant and the
    _oulama_[A]--the sedentary and luxurious types--prevail.

    [Footnote A: Learned man, doctor of the university.]

    The slippered Fazi merchant, wrapped in white muslins and securely
    mounted on a broad velvet saddle-cloth anchored to the back of a broad
    mule, is as unlike the Arab horseman of the desert as Mr. Tracy Tupman
    was unlike the Musketeers of Dumas. Ease, music, money-making, the
    affairs of his harem and the bringing-up of his children, are his chief
    interests, and his plump pale face with long-lashed hazel eyes, his
    curling beard and fat womanish hands, recall the portly potentates of
    Hindu miniatures, dreaming among houris beside lotus-tanks.

    These personages, when they ride abroad, are preceded by a swarthy
    footman, who keeps his hand on the embroidered bridle; and the
    government officers and dignitaries of the _Makhzen_[A] are usually
    escorted by several mounted officers of their household, with a servant
    to each mule. The cry of the runners scatters the crowd, and even the
    panniered donkeys and perpetually astonished camels somehow contrive to
    become two-dimensional while the white procession goes by.

    [Footnote A: The Sultan's government.]

    Then the populace closes in again, so quickly and densely that it seems
    impossible it could ever have been parted, and negro water-carriers,
    muffled women, beggars streaming with sores, sinewy and greasy "saints,"
    Soudanese sorcerers hung with amulets made of sardine-boxes and
    hares'-feet, long-lashed boys of the Chleuh in clean embroidered
    caftans, Jews in black robes and skull-caps, university students
    carrying their prayer-carpets, bangled and spangled black women,
    scrofulous children with gazelle eyes and mangy skulls, and blind men
    tapping along with linked arms and howling out verses of the Koran,
    surge together in a mass drawn by irresistible suction to the point
    where the bazaars converge about the mosques of Moulay Idriss and El

    Seen from a terrace of the upper town, the long thatched roofing of El
    Attarine, the central bazaar of Fez, promises fantastic revelations of
    native life; but the dun-colored crowds moving through its checkered
    twilight, the lack of carved shop-fronts and gaily adorned
    coffee-houses, and the absence of the painted coffers and vivid
    embroideries of Tunis, remind one that Morocco is a melancholy country,
    and Fez a profoundly melancholy city.

    _Dust and ashes, dust and ashes_, echoes from the gray walls, the
    mouldering thatch of the _souks_, the long lamentable song of the blind
    beggars sitting in rows under the feet of the camels and asses. No young
    men stroll through the bazaar in bright caftans, with roses and jasmine
    behind their ears, no pedlars offer lemonade and sweetmeats and
    golden-fritters, no flower-sellers pursue one with tight bunches of
    orange-blossom and little pink roses. The well-to-do ride by in white,
    and the rest of the population goes mournfully in earth-color.

    But gradually one falls under the spell of another influence--the
    influence of the Atlas and the desert. Unknown Africa seems much nearer
    to Morocco than to the white towns of Tunis and the smiling oases of
    South Algeria. One feels the nearness of Marrakech at Fez, and at
    Marrakech that of Timbuctoo.

    Fez is sombre, and the bazaars clustered about its holiest sanctuaries
    form its most sombre quarter. Dusk falls there early, and oil-lanterns
    twinkle in the merchants' niches while the clear African daylight still
    lies on the gardens of upper Fez. This twilight adds to the mystery of
    the _souks_, making them, in spite of profane noise and crowding and
    filth, an impressive approach to the sacred places.

    Until a year or two ago, the precincts around Moulay Idriss and El
    Kairouiyin were _horm_, that is, cut off from the unbeliever. Heavy
    beams of wood barred the end of each _souk_, shutting off the
    sanctuaries, and the Christian could only conjecture what lay beyond.
    Now he knows in part; for, though the beams have not been lowered, all
    comers may pass under them to the lanes about the mosques, and even
    pause a moment in their open doorways. Farther one may not go, for the
    shrines of Morocco are still closed to unbelievers; but whoever knows
    Cordova, or has stood under the arches of the Great Mosque of Kairouan,
    can reconstruct something of the hidden beauties of its namesake, the
    "Mosque Kairouan" of western Africa.

