RABAT AND SALÉ
To step on board a steamer in a Spanish port, and three hours later to
land in _a country without a guide-book_, is a sensation to rouse the
hunger of the repletest sight-seer.
The sensation is attainable by any one who will take the trouble to row
out into the harbour of Algeciras and scramble onto a little black boat
headed across the straits. Hardly has the rock of Gibraltar turned to
cloud when one's foot is on the soil of an almost unknown Africa.
Tangier, indeed, is in the guide-books; but, cuckoo-like, it has had to
lays its eggs in strange nests, and the traveller who wants to find out
about it must acquire a work dealing with some other country--Spain or
Portugal or Algeria. There is no guide-book to Morocco, and no way of
knowing, once one has left Tangier behind, where the long trail over the
Rif is going to land one, in the sense understood by any one accustomed
to European certainties. The air of the unforeseen blows on one from the
roadless passes of the Atlas.
This feeling of adventure is heightened by the contrast between
Tangier--cosmopolitan, frowsy, familiar Tangier, that every tourist has
visited for the last forty years--and the vast unknown just beyond. One
has met, of course, travellers who have been to Fez; but they have gone
there on special missions, under escort, mysteriously, perhaps
perilously; the expedition has seemed, till lately, a considerable
affair. And when one opens the records of Moroccan travellers written
within the last twenty years, how many, even of the most adventurous,
are found to have gone beyond Fez? And what, to this day, do the names
of Meknez and Marrakech, of Mogador, Saffi or Rabat, signify to any but
a few students of political history, a few explorers and naturalists?
Not till within the last year has Morocco been open to travel from
Tangier to the Great Atlas, and from Moulay Idriss to the Atlantic.
Three years ago Christians were being massacred in the streets of Salé,
the pirate town across the river from Rabat, and two years ago no
European had been allowed to enter the Sacred City of Moulay Idriss, the
burial-place of the lawful descendant of Ali, founder of the Idrissite
dynasty. Now, thanks to the energy and the imagination of one of the
greatest of colonial administrators, the country, at least in the French
zone, is as safe and open as the opposite shore of Spain. All that
remains is to tell the traveller how to find his way about it.
Ten years ago there was not a wheeled vehicle in Morocco, now its
thousands of miles of trail, and its hundreds of miles of firm French
roads, are travelled by countless carts, omnibuses and motor-vehicles.
There are light railways from Rabat to Fez in the west, and to a point
about eighty-five kilometres from Marrakech in the south, and it is
possible to say that within a year a regular railway system will connect
eastern Morocco with western Algeria, and the ports of Tangier and
Casablanca with the principal points of the interior.
What, then, prevents the tourist from instantly taking ship at Bordeaux
or Algeciras and letting loose his motor on this new world? Only the
temporary obstacles which the war has everywhere put in the way of
travel. Till these are lifted it will hardly be possible to travel in
Morocco except by favour of the Resident-General; but, normal conditions
once restored, the country will be as accessible, from the straits of
Gibraltar to the Great Atlas, as Algeria or Tunisia.
To see Morocco during the war was therefore to see it in the last phase
of its curiously abrupt transition from remoteness and danger to
security and accessibility; at a moment when its aspect and its customs
were still almost unaffected by European influences, and when the
"Christian" might taste the transient joy of wandering unmolested in
cities of ancient mystery and hostility, whose inhabitants seemed hardly
aware of his intrusion.
THE TRAIL TO EL-KSAR
With such opportunities ahead it was impossible, that brilliant morning
of September, 1917, not to be off quickly from Tangier, impossible to do
justice to the pale-blue town piled up within brown walls against the
thickly-foliaged gardens of "the Mountain," to the animation of its
market-place and the secret beauties of its steep Arab streets. For
Tangier swarms with people in European clothes, there are English,
French and Spanish signs above its shops, and cab-stands in its squares;
it belongs, as much as Algiers, to the familiar dog-eared world of
travel--and there, beyond the last dip of "the Mountain," lies the world
of mystery, with the rosy dawn just breaking over it. The motor is at
the door and we are off.
