Too negative, isn’t it? Even morbid. But that’s exactly what we had on Day 2 in Maroc. Rabat is the country’s capital, just over an hour’s drive from Casablanca where we landed. It was a hot day. Like the tail end of summer. Not what we expected. We felt the “heat” walking from the gate guarded by horse-mounted sentry towards the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Le Mausolée is the grand resting place of Mohammed V, the father , and Hassan II, the son. The current king, Mohammed VI will also be buried here when he dies, I suppose.
The Mausoleum and the sprawling esplanade is Rabat’s landmark. Mohammed V is considered the father of the independence of Morocco. He ruled during World War II when Morocco was a French protectorate. His tomb is made of white marble and built in the tradition of royal tombs. More guards are posted by the gates to le mausolée itself, right under lovely arches leading to a mindblowing ceiling and more glittering mosaics. At the time we visited the burial shrine, we saw a man in deep prayer with the Koran in front of him.
The esplanade right in front of the Mausoleum I mentioned here is really an unfinished mosque designed in the likeness of Sevilla’s Giralda Tower and the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. Interestingly, the tower is ascended via ramps instead of stairs as in the Giralda Tower. This allows the muezzin to climb on horseback to the top when he makes calls to prayer. Unfortunately, the ambitiously-planned mosque was never completed. Construction was terminated upon the death of the Berber Sultan Yacub al-Mansour in 1199. It could have been the 2nd largest mosque and the red sandstone tower the world’s largest minaret in its time. What remains now is a forest of pillars and the remnants of several walls which now shelter many resident pigeons.
From the Tour Hassan we proceeded to the Chellah, another Rabat attraction. This medieval fortified necropolis is huge. Somewhat like a cross between Paris (with its triple-arched entrances) and the Roman Forum. Makes me wonder if there were any Hollywood movies shot here. But it was not a burial site in the beginning. It was in fact a Roman city in pre-Islamic times but abandoned and left crumbling and overgrown in the 12th century. The necropolis was built on top of the Roman site in the 14th century hemmed in by a defensive wall, fruit and flower gardens and a tower that has seen better days. Today it is a colony of storks who have comfortably housed and nested themselves atop towers and arched gates, and resident cats who freely roam the place.
The place is ideal for birdwatchers. There are also fragrant fig and orange trees plus olive groves along the paths meandering around this ancient city. One tree is even shaped like a dragon. Interesting. What’s even more interesting is that this necropolis includes both royal tombs and burial sites of local saints called koubbas. Here we found a local followed by many cats. Too many I fled before the furry pets gather en masse. Where did they all come from? Obviously, this kind man feeds them resident cats. A nearby pool counts a few eels, and the guide said local women bring hardboiled eggs as offering for the fish in keeping with tradition (or superstition?) to pray for easy childbirth. Hmmmm.
Frankly, I found the Chellah much more interesting than Tour Hassan and the Mausoleum. By a mile. Those storks, cats and eels who took up residence in the Chellah add charm to this ancient ruins. I can just imagine the “noise” when those storks start clacking their bills and the cats meow in chorus. As for the eels….. I don’t know. Do they ever make any noise at all?