By: Jean Hinkley, MA 2016-17
Leaving our computers and schoolwork in Florence, four lovely classmates and myself traveled to the Kingdom of Morocco for a ten-day spring break adventure.
I typically resist looking at pictures of a place prior to visiting it, that way it is a completely fresh experience. Yet, I did arrive with an idea in my head about what Morocco would look like, which was quickly erased. Driving through the Atlas Mountains I was very surprised by the landscape. It looked like the southwestern United States jumbled up and tossed out like dice. Throughout the trip we witnessed almost every type of landscape you can imagine: buzzing cities, red rock and sandy deserts, snow capped Atlas Mountains, lush oases, one random beach, the Atlantic, and breathtaking waterfalls.
Starting our adventure in Marrakesh, we stayed in a Riad (the Arabic term for garden). These traditional Moroccan homes consist of an inner courtyard usually encased by three stories reaching to a terrace and captivatingly colorful geometric mosaic tiles decorating the walls and floors. It was a great introduction to the Moroccan culture, and a much needed respite after conquering the hectic Medina.
The Marrakesh Medina (a UNESCO world heritage site) boasts the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco and is separated into souks. These divisions are categorized by the different goods sold. It’s easy to get lost within the twisting alleys, and eventually the stalls all begin to look alike. But, there is plenty to observe and craftsmanship to appreciate.
After busy Marrakesh, we had a chance to escape the city and take a drive through the Atlas Mountains and the Ourika River valley to where the Sahara starts in Zagora. Definitely the most memorable experience was the overnight camel excursion through the Sahara, sleeping under the stars, charting constellations, and listening to a traditional Berber drum circle by firelight.
Other trips within our trip consisted of another bustling city, Fez, and the peaceful cascades at Ouzoud. Both excursions necessitated a guide, without which we would have been completely lost – especially in Fez. Similar to Marrakesh, the Medina of Fez is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, we were able to get a sense of how the artisan crafts such as Berber carpets, leather goods, and embroidery are made.
Being museum studies students, we can’t resist walking into a museum wherever we are. Our favorite museum was the Berber Museum within the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh. Full of cooling bamboo plants, thirty varieties of cacti, and blooming Bougainvilla. Thanks to fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, the garden was refurbished in the 1980s, while the museum opened in 2011. Separated into three sections, the museum highlights aspects of the Berber lifestyle in useful artifacts, ceremonial artifacts, jewelry, and costumes, representing the rich diversity and ingenuity of the culture. After driving through the Berber villages and spending time with ancestors of Berber tribes, the museum really tied together everything we had seen.
Unforgettable scenery and culture, our Moroccan adventure was a way to regroup between the busy work of the semester. The welcoming attitude of everyone we encountered and the peaceful landscapes are forever engrained in my memory.