The so-called Spanish zone, which encloses internationalized Tangier in
a wide circuit of territory, extends southward for a distance of about a
hundred and fifteen kilometres. Consequently, when good roads traverse
it, French Morocco will be reached in less than two hours by
motor-travellers bound for the south. But for the present Spanish
enterprise dies out after a few miles of macadam (as it does even
between Madrid and Toledo), and the tourist is committed to the _piste_.
These _pistes_--the old caravan-trails from the south--are more
available to motors in Morocco than in southern Algeria and Tunisia,
since they run mostly over soil which, though sandy in part, is bound
together by a tough dwarf vegetation, and not over pure desert sand.
This, however, is the utmost that can be said of the Spanish _pistes_.
In the French protectorate constant efforts are made to keep the trails
fit for wheeled traffic, but Spain shows no sense of a corresponding
After leaving the macadamized road which runs south from Tangier one
seems to have embarked on a petrified ocean in a boat hardly equal to
the adventure. Then, as one leaps and plunges over humps and ruts, down
sheer banks into rivers, and up precipices into sand-pits, one gradually
gains faith in one's conveyance and in one's spinal column; but both
must be sound in every joint to resist the strain of the long miles to
Arbaoua, the frontier post of the French protectorate.
Luckily there are other things to think about. At the first turn out of
Tangier, Europe and the European disappear, and as soon as the motor
begins to dip and rise over the arid little hills beyond the last
gardens one is sure that every figure on the road will be picturesque
instead of prosaic, every garment graceful instead of grotesque. One
knows, too, that there will be no more omnibuses or trams or
motorcyclists, but only long lines of camels rising up in brown friezes
against the sky, little black donkeys trotting across the scrub under
bulging pack-saddles, and noble draped figures walking beside them or
majestically perching on their rumps. And for miles and miles there will
be no more towns--only, at intervals on the naked slopes, circles of
rush-roofed huts in a blue stockade of cactus, or a hundred or two nomad
tents of black camel's hair resting on walls of wattled thorn and
grouped about a terebinth-tree and a well.
Between these nomad colonies lies the _bled_, the immense waste of
fallow land and palmetto desert: an earth as void of life as the sky
above it of clouds. The scenery is always the same; but if one has the
love of great emptinesses, and of the play of light on long stretches of
parched earth and rock, the sameness is part of the enchantment. In such
a scene every landmark takes on an extreme value. For miles one watches
the little white dome of a saint's grave rising and disappearing with
the undulations of the trail; at last one is abreast of it, and the
solitary tomb, alone with its fig-tree and its broken well-curb, puts a
meaning into the waste. The same importance, but intensified, marks the
appearance of every human figure. The two white-draped riders passing
single file up the red slope to that ring of tents on the ridge have a
mysterious and inexplicable importance: one follows their progress with
eyes that ache with conjecture. More exciting still is the encounter of
the first veiled woman heading a little cavalcade from the south. All
the mystery that awaits us looks out through the eye-slits in the
grave-clothes muffling her. Where have they come from, where are they
going, all these slow wayfarers out of the unknown? Probably only from
one thatched _douar_[A] to another; but interminable distances unroll
behind them, they breathe of Timbuctoo and the farthest desert. Just
such figures must swarm in the Saharan cities, in the Soudan and
Senegal. There is no break in the links: these wanderers have looked on
at the building of cities that were dust when the Romans pushed their
outposts across the Atlas.
[Footnote A: Village of tents. The village of mud-huts is called a
EL-KSAR TO RABAT
A town at last--its nearness announced by the multiplied ruts of the
trail, the cactus hedges, the fig-trees weighed down by dust leaning
over ruinous earthen walls. And here are the first houses of the
European El-Ksar--neat white Spanish houses on the slope outside the old
Arab settlement. Of the Arab town itself, above reed stockades and brown
walls, only a minaret and a few flat roofs are visible. Under the walls
drowse the usual gregarious Lazaruses; others, temporarily resuscitated,
trail their grave-clothes after a line of camels and donkeys toward the
olive-gardens outside the town.
The way to Rabat is long and difficult, and there is no time to visit
El-Ksar, though its minaret beckons so alluringly above the
fruit-orchards; so we stop for luncheon outside the walls, at a canteen
with a corrugated iron roof where skinny Spaniards are serving thick
purple wine and eggs fried in oil to a party of French soldiers. The
heat has suddenly become intolerable, and a flaming wind straight from
the south brings in at the door, with a cloud of blue flies, the smell
of camels and trampled herbs and the strong spices of the bazaars.