    Once under the bars, the richness of the old Moorish Fez presses upon
    one with unexpected beauty. Here is the graceful tiled fountain of
    Nedjarine, glittering with the unapproachable blues and greens of
    ceramic mosaics, near it, the courtyard of the Fondak Nedjarine, oldest
    and stateliest of Moroccan inns, with triple galleries of sculptured
    cedar rising above arcades of stone. A little farther on lights and
    incense draw one to a threshold where it is well not to linger unduly.
    Under a deep archway, between booths where gay votive candles are sold,
    the glimmer of hanging lamps falls on patches of gilding and mosaic, and
    on veiled women prostrating themselves before an invisible shrine--for
    this is the vestibule of the mosque of Moulay Idriss, where, on certain
    days of the week, women are admitted to pray.

    Moulay Idriss was not built over the grave of the Fatimite prophet,
    first of the name, whose bones lie in the Zerhoun above his sacred town.
    The mosque of Fez grew up around the tomb of his posthumous son, Moulay
    Idriss II, who, descending from the hills, fell upon a camp of Berbers
    on an affluent of the Sebou, and there laid the foundations of Fez, and
    of the Moroccan Empire.

    Of the original monument it is said that little remains. The
    _zaouia_[A] which encloses it dates from the reign of Moulay-Ismaël, the
    seventeenth-century Sultan of Meknez, and the mosque itself, and the
    green minaret shooting up from the very centre of old Fez, were not
    built until 1820. But a rich surface of age has already formed on all
    these disparate buildings, and the over-gorgeous details of the shrines
    and fountains set in their outer walls are blended into harmony by a
    film of incense-smoke, and the grease of countless venerating lips and

    [Footnote A: Moslem monastery.]

    Featureless walls of mean houses close in again at the next turn; but a
    few steps farther another archway reveals another secret scene. This
    time it is a corner of the jealously guarded court of ablutions in the
    great mosque El Kairouiyin, with the twin green-roofed pavilions that
    are so like those of the Alhambra.

    Those who have walked around the outer walls of the mosque of the other
    Kairouan, and recall the successive doors opening into the forecourt and
    into the mosque itself, will be able to guess at the plan of the church
    of Fez. The great Almohad sanctuary of Tunisia is singularly free from
    parasitic buildings, and may be approached as easily as that of Cordova,
    but the approaches of El Kairouiyin are so built up that one never knows
    at which turn of the labyrinth one may catch sight of its court of
    fountains, or peep down the endless colonnades of which the Arabs say:
    "The man who should try to count the columns of Kairouiyin would go

    Marble floors, heavy whitewashed piers, prostrate figures in the
    penumbra, rows of yellow slippers outside in the sunlight--out of such
    glimpses one must reconstruct a vision of the long vistas of arches, the
    blues and golds of the _mirhab_,[A] the lustre of bronze chandeliers,
    and the ivory inlaying of the twelfth-century _minbar_[B] of ebony and

    [Footnote A: Niche in the sanctuary of mosques.]

    [Footnote B: Movable pulpit.]

    No Christian footstep has yet profaned Kairouiyin, but fairly definite
    information as to its plan has been gleaned by students of Moroccan art.
    The number of its "countless" columns has been counted, and it is known
    that, to the right of the _mirhab_, carved cedar doors open into a
    mortuary chapel called "the mosque of the dead"--and also that in this
    chapel, on Fridays, old books and precious manuscripts are sold by

    This odd association of uses recalls the fact that Kairouiyin is not
    only a church but a library, the University of Fez as well as its
    cathedral. The beautiful Medersas with which the Merinids adorned the
    city are simply the lodging-houses of the students, the classes are all
    held in the courts and galleries adjoining the mosque.

    El Kairouiyin was originally an oratory built in the ninth century by
    Fatmah, whose father had migrated from Kairouan to Fez. Later it was
    enlarged, and its cupola was surmounted by the talismans which protect
    sacred edifices against rats, scorpions and serpents, but in spite of
    these precautions all animal life was not successfully exorcised from
    it. In the twelfth century, when the great gate Ech Chemmâin was
    building, a well was discovered under its foundations. The mouth of the
    well was obstructed by an immense tortoise, but when the workmen
    attempted to take the tortoise out she said: "Burn me rather than take
    me away from here." They respected her wishes and built her into the
    foundations; and since then women who suffer from the back-ache have
    only to come and sit on the bench above the well to be cured.

