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Morocco Travelogue by An American 1905

Jul 14

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7/14/2011 9:50 PM  RssIcon

Savage Morocco by William G. Fitzgerald, New York Central - Hudson River Railroad Company ,1905.

Americans are always seeking that which is new, so it is the more remarkable that so few of our countrymen visit the land of the Moors, which has of late loomed so large in the affaires of the world. And when we consider that Tangier, the diplomatic capital of the empire, is but three and half hours' sail from Gibraltar, where many of the White Star, Hamburg-American and other great liners put in constantly, we are still more astonished.
I have come across intelligent Americans who have scouted the idea of Morocco as a tourist field, on the ground that it was “unsafe” that the people were mainly brigands addicted to robbery and kidnapping; that there were no railroads or telegraphs in the entire empire, and so on.Here we find a mixture of fact and fiction. True, Moorish methods of locomotion are the same as they were a thousand years ago--the camel, horse, mule and ass; nor are there any roads worth speaking of and, strangest of all, hardly a wheeled vehicle in the entire empire, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlas Mountains, -- unless it be one imported as a “show” novelty by one of the diplomatic body in Tangier.
Asilah Morocco
But, speaking from an intimate knowledge of the Moors and their country, extending over years, I unhesitatingly say that the American man or woman in search of a complete change--another world almost—cannot do better than leave the steamer at Gibraltar, cross the straits in a paddle-boat, and land on Tangier’s jetty.
Seen from the sea, one’s first glimpse of “Al Maghreb Al-Aksa” -- the beloved sunset land of the Moors – is amazingly picturesque, with its towering Kasbah, or citadel, on one side, and its lovely sapphire bay sweeping round its dazzling white strand, until the eye catches the beautiful Arab palace which Walter B. Harris, the well-known correspondent of the London Times, has built himself at the floor of the Anjera Hills. 
Most visitors to Tangier are astonished at the excellence of the hotels and their very reasonable tariff. One is done well for a couple of dollars a day, all meals and wine included. No Visitor to Morocco has ever asked himself what he was to do for entertainment. There is sport of every kind, from wild-boar hunting down to quil-shooting; and further south one may even shoot panthers and hyenas. The lion does not begin until the Atlas Mountains are reached. 
Ouarzazate Morocco
Horses may be hired in Tangier for a bout a dollar and a half a day, including an American saddle; and for the ladies there are always comfortable mules provided, with any number of Arab and slave servants. The slave market, by the way, is no longer one of the “sights” of Tangier, since Christian influence long ago abolished it. This does not mean, however, that the salve trade is not carried on.
Indeed the traveler “in the know” may frequently see an old Arab merchant leading round a negro boy and girl by the ears from door to door, and he will learn that these are all that remain of an enormous slave caravan, obtained by Arab raiders as far as south as the Niger and mysterious Timbuktu, in central Africa.
The Arab coffee-houses where one squats on the floor and listens to dark eyed minstrels playing stringed instruments, and crooning songs of love and war, are a perpetual delight to the American visitor; as also are the thousand-and-one queer sights of the street—strange, tunnel-like passages blocked up with roaring and “bubbling” camels, perhaps laden with building stone or goat-skins intended for the wailing muezzins in the green-tiled minarets crying the hour of prayer; the rag-tag soldier, armed with all kinds of weapons; and above all the great sok or market-place just outside the old, crumbling mud walls, which should be seen on Wednesday or Sunday, when all the fierce tribes come in from the interior to barter their goods, exchange news and buy new weapons wherewith to harass still further the unhappy young sultan Moulai Abd el-Aziz.
Her one may see a primitive people, indeed, living just as they lived in Bible days, killing their sheep, cooking and eating the meat in the open air without knives and forks; selling their unleavened bread; changing their money at the street corners; praying, fighting, and story telling. 
The story teller, by the way, is a fellow on infinite humor, and one loves to stand and listen to his rich Arabic gutturals and watch his facial play and gesticulations, as he describes to the open-mouthed circle of country tribesmen the woes of the lovely young sultana, who could not be kept from her lover by the old “Bluebeard,” but met him at last in the pomegranate grove and – at this pint, the old rascal hurries round with a bowl of arar wood, and reaps a rich harvest from his wrought-up auditors, who want to hear about the “happy ending.”
Social life in Tangier is somewhat exclusive, and it is worth noting that the great “lion” is an American, Ion Perdicaris, whose kidnapping with that of his stepson, Cromwell Varley, a year or so ago, by he brigand, Rais Uli, made a sensation in both hemispheres. Mr. Perdicaris has two beautiful houses in Tangier, one a quaint old Arab palace inside the walls, and a beautiful chateau