Luncheon over, we hurry on between the cactus hedges, and then plunge
back into the waste. Beyond El-Ksar the last hills of the Rif die away,
and there is a stretch of wilderness without an outline till the Lesser
Atlas begins to rise in the east. Once in the French protectorate the
trail improves, but there are still difficult bits; and finally, on a
high plateau, the chauffeur stops in a web of criss-cross trails, throws
up his hands, and confesses that he has lost his way. The heat is mortal
at the moment. For the last hour the red breath of the sirocco has risen
from every hollow into which we dipped, now it hangs about us in the
open, as if we had caught it in our wheels and it had to pause above us
when we paused.
All around is the featureless wild land, palmetto scrub stretching away
into eternity. A few yards off rises the inevitable ruined _koubba_[A]
with its fig-tree: in the shade under its crumbling wall the buzz of the
flies is like the sound of frying. Farther off, we discern a cluster of
huts, and presently some Arab boys and a tall pensive shepherd come
hurrying across the scrub. They are full of good-will, and no doubt of
information; but our chauffeur speaks no Arabic and the talk dies down
into shrugs and head-shakings. The Arabs retire to the shade of the
wall, and we decide to start--for anywhere....
[Footnote A: Saint's tomb. The saint himself is called a _marabout_.]
The chauffeur turns the crank, but there is no responding quiver.
Something has gone wrong; we can't move, and it is not much comfort to
remember that, if we could, we should not know where to go. At least we
should be cooler in motion than sitting still under the blinding sky.
Such an adventure initiates one at the outset into the stern facts of
desert motoring. Every detail of our trip from Tangier to Rabat had been
carefully planned to keep us in unbroken contact with civilization. We
were to "tub" in one European hotel, and to dine in another, with just
enough picnicking between to give a touch of local colour. But let one
little cog slip and the whole plan falls to bits, and we are alone in
the old untamed Moghreb, as remote from Europe as any mediaeval
adventurer. If one lose one's way in Morocco, civilization vanishes as
though it were a magic carpet rolled up by a Djinn.
It is a good thing to begin with such a mishap, not only because it
develops the fatalism necessary to the enjoyment of Africa, but because
it lets one at once into the mysterious heart of the country, a country
so deeply conditioned by its miles and miles of uncitied wilderness that
until one has known the wilderness one cannot begin to understand the
We came to one at length, after sunset on that first endless day. The
motor, cleverly patched up, had found its way to a real road, and
speeding along between the stunted cork-trees of the forest of Mamora
brought us to a last rise from which we beheld in the dusk a line of
yellow walls backed by the misty blue of the Atlantic. Salé, the fierce
old pirate town, where Robinson Crusoe was so long a slave, lay before
us, snow-white in its cheese-coloured ramparts skirted by fig and olive
gardens. Below its gates a stretch of waste land, endlessly trailed over
by mules and camels, sloped down to the mouth of the Bou-Regreg, the
blue-brown river dividing it from Rabat. The motor stopped at the
landing-stage of the steam-ferry; crowding about it were droves of
donkeys, knots of camels, plump-faced merchants on crimson-saddled
mules, with negro servants at their bridles, bare-legged water-carriers
with hairy goat-skins slung over their shoulders, and Arab women in a
heap of veils, cloaks, mufflings, all of the same ashy white, the
caftans of clutched children peeping through in patches of old rose and
lilac and pale green.
Across the river the native town of Rabat lay piled up on an orange-red
cliff beaten by the Atlantic. Its walls, red too, plunged into the
darkening breakers at the mouth of the river, and behind it, stretching
up to the mighty tower of Hassan, and the ruins of the Great Mosque, the
scattered houses of the European city showed their many lights across
THE KASBAH OF THE OUDAYAS
Salé the white and Rabat the red frown at each other over the foaming
bar of the Bou-Regreg, each walled, terraced, minareted, and presenting
a singularly complete picture of the two types of Moroccan town, the
snowy and the tawny. To the gates of both the Atlantic breakers roll in
with the boom of northern seas, and under a misty northern sky. It is
one of the surprises of Morocco to find the familiar African pictures
bathed in this unfamiliar haze. Even the fierce midday sun does not
wholly dispel it--the air remains thick, opalescent, like water slightly
clouded by milk. One is tempted to say that Morocco is Tunisia seen by
The European town of Rabat, a rapidly developing community, lies almost
wholly outside the walls of the old Arab city. The latter, founded in
the twelfth century by the great Almohad conqueror of Spain,
Yacoub-el-Mansour, stretches its mighty walls to the river's mouth.