    The actual mosque, or "praying-hall," is said to be formed of a
    rectangle or double cube of 90 metres by 45, and this vast space is
    equally divided by rows of horseshoe arches resting on whitewashed piers
    on which the lower part is swathed in finely patterned matting from
    Salé. Fifteen monumental doorways lead into the mosque. Their doors are
    of cedar, heavily barred and ornamented with wrought iron, and one of
    them bears the name of the artisan, and the date 531 of the Hegira (the
    first half of the twelfth century). The mosque also contains the two
    halls of audience of the Cadi, of which one has a graceful exterior
    façade with coupled lights under horseshoe arches; the library, whose
    20,000 volumes are reported to have dwindled to about a thousand, the
    chapel where the Masters of the Koran recite the sacred text in
    fulfilment of pious bequests; the "museum" in the upper part of the
    minaret, wherein a remarkable collection of ancient astronomical
    instruments is said to be preserved; and the _mestonda_, or raised hall
    above the court, where women come to pray.

    But the crown of El Kairouiyin is the Merinid court of ablutions. This
    inaccessible wonder lies close under the Medersa Attarine, one of the
    oldest and most beautiful collegiate buildings of Fez, and through the
    kindness of the Director of Fine Arts, who was with us, we were taken up
    to the roof of the Medersa and allowed to look down into the enclosure.

    It is so closely guarded from below that from our secret coign of
    vantage we seemed to be looking down into the heart of forbidden things.
    Spacious and serene the great tiled cloister lay beneath us, water
    spilling over from a central basin of marble with a cool sound to which
    lesser fountains made answer from under the pyramidal green roofs of the
    twin pavilions. It was near the prayer-hour, and worshippers were
    flocking in, laying off their shoes and burnouses, washing their faces
    at the fountains and their feet in the central tank, or stretching
    themselves out in the shadow of the enclosing arcade.

    This, then, was the famous court "so cool in the great heats that
    seated by thy beautiful jet of water I feel the perfection of bliss"--as
    the learned doctor Abou Abd Allah el Maghili sang of it, the court in
    which the students gather from the adjoining halls after having
    committed to memory the principles of grammar in prose and verse, the
    "science of the reading of the Koran," the invention, exposition and
    ornaments of style, law, medicine, theology, metaphysics and astronomy,
    as well as the talismanic numbers, and the art of ascertaining by
    calculation the influences of the angels, the spirits and the heavenly
    bodies, "the names of the victor and the vanquished, and of the desired
    object and the person who desires it."

    Such is the twentieth-century curriculum of the University of Fez.
    Repetition is the rule of Arab education as it is of Arab ornament. The
    teaching of the University is based entirely on the mediaeval principle
    of mnemonics, and as there are no examinations, no degrees, no limits to
    the duration of any given course, nor is any disgrace attached to
    slowness in learning, it is not surprising that many students, coming as
    youths, linger by the fountain of Kairouiyin till their hair is gray.
    One well-known _oulama_ has lately finished his studies after
    twenty-seven years at the University, and is justly proud of the length
    of his stay. The life of the scholar is easy, the way of knowledge is
    long, the contrast exquisite between the foul lanes and noisy bazaars
    outside and this cool heaven of learning. No wonder the students of
    Kairouiyin say with the tortoise, "Burn me rather than take me away."



    Outside the sacred precincts of Moulay Idriss and Kairouiyin, on the
    other side of the Oued Fez, lies El Andalous, the mosque which the
    Andalusian Moors built when they settled in Fez in the ninth century.

    It stands apart from the bazaars, on higher ground, and though it is not
    _horm_ we found it less easy to see than the more famous mosques, since
    the Christian loiterer in its doorways is more quickly noticed. The Fazi
    are not yet used to seeing unbelievers near their sacred places. It is
    only in the tumult and confusion of the _souks_ that one can linger on
    the edge of the inner mysteries without becoming aware of attracting
    sullen looks, and my only impression of El Andalous is of a magnificent
    Almohad door and the rich blur of an interior in which there was no time
    to single out the details.

