medina in Salé

Medina – the soul of a Moroccan city, part I

While in Salé, we decided to go on a walk and discover what’s hidden in countless alleys of this underrated city’s medina. We didn’t have any specific plan. We just knew that at the end we would like to go down to the beach and roam by the ocean’s shore. As it turned out, someone else took care of our trip’s schedule.

It’s a common practice in Moroccan medinas to give tourists directions or serve as a guide to interesting spots without being asked to do so. Oftentimes even after you turn down such offer, the person who accosted you will try to “help” at all costs. It’s all about the money of course. We were prepared for this kind of advances, though. Many times we were forced to be assertive as Moroccans are very stubborn. What’s more, often when they offer their services as a guide, it ends up being a trip to a friendly shop with rugs or some other locally made goods. You’ve really got be careful.

We got lucky, though, as the man whom we met by accident (although I still don’t believe this could be by chance) near the madrasa (Quranic school) had quite vast knowledge. He was also a good storyteller, showed us a lot of things, and didn’t even want to lead us to any shop. Thanks to him I developed interest in the history of the place. As the last post about markets was a bit shorter, today we’ll get into some detail, there’ll be dates and such 😉 In fact, there’s so much to talk about that I had to divide this post into two parts so as not to make it tl;dr 😉

In the post about Tangier I briefly described what in fact is a “medina”. Now I’ll tell you a bit more about its peculiarities with Salé as an example. It’s my favorite Moroccan city.

Religion and science

As I said, the story begins near the Bou Inania madrasa. It sits side by side with the Great Mosque, the city’s most important religious site and Morocco’s third largest mosque. Seven doors lead to it, and they are open according to the day of the week. Importantly, on Fridays the prayers are held only in the Great Mosque and even imams from other mosques in Salé come and join. Obviously non-Muslims cannot step into this enormous edifice (which is typical of most Muslim buildings – mosques, madrases, libraries, etc.). We just managed to enter the yard, quite impressive in itself, and peek inside through the glass door. One of the few exceptions available for non-Muslim visitors is the above mentioned madrasa which can be entered by anyone for a fee. It was built during the rule of sultan Abu al-Hassan (1331-1351), which is when Salé had its golden age.

“Madrasa” means simply “school” in Arabic. The word refers to a theological school usually built near a mosque. The list of subjects taught comprised Quran, law and Arabic language. However since a Berber became the minister of education, madrases obligatorily teach Berber as well. The school usually consists of a group of buildings surrounding a yard. There are lecture rooms, a library, often also rooms for students and teachers. Bou Inania has a lushly decorated interior yard, a sizeable recess meant for the imam, and cubicles for students on the first floor. They are made of stone and very simple. Thus, the most memorable thing is the yard – decorated with mosaics and full of intricate patterns engraved in stone.

Mosaic is indeed a characteristic of Moroccan (and Arabic in general) architecture. I’ve fallen in love with it! Every few steps one encounters a fountain decorated with colorful tiles, often walls and interiors of madrases are tiled as well. There’s also abundance of delicate stone embellishments. The most interesting and important of them are the entrances to the Great Mosque. It is, in fact, three doors in one. The first, and simplest, is Berber. The second, Andalucian, is typical of this Spanish region, while the third is Arabic. Together, they symbolize various cultural influences present in Morocco and reflect the history of this country.

That’s it for now, you can have a look at some photos below. In part II of this post I’ll focus on other magnificent places inside Salé’s medina. There’ll be a bit about pirates, too!

Translation: Robert Mróz

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