Thence they climb the cliff to enclose the Kasbah[A] of the Oudayas, a
troublesome tribe whom one of the Almohad Sultans, mistrusting their
good faith, packed up one day, flocks, tents and camels, and carried
across the _bled_ to stow them into these stout walls under his imperial
eye. Great crenellated ramparts, cyclopean, superb, follow the curve of
the cliff. On the landward side they are interrupted by a gate-tower
resting on one of the most nobly decorated of the horseshoe arches that
break the mighty walls of Moroccan cities. Underneath the tower the
vaulted entrance turns, Arab fashion, at right angles, profiling its red
arch against darkness and mystery. This bending of passages, so
characteristic a device of the Moroccan builder, is like an
architectural expression of the tortuous secret soul of the land.
[Footnote A: Citadel.]
Outside the Kasbah a narrow foot-path is squeezed between the walls and
the edge of the cliff. Toward sunset it looks down on a strange scene.
To the south of the citadel the cliff descends to a long dune sloping to
a sand-beach; and dune and beach are covered with the slanting
headstones of the immense Arab cemetery of El Alou. Acres and acres of
graves fall away from the red ramparts to the grey sea; and breakers
rolling straight from America send their spray across the lowest stones.
There are always things going on toward evening in an Arab cemetery. In
this one, travellers from the _bled_ are camping in one corner, donkeys
grazing (on heaven knows what), a camel dozing under its pack; in
another, about a new-made grave, there are ritual movements of muffled
figures and wailings of a funeral hymn half drowned by the waves. Near
us, on a fallen headstone, a man with a thoughtful face sits chatting
with two friends and hugging to his breast a tiny boy who looks like a
grasshopper in his green caftan; a little way off, a solitary
philosopher, his eye fixed on the sunset, lies on another grave, smoking
his long pipe of kif.
There is infinite sadness in this scene under the fading sky, beside the
cold welter of the Atlantic. One seems to be not in Africa itself, but
in the Africa that northern crusaders may have dreamed of in snow-bound
castles by colder shores of the same ocean. This is what Moghreb must
have looked like to the confused imagination of the Middle Ages, to
Norman knights burning to ransom the Holy Places, or Hansa merchants
devising, in steep-roofed towns, of Barbary and the long caravans
bringing apes and gold-powder from the south.
Inside the gate of the Kasbah one comes on more waste land and on other
walls--for all Moroccan towns are enclosed in circuit within circuit of
battlemented masonry. Then, unexpectedly, a gate in one of the inner
walls lets one into a tiled court enclosed in a traceried cloister and
overlooking an orange-grove that rises out of a carpet of roses. This
peaceful and well-ordered place is the interior of the Medersa (the
college) of the Oudayas. Morocco is full of these colleges, or rather
lodging-houses of the students frequenting the mosques, for all
Mahometan education is given in the mosque itself, only the preparatory
work being done in the colleges. The most beautiful of the Medersas date
from the earlier years of the long Merinid dynasty (1248-1548), the
period at which Moroccan art, freed from too distinctively Spanish and
Arab influences, began to develop a delicate grace of its own as far
removed from the extravagance of Spanish ornament as from the
inheritance of Roman-Byzantine motives that the first Moslem invasion
had brought with it from Syria and Mesopotamia.
These exquisite collegiate buildings, though still in use whenever they
are near a well-known mosque, have all fallen into a state of sordid
disrepair. The Moroccan Arab, though he continues to build--and
fortunately to build in the old tradition, which has never been
lost--has, like all Orientals, an invincible repugnance to repairing and
restoring, and one after another the frail exposed Arab structures, with
their open courts and badly constructed terrace-roofs, are crumbling
into ruin. Happily the French Government has at last been asked to
intervene, and all over Morocco the Medersas are being repaired with
skill and discretion. That of the Oudayas is already completely
restored, and as it had long fallen into disuse it has been transformed
by the Ministry of Fine Arts into a museum of Moroccan art.