    Turning from its forbidden and forbidding threshold we rode on through a
    poor quarter which leads to the great gate of Bab F'touh. Beyond the
    gate rises a dusty rocky slope extending to the outer walls--one of
    those grim intramural deserts that girdle Fez with desolation. This one
    is strewn with gravestones, not enclosed, but, as in most Moroccan
    cemeteries, simply cropping up like nettles between the rocks and out of
    the flaming dust. Here and there among the slabs rises a well-curb or a
    crumbling _koubba_. A solitary palm shoots up beside one of the shrines.
    And between the crowded graves the caravan trail crosses from the outer
    to the inner gate, and perpetual lines of camels and donkeys trample the
    dead a little deeper into the dusty earth.

    This Bab F'touh cemetery is also a kind of fondak. Poor caravans camp
    there under the walls in a mire of offal and chicken-feathers and
    stripped date-branches prowled through by wolfish dogs and buzzed over
    by fat blue flies. Camel-drivers squat beside iron kettles over heaps of
    embers, sorcerers from the Sahara offer their amulets to negro women,
    peddlers with portable wooden booths sell greasy cakes that look as if
    they had been made out of the garbage of the caravans, and in and out
    among the unknown dead and sleeping saints circulates the squalid
    indifferent life of the living poor.

    A walled lane leads down from Bab F'touh to a lower slope, where the
    Fazi potters have their baking-kilns. Under a series of grassy terraces
    overgrown with olives we saw the archaic ovens and dripping wheels which
    produce the earthenware sold in the _souks_. It is a primitive and
    homely ware, still fine in shape, though dull in color and monotonous in
    pattern; and stacked on the red earth under the olives, the rows of jars
    and cups, in their unglazed and unpainted state, showed their classical
    descent more plainly than after they have been decorated.

    This green quiet hollow, where turbaned figures were moving attentively
    among the primitive ovens, so near to the region of flies and offal we
    had just left, woke an old phrase in our memories, and as our mules
    stumbled back over the graves of Bab F'touh we understood the grim
    meaning of the words: "They carried him out and buried him in the
    Potters' Field."



    Fez, for two centuries and more, was in a double sense the capital of
    Morocco: the centre of its trade as well as of its culture.

    Culture, in fact, came to northwest Africa chiefly through the Merinid
    princes. The Almohads had erected great monuments from Rabat to
    Marrakech, and had fortified Fez, but their "mighty wasteful empire"
    fell apart like those that had preceded it. Stability had to come from
    the west; it was not till the Arabs had learned it through the Moors
    that Morocco produced a dynasty strong and enlightened enough to carry
    out the dream of its founders.

    Whichever way the discussion sways as to the priority of eastern or
    western influences on Moroccan art--whether it came to her from Syria,
    and was thence passed on to Spain, or was first formed in Spain, and
    afterward modified by the Moroccan imagination--there can at least be no
    doubt that Fazi art and culture, in their prime, are partly the
    reflection of European civilization.

    Fugitives from Spain came to the new city when Moulay Idriss founded it.
    One part of the town was given to them, and the river divided the Elbali
    of the Almohads into the two quarters of Kairouiyin and Andalous, which
    still retain their old names. But the full intellectual and artistic
    flowering of Fez was delayed till the thirteenth and fourteenth
    centuries. It seems as though the seeds of the new springtime of art,
    blown across the sea from reawakening Europe, had at last given the
    weltering tribes of the desert the force to create their own type of

    Nine Medersas sprang up in Fez, six of them built by the princes who
    were also creating the exquisite collegiate buildings of Salé, Rabat and
    old Meknez, and the enchanting mosque and minaret of Chella. The power
    of these rulers also was in perpetual flux, they were always at war with
    the Sultans of Tlemcen, the Christians of Spain, the princes of
    northern Algeria and Tunis. But during the fourteenth century they
    established a rule wide and firm enough to permit of the great outburst
    of art and learning which produced the Medersas of Fez.

    Until a year or two ago these collegiate buildings were as inaccessible
    as the mosques, but now that the French government has undertaken their
    restoration strangers may visit them under the guidance of the Fine Arts

    All are built on the same plan, the plan of Salé and Rabat, which (as M.
    Tranchant de Lunel[A] has pointed out) became, with slight
    modifications, that of the rich private houses of Morocco. But
    interesting as they are in plan and the application of ornament, their
    main beauty lies in their details, in the union of chiselled plaster
    with the delicate mosaic work of niches and revêtements, the web-like
    arabesques of the upper walls and the bold, almost Gothic sculpture of
    the cedar architraves and corbels supporting them. And when all these
    details are enumerated, and also the fretted panels of cedar, the bronze
    doors with their great shield-like bosses, and the honeycombings and
    rufflings of the gilded ceilings, there still remains the general tinge
    of dry disintegration, as though all were perishing of a desert
    fever--that, and the final wonder of seeing before one, in such a
    setting, the continuance of the very life that went on there when the
    tiles were set and the gold was new on the ceilings.

