Sensational, Sensorial Morocco
Although handmade textiles are eminently touchable, our Morocco textile tour isn’t just about weaving and needlework. Morocco is about engaging ALL the senses. We think you will fall in love with Morocco and plan to return before you leave. Here's why.
There’s colour in everything in Morocco. Wander through the busy medinas, or markets, and take in the kaleidoscopic array of goods. Watch the sky turn a dozen shades of colour during a desert sunset before it fades to a million stars at night. Study the myriad of colours in the tile patterns decorating a mosque. You’re sure to come home feeling as though everywhere else pales in comparison.
First, the languages. Morocco has been crisscrossed by several cultures – Berber, Arab, French and Spanish – and Moroccans switch languages mid-sentence quite effortlessly. On streets and in cafes, you’ll hear an urban orchestra of everyday conversations, animals, cars, children playing in the streets, and music. A muezzin’s call to prayer marks time. In the souk, vendors shout out their wares. Be sure to step aside quickly when you hear "Balak!" – it means there's a heavily laden handcart or mule bearing down on you.
Away from cities, switch gears and listen to the wind in the desert that lovingly shapes the smallest mound to the highest dunes. Nothing beats the silence of a starry night from beside a Berber tent just before you fall asleep.
The oldest part of Fez is a 1200-yr old souk. Forget about exhaust fumes, no cars here. Donkeys carry goods (and tourists’ suitcases) through passageways. Men and women wear hooded djellabas (though most certainly with a cellphone in their pocket). Close your eyes, inhale, and transport back in time. Spices, with overtones of cumin, turmeric, nutmeg. Faint smoke from cigarettes and honey cut with a citrus tang. The smell that may triumph is of fresh bread baking.
Bread in Morocco is still baked in communal ovens called faraans. Sticks of olive wood ignite deep brick-lined ovens into which an expert baker places his neighbours’ dough with a long wooden paddle. He keeps track of which baking belongs to which household, even without the identifying marks some cooks put on their dough. Bringing baking to the communal oven means not heating up kitchens in the hot Moroccan summer. It saves fuel and time. Walking a soft mound of dough down the street and remembering to pick it up are communal activities. A busy householder may leave her bread outside for a passing neighbour to bring it to the communal oven. Residual heat from the baking oven is absorbed into the hammam, often located along a shared wall. Whether the cook brings her baking herself or sends one of her kids with it, the faraan ensures the family stays in the loop on neighbourhood news. Just by what is being baked, neighbours can see and smell who has houseguests and who will make a special announcement by serving a fragrant b’stilla pigeon pie.
Which conveniently brings us to taste. One of the great cuisines of the world, Moroccan cooking abounds with subtle – think warm as opposed to hot – spices and intriguing flavour combinations.
Think tart green olives paired with chopped preserved lemon rind stirred into a tagine of tender chicken, the surprise of rich pigeon meat pie dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar, or sardines coated with a flavourful combination of coriander, parsley, cumin and a hint of chilli. Influenced by Andalusia, Arabia and France, Morocco’s cuisine is a delicious combination of mouthwatering flavours that will have you don your apron and grab a Moroccan cookbook. A fitting finish is mint tea, known as ‘Moroccan whisky’. Gunpowder tea is steeped with a few sprigs of spearmint and sweetened with sugar chipped off a sugar cone. It’s poured into a tea glass from a height to create a froth called the crown.
Morocco is so colour- and form-saturated that it begs touch. In a medina, brush fingertips over a tiled wall. Wriggle out of flip-flops and toe the cool tiled floor. Cool off with a dip in a hand-tiled hammam. Dry off with a hand-woven towel. Say hello to the texture of handmade in Morocco.
While yellow babouches and painted tajines may be all the rage in the souks, textiles and weaving is really where the heart of Moroccan artistry lies. Textile production in Morocco dates all the way back to 1500 BC when Berbers first came to North Africa. Berber woman wove textiles for shawls, blankets, rugs, tents, sacks, pillows, and mats. In the 7th century textiles became an essential part of the Moroccan economy, which still carries through till this day. The techniques created by these Moroccan artisans have been preserved over the centuries, mainly because weaving and embroidery are a fundamental part of the daily life of the people.
Moroccan tribal textiles are some of the most dazzling and impressive in Africa. Variations of design, patterns, vibrant colours, and variety of textures make them quite distinct from other Islamic and African textiles. Textiles act as an indicator of wealth, social status, and the religious background of the weaver, as well as of the daily life of her tribe. Weaving allows her a rare freedom of expression even within the confines of strictly conservative design traditions.
In Morocco, reach for a handmade textile or create one, and touch a heritage of millennia.
Our sensorially-rich Morocco tour departs October 12, 2018. Join us!