The plan of the Medersas is always much the same: the eternal plan of
the Arab house, built about one or more arcaded courts, with long narrow
rooms enclosing them on the ground floor, and several stories above,
reached by narrow stairs, and often opening on finely carved cedar
galleries. The chief difference between the Medersa and the private
house, or even the _fondak_,[A] lies in the use to which the rooms are
put. In the Medersas, one of the ground-floor apartments is always
fitted up as a chapel, and shut off from the court by carved cedar doors
still often touched with old gilding and vermilion. There are always a
few students praying in the chapel, while others sit in the doors of the
upper rooms, their books on their knees, or lean over the carved
galleries chatting with their companions who are washing their feet at
the marble fountain in the court, preparatory to entering the chapel.
[Footnote A: The Moroccan inn or caravanserai.]
In the Medersa of the Oudayas, these native activities have been
replaced by the lifeless hush of a museum. The rooms are furnished with
old rugs, pottery, brasses, the curious embroidered hangings which line
the tents of the chiefs, and other specimens of Arab art. One room
reproduces a barber's shop in the bazaar, its benches covered with fine
matting, the hanging mirror inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the
razor-handles of silver _niello_. The horseshoe arches of the outer
gallery look out on orange-blossoms, roses and the sea. It is all
beautiful, calm and harmonious; and if one is tempted to mourn the
absence of life and local colour, one has only to visit an abandoned
Medersa to see that, but for French intervention, the charming
colonnades and cedar chambers of the college of the Oudayas would by
this time be a heap of undistinguished rubbish--for plaster and rubble
do not "die in beauty" like the firm stones of Rome.
ROBINSON CRUSOE'S "SALLEE"
Before Morocco passed under the rule of the great governor who now
administers it, the European colonists made short work of the beauty and
privacy of the old Arab towns in which they established themselves.
On the west coast, especially, where the Mediterranean peoples, from the
Phenicians to the Portuguese, have had trading-posts for over two
thousand years, the harm done to such seaboard towns as Tangier, Rabat
and Casablanca is hard to estimate. The modern European colonist
apparently imagined that to plant his warehouses, _cafés_ and
cinema-palaces within the walls which for so long had fiercely excluded
him was the most impressive way of proclaiming his domination.
Under General Lyautey such views are no longer tolerated. Respect for
native habits, native beliefs and native architecture is the first
principle inculcated in the civil servants attached to his
administration. Not only does he require that the native towns shall be
kept intact, and no European building erected within them; a sense of
beauty not often vouchsafed to Colonial governors causes him to place
the administration buildings so far beyond the walls that the modern
colony grouped around them remains entirely distinct from the old town,
instead of growing out of it like an ugly excrescence.
The Arab quarter of Rabat was already irreparably disfigured when
General Lyautey came to Morocco; but ferocious old Salé, Phenician
counting-house and breeder of Barbary pirates, had been saved from
profanation by its Moslem fanaticism. Few Christian feet had entered its
walls except those of the prisoners who, like Robinson Crusoe, slaved
for the wealthy merchants in its mysterious terraced houses. Not till
two or three years ago was it completely pacified; and when it opened
its gates to the infidel it was still, as it is to-day, the type of the
untouched Moroccan city--so untouched that, with the sunlight
irradiating its cream-coloured walls and the blue-white domes above
them, it rests on its carpet of rich fruit-gardens like some rare
specimen of Arab art on a strip of old Oriental velvet.
Within the walls, the magic persists: which does not always happen when
one penetrates into the mirage-like cities of Arabian Africa. Salé has
the charm of extreme compactness. Crowded between the river-mouth and
the sea, its white and pale-blue houses almost touch across the narrow
streets, and the reed-thatched bazaars seem like miniature reductions of
the great trading labyrinths of Tunis or Fez.