    [Footnote A: In _France-Maroc, No._ 1.]

    For these tottering Medersas, already in the hands of the restorers, are
    still inhabited. As long as the stairway holds and the balcony has not
    rotted from its corbels, the students of the University see no reason
    for abandoning their lodgings above the cool fountain and the house of
    prayer. The strange men giving incomprehensible orders for unnecessary
    repairs need not disturb their meditations, and when the hammering grows
    too loud the _oulamas_ have only to pass through the silk market or the
    _souk_ of the embroiderers to the mosque of Kairouiyin, and go on
    weaving the pattern of their dreams by the fountain of perfect bliss.

    One reads of the bazaars of Fez that they have been for centuries the
    central market of the country. Here are to be found not only the silks
    and pottery, the Jewish goldsmiths' work, the arms and embroidered
    saddlery which the city itself produces, but "morocco" from Marrakech,
    rugs, tent-hangings and matting from Rabat and Salé, grain baskets from
    Moulay Idriss, daggers from the Souss, and whatever European wares the
    native markets consume. One looks, on the plan of Fez, at the space
    covered by the bazaars, one breasts the swarms that pour through them
    from dawn to dusk--and one remains perplexed, disappointed. They are
    less "Oriental" than one had expected, if "Oriental" means color and

    Sometimes, on occasion, it does mean that: as, for instance, when a
    procession passes bearing the gifts for a Jewish wedding. The gray crowd
    makes way for a group of musicians in brilliant caftans, and following
    them comes a long file of women with uncovered faces and bejewelled
    necks, balancing on their heads the dishes the guests have sent to the
    feast--_kouskous_, sweet creams and syrups, "gazelles' horns" of sugar
    and almonds--in delicately woven baskets, each covered with several
    squares of bright gauze edged with gold. Then one remembers the
    marketing of the Lady of "The Three Calendars," and Fez again becomes
    the Bagdad of Al Raschid.

    But when no exceptional events, processions, ceremonies and the like
    brighten the underworld of the _souks_, their look is uniformly
    melancholy. The gay bazaars, the gaily-painted houses, the flowers and
    flute-playing of North Africa, are found in her Mediterranean ports, in
    contact with European influences. The farther west she extends, the more
    she becomes self-contained, sombre, uninfluenced, a gloomy fanatic with
    her back to the walls of the Atlantic and the Atlas. Color and laughter
    lie mostly along the trade-routes, where the peoples of the world come
    and go in curiosity and rivalry. This ashen crowd swarming gloomily
    through the dark tunnels represents the real Moghreb that is close to
    the wild tribes of the "hinterland" and the grim feudal fortresses of
    the Atlas. How close, one has only to go out to Sefrou on a market-day
    to see.

    Sefrou is a military outpost in an oasis under the Atlas, about forty
    miles south of Fez. To most people the word "oasis" evokes palms and
    sand; but though Morocco possesses many oases it has no pure sand and
    few palms. I remember it as a considerable event when I discovered one
    from my lofty window at Bou-Jeloud.

    The _bled_ is made of very different stuff from the sand-ocean of the
    Sahara. The light plays few tricks with it. Its monotony is wearisome
    rather than impressive, and the fact that it is seldom without some form
    of dwarfish vegetation makes the transition less startling when the
    alluvial green is finally reached. One had always half expected it, and
    it does not spring at a djinn's wave out of sterile gold.

    But the fact brings its own compensations. Moroccan oases differ one
    from another far more than those of South Algeria and Tunisia. Some have
    no palms, others but a few, others are real palm-oases, though even in
    the south (at least on the hither side of the great Atlas) none spreads
    out a dense uniform roofing of metal-blue fronds like the date-oases of
    Biskra or Tozeur. As for Sefrou, which Foucauld called the most
    beautiful oasis of Morocco, it is simply an extremely fertile valley
    with vineyards and orchards stretching up to a fine background of
    mountains. But the fact that it lies just below the Atlas makes it an
    important market-place and centre of caravans.

