Sunday, June 21, 2009

Volubilis, Mocorro

If you want to visit the 2nd Century, an easy day trip from Fes are the Roman Ruins of Volubilis. Once home to 20,000 people, the ruins were inhabited until the great quake in 1722 and then razed as an archaeological site in 1915.

A marble, Triumphal Arch still stands marking the entrance to this illustrious city. It leads down the ceremonial road, Decumanus Maximus, lined by houses, baths, fountains, a bakery, a basilica, massage chairs and more. Many of the tiny mosaic floors remain in tact exposed to all the elements of weather for centuries.

The city's Capitol is now controlled by storks who lay their eggs annually teaching their babes to fly from atop the ancient columns. Free to wonder throughout the site, Alex jumped from wall-to-wall, practiced pressing olives and picked wildflowers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Running in Ruins

North of Casablanca, along the Atlantic coast, is Morocco’s capital city of Rabat. The second most important city in the country (behind Casablanca), Rabat is home to the world’s embassies and tourists galore. On its highest hill is the Le Tour Hassan, an enormous minaret built in 1195 originally intended to be the largest and highest in the Muslim world. The project was eventually abandoned at 44 meter tall before completion. In 1755 an earthquake destroyed the mosque leaving only the pillars standing. Alex raced his way through them like pylons and scaled the tower at least one meter.

Opposite the tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V where the current king’s father and grandfather are laid to rest and visitors look down onto the tombs from a small room above. The building is intricately carved in white with a green tile roof. Alex preferred to check out the horses guarding the outside walls around the ruins. Other sites we missed include the Kasbah of the Udayas, Chellah Necropolis, and the Royal Palace. Alex will have to wait to check out this old city, the Roman ruins and meet the king on the next trip.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Caught in a Donkey Jam in Fes el-Bali

Alex ran, jumped, rolled and stomped his way through all of the four imperial cities of Morocco – Fes, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat. Fes is the oldest of the four cities with the old walled section known as Fes el-Bali (Old Fes). A UNESCO World Heritage site, this medina is the largest contiguous car-free urban area in the world. Donkeys and mules are the vehicle of choice. Alex got caught in a stroller in a donkey-jam along the twisting, narrow, stone passageways of the city trapped between bazaars, spice shops and restaurants.

Fes is Morocco’s religious and cultural center. Having welcomed people of different faiths and faraway places for centuries, it is one of the world’s best examples that people of different backgrounds can live together peacefully. Unique to the city is its’ natural spring that has kept clean water running in the homes of the old city since the 9th century, and its medersas (theological colleges). Among the finest, Alex visited the Madrasa Bou Inania founded in 1351 as a theological college and today remains a premiere institution.

The best way to explore the old city, get lost in its tiny streets and barter with the shopkeepers is to leave your little one back in the U.S. Pushing a stroller up-and-down the cobblestone streets or hauling nearly 40 pounds of little boy is no easy task. Luckily, the stray cats lounging around the old city provided enough entertainment to keep Alex content for hours between mosques and the riads.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Play it again, Alex

Alex started his summer vacation to Morocco in the hip, modern city of Casablanca. A coastal metropolis, the city bustles with traffic, maintains a European-French flare and is home to the world’s third largest mosque. Built atop the edges of the Atlantic Ocean, Hassan II Mosque is the crowning achievement of King Hassan II. Opening in 1993, after seven years of around-the-clock construction, every detail of the building was handcrafted by more than 6,000 artisans. The elegantly carved wood and stucco showcases the different regions of Morocco. The building can hold 25,000 worshippers and on Ramadan another 80,000 will fill its courtyards. The 210-foot minaret shines a laser beam toward Mecca at night. The mosque also features a retractable roof and a section of glass flooring to see the sea below. The project cost more than one-half billion dollars mostly funded by the people of Casablanca and around.

Alex slept through much of the tour, but woke up in time to splash in the Hammam (Turkish bath). Now expert now on Moroccan fountains, pools, natural springs, ablution rooms and other sources of water around the country, Alex can tell you the best places to splash about in the summer Moroccan sun. So, while we didn’t make it to Rick’s CafĂ©, Alex did play again and again.