Everything that the reader of the Arabian Nights expects to find is
here: the whitewashed niches wherein pale youths sit weaving the fine
mattings for which the town is still famous; the tunnelled passages
where indolent merchants with bare feet crouch in their little kennels
hung with richly ornamented saddlery and arms, or with slippers of pale
citron leather and bright embroidered _babouches_, the stalls with
fruit, olives, tunny-fish, vague syrupy sweets, candles for saints'
tombs, Mantegnesque garlands of red and green peppers, griddle-cakes
sizzling on red-hot pans, and all the varied wares and cakes and
condiments that the lady in the tale of the Three Calanders went out to
buy, that memorable morning in the market of Bagdad.
Only at Salé all is on a small scale: there is not much of any one
thing, except of the exquisite matting. The tide of commerce has ebbed
from the intractable old city, and one feels, as one watches the
listless purchasers in her little languishing bazaars, that her long
animosity against the intruder has ended by destroying her own life.
The feeling increases when one leaves the bazaar for the streets
adjoining it. An even deeper hush than that which hangs over the
well-to-do quarters of all Arab towns broods over these silent
thoroughfares, with heavy-nailed doors barring half-ruined houses. In a
steep deserted square one of these doors opens its panels of
weather-silvered cedar on the court of the frailest, ghostliest of
Medersas--mere carved and painted shell of a dead house of learning.
Mystic interweavings of endless lines, patient patterns interminably
repeated in wood and stone and clay, all are here, from the tessellated
paving of the court to the honeycombing of the cedar roof through which
a patch of sky shows here and there like an inset of turquoise tiling.
This lovely ruin is in the safe hands of the French Fine Arts
administration, and soon the wood-carvers and stucco-workers of Fez will
have revived its old perfection; but it will never again be more than a
show-Medersa, standing empty and unused beside the mosque behind whose
guarded doors and high walls one guesses that the old religious
fanaticism of Salé is dying also, as her learning and her commerce have
In truth the only life in her is centred in the market-place outside the
walls, where big expanding Rabat goes on certain days to provision
herself. The market of Salé, though typical of all Moroccan markets, has
an animation and picturesqueness of its own. Its rows of white tents
pitched on a dusty square between the outer walls and the fruit-gardens
make it look as though a hostile tribe had sat down to lay siege to the
town, but the army is an army of hucksters, of farmers from the rich
black lands along the river, of swarthy nomads and leather-gaitered
peasant women from the hills, of slaves and servants and tradesmen from
Rabat and Salé; a draped, veiled, turbaned mob shrieking, bargaining,
fist-shaking, call on Allah to witness the monstrous villanies of the
misbegotten miscreants they are trading with, and then, struck with the
mysterious Eastern apathy, sinking down in languid heaps of muslin among
the black figs, purple onions and rosy melons, the fluttering hens, the
tethered goats, the whinnying foals, that are all enclosed in an outer
circle of folded-up camels and of mules dozing under faded crimson
CHELLA AND THE GREAT MOSQUE
The Merinid Sultans of Rabat had a terribly troublesome neighbour across
the Bou-Regreg, and they built Chella to keep an eye on the pirates of
Salé. But Chella has fallen like a Babylonian city triumphed over by the
prophets; while Salé, sly, fierce and irrepressible, continued till well
on in the nineteenth century to breed pirates and fanatics.
The ruins of Chella lie on the farther side of the plateau above the
native town of Rabat. The mighty wall enclosing them faces the city wall
of Rabat, looking at it across one of those great red powdery wastes
which seem, in this strange land, like death and the desert forever
creeping up to overwhelm the puny works of man.
The red waste is scored by countless trains of donkeys carrying water
from the springs of Chella, by long caravans of mules and camels, and by
the busy motors of the French administration; yet there emanates from it
an impression of solitude and decay which even the prosaic tinkle of the
trams jogging out from the European town to the Exhibition grounds above
the sea cannot long dispel.
Perpetually, even in the new thriving French Morocco, the outline of a
ruin or the look in a pair of eyes shifts the scene, rends the thin veil
of the European Illusion, and confronts one with the old grey Moslem
reality. Passing under the gate of Chella, with its richly carved
corbels and lofty crenellated towers, one feels one's self thus
completely reabsorbed into the past.