    Though so near Fez it is still almost on the disputed border between the
    loyal and the "unsubmissive" tribes, those that are _Blad-Makhzen_ (of
    the Sultan's government) and those that are against it. Until recently,
    therefore, it has been inaccessible to visitors, and even now a strongly
    fortified French post dominates the height above the town. Looking down
    from the fort, one distinguishes, through masses of many-tinted green, a
    suburb of Arab houses in gardens, and below, on the river, Sefrou
    itself, a stout little walled town with angle-towers defiantly thrust
    forth toward the Atlas. It is just outside these walls that the market
    is held.

    It was swarming with hill-people the day we were there, and strange was
    the contrast between the crowd inside the circle of picketed horses and
    the white-robed cockneys from Rabat who fill the market-place of Salé.
    Here at last we were in touch with un-Arab Morocco, with Berbers of the
    _bled_ and the hills, whose women know no veils and no seclusion, and
    who, under a thin surface of Mahometanism, preserve their old stone and
    animal worship, and all the gross fetichistic beliefs from which
    Mahomet dreamed of freeing Africa.

    The men were lean and weather-bitten, some with negroid lips, others
    with beaked noses and gaunt cheek-bones, all muscular and
    fierce-looking. Some were wrapped in the black cloaks worn by the Blue
    Men of the Sahara,[A] with a great orange sun embroidered on the back,
    some tunicked like the Egyptian fellah, under a rough striped outer
    garment trimmed with bright tufts and tassels of wool. The men of the
    Rif had a braided lock on the shoulder, those of the Atlas a ringlet
    over each ear, and brown woollen scarfs wound round their temples,
    leaving the shaven crown bare.

    [Footnote A: So called because of the indigo dye of their tunics, which
    leaves a permanent stain on their bodies.]

    The women, squatting among their kids and poultry and cheeses, glanced
    at us with brilliant hennaed eyes and smiles that lifted their short
    upper lips maliciously. Their thin faces were painted in stripes and
    patterns of indigo. Silver necklets covered their throats, long earrings
    dangled under the wool-embroidered kerchiefs bound about their temples
    with a twist of camel's hair, and below the cotton shifts fastened on
    their shoulders with silver clasps their legs were bare to the knee, or
    covered with leather leggings to protect them from the thorny _bled_.

    They seemed abler bargainers than the men, and the play of expression on
    their dramatic and intensely feminine faces as they wheedled the price
    of a calf out of a fierce hillsman, or haggled over a heap of dates that
    a Jew with greasy ringlets was trying to secure for his secret
    distillery, showed that they knew their superiority and enjoyed it.

    Jews abounded in the market-place and also in the town. Sefrou contains
    a large Israelite colony, and after we had wandered through the steep
    streets, over gushing waterfalls spanned by "ass-backed" Spanish
    bridges, and through a thatched _souk_ smelling strong of camels and the
    desert, the French commissioner (the only European in Sefrou) suggested
    that it might interest us to visit the _Mellah_.

    It was our first sight of a typical Jewish quarter in Africa. The
    _Mellah_ of Fez was almost entirely destroyed during the massacres of
    1912 (which incidentally included a _pogrom_), and its distinctive
    character, happily for the inhabitants, has disappeared in the
    rebuilding. North African Jews are still compelled to live in ghettos,
    into which they are locked at night, as in France and Germany in the
    Middle Ages, and until lately the men have been compelled to go unarmed,
    to wear black gabardines and black slippers, to take off their shoes
    when they passed near a mosque or a saint's tomb, and in various other
    ways to manifest their subjection to the ruling race. Nowhere else do
    they live in conditions of such demoralizing promiscuity as in some of
    the cities of Morocco. They have so long been subject to unrestricted
    extortion on the part of the Moslems that even the wealthy Jews (who are
    numerous) have sunk to the habits and appearance of the poorest; and
    Sefrou, which has come so recently under French control, offers a good
    specimen of a _Mellah_ before foreign sanitation has lighted up its dark

    Dark indeed they were. After wandering through narrow and malodorous
    lanes, and slipping about in the offal of the _souks_, we were suddenly
    led under an arch over which should have been written "All light
    abandon--" and which made all we had seen before seem clean and bright
    and airy.

    The beneficent African sun dries up and purifies the immemorial filth
    of Africa, where that sun enters there is none of the foulness of damp.
    But into the _Mellah_ of Sefrou it never comes, for the streets form a
    sort of subterranean rabbit-warren under the upper stories of a solid
    agglomeration of tall houses--a buried city lit even at midday by
    oil-lamps hanging in the goldsmiths' shops and under the archways of the
    black and reeking staircases.

    It was a Jewish feast-day. The Hebrew stalls in the _souks_ were closed,
    and the whole population of the _Mellah_ thronged its tunnels in holiday
    dress. Hurrying past us were young women with plump white faces and
    lovely eyes, turbaned in brilliant gauzes, with draperies of dirty
    curtain muslin over tawdry brocaded caftans. Their paler children
    swarmed about them, little long-earringed girls like wax dolls dressed
    in scraps of old finery, little boys in tattered caftans with
    long-lashed eyes and wily smiles, and, waddling in the rear, their
    unwieldy grandmothers, huge lumps of tallowy flesh who were probably
    still in the thirties.

    With them were the men of the family, in black gabardines and
    skull-caps, sallow striplings, incalculably aged ancestors,
    round-bellied husbands and fathers bumping along like black balloons,
    all hastening to the low doorways dressed with lamps and paper garlands
    behind which the feast was spread.

    One is told that in cities like Fez and Marrakech the Hebrew quarter
    conceals flowery patios and gilded rooms with the heavy European
    furniture that rich Jews delight in. Perhaps even in the _Mellah_ of
    Sefrou, among the ragged figures shuffling past us, there were some few
    with bags of gold in their walls and rich stuffs hid away in painted
    coffers, but for patios and flowers and daylight there seemed no room in
    the dark _bolgia_ they inhabit. No wonder the babies of the Moroccan
    ghettos are nursed on date-brandy, and their elders doze away to death
    under its consoling spell.



    It is well to bid good-by to Fez at night--a moonlight night for choice.

    Then, after dining at the Arab inn of Fez Eldjid--where it might be
    inconvenient to lodge, but where it is extremely pleasant to eat
    _kouskous_ under a grape-trellis in a tiled and fountained patio--this
    pleasure over, one may set out on foot and stray down the lanes toward
    Fez Elbali.

    Not long ago the gates between the different quarters of the city used
    to be locked every night at nine o'clock, and the merchant who went out
    to dine in another part of the town had to lodge with his host. Now this
    custom has been given up, and one may roam about untroubled through the
    old quarters, grown as silent as the grave after the intense life of the
    bazaars has ceased at nightfall.

    Nobody is in the streets wandering from ghostly passage to passage, one
    hears no step but that of the watchman with staff and lantern. Presently
    there appears, far off, a light like a low-flying firefly, as it comes
    nearer, it is seen to proceed from the _Mellah_ lamp of open-work brass
    that a servant carries ahead of two merchants on their way home from
    Elbali. The merchants are grave men, they move softly and slowly on
    their fat slippered feet, pausing from time to time in confidential
    talk. At last they stop before a house wall with a low blue door barred
    by heavy hasps of iron. The servant lifts the lamp and knocks. There is
    a long delay, then, with infinite caution, the door is opened a few
    inches, and another lifted light shines faintly on lustrous tiled walls,
    and on the face of a woman slave who quickly veils herself. Evidently
    the master is a man of standing, and the house well guarded. The two
    merchants touch each other on the right shoulder, one of them passes in,
    and his friend goes on through the moonlight, his servant's lantern
    dancing ahead.

    But here we are in an open space looking down one of the descents to El
    Attarine. A misty radiance washes the tall houses, the garden-walls, the
    archways, even the moonlight does not whiten Fez, but only turns its
    gray to tarnished silver. Overhead in a tower window a single light
    twinkles: women's voices rise and fall on the roofs. In a rich man's
    doorway slaves are sleeping, huddled on the tiles. A cock crows from
    somebody's dunghill, a skeleton dog prowls by for garbage.

    Everywhere is the loud rush or the low crooning of water, and over every
    wall comes the scent of jasmine and rose. Far off, from the red
    purgatory between the walls, sounds the savage thrum-thrum of a negro
    orgy, here all is peace and perfume. A minaret springs up between the
    roofs like a palm, and from its balcony the little white figure bends
    over and drops a blessing on all the loveliness and all the squalor.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Edith Wharton essay and need some advice, post your Edith Wharton essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?