Below the gate the ground slopes away, bare and blazing, to a hollow
where a little blue-green minaret gleams through fig-trees, and
fragments of arch and vaulting reveal the outline of a ruined mosque.
Was ever shade so blue-black and delicious as that of the cork-tree near
the spring where the donkey's water-cans are being filled? Under its
branches a black man in a blue shirt lies immovably sleeping in the
dust. Close by women and children splash and chatter about the spring,
and the dome of a saint's tomb shines through lustreless leaves. The
black man, the donkeys, the women and children, the saint's dome, are
all part of the inimitable Eastern scene in which inertia and agitation
are so curiously combined, and a surface of shrill noise flickers over
depths of such unfathomable silence.
The ruins of Chella belong to the purest period of Moroccan art. The
tracery of the broken arches is all carved in stone or in glazed
turquoise tiling, and the fragments of wall and vaulting have the firm
elegance of a classic ruin. But what would even their beauty be without
the leafy setting of the place? The "unimaginable touch of Time" gives
Chella its peculiar charm: the aged fig-tree clamped in uptorn tiles and
thrusting gouty arms between the arches; the garlanding of vines flung
from column to column; the secret pool to which childless women are
brought to bathe, and where the tree springing from a cleft of the steps
is always hung with the bright bits of stuff which are the votive
offerings of Africa.
The shade, the sound of springs, the terraced orange-garden with irises
blooming along channels of running water, all this greenery and coolness
in the hollow of a fierce red hill make Chella seem, to the traveller
new to Africa, the very type and embodiment of its old contrasts of heat
and freshness, of fire and languor. It is like a desert traveller's
dream in his last fever.
Yacoub-el-Mansour was the fourth of the great Almohad Sultans who, in
the twelfth century, drove out the effete Almoravids, and swept their
victorious armies from Marrakech to Tunis and from Tangier to Madrid.
His grandfather, Abd-el-Moumen, had been occupied with conquest and
civic administration. It was said of his rule that "he seized northern
Africa to make order prevail there"; and in fact, out of a welter of
wild tribes confusedly fighting and robbing he drew an empire firmly
seated and securely governed, wherein caravans travelled from the Atlas
to the Straits without fear of attack, and "a soldier wandering through
the fields would not have dared to pluck an ear of wheat."
His grandson, the great El-Mansour, was a conqueror too; but where he
conquered he planted the undying seed of beauty. The victor of Alarcos,
the soldier who subdued the north of Spain, dreamed a great dream of
art. His ambition was to bestow on his three capitals, Seville, Rabat
and Marrakech, the three most beautiful towers the world had ever seen;
and if the tower of Rabat had been completed, and that of Seville had
not been injured by Spanish embellishments, his dream would have been
The "Tower of Hassan," as the Sultan's tower is called, rises from the
plateau above old Rabat, overlooking the steep cliff that drops down to
the last winding of the Bou-Regreg. Truncated at half its height, it
stands on the edge of the cliff, a far-off beacon to travellers by land
and sea. It is one of the world's great monuments, so sufficient in
strength and majesty that until one has seen its fellow, the Koutoubya
of Marrakech, one wonders if the genius of the builder could have
carried such perfect balance of massive wall-spaces and traceried
openings to a triumphant completion.
Near the tower, the red-brown walls and huge piers of the mosque built
at the same time stretch their roofless alignment beneath the sky. This
mosque, before it was destroyed, must have been one of the finest
monuments of Almohad architecture in Morocco: now, with its tumbled red
masses of masonry and vast cisterns overhung by clumps of blue aloes, it
still forms a ruin of Roman grandeur.
The Mosque, the Tower, the citadel of the Oudayas, and the mighty walls
and towers of Chella, compose an architectural group as noble and
complete as that of some mediaeval Tuscan city. All they need to make
the comparison exact is that they should have been compactly massed on a
steep hill, instead of lying scattered over the wide spaces between the
promontory of the Oudayas and the hill-side of Chella.
The founder of Rabat, the great Yacoub-el-Mansour, called it, in memory
of the battle of Alarcos, "The Camp of Victory" (_Ribat-el-Path_), and
the monuments he bestowed on it justified the name in another sense, by
giving it the beauty that lives when battles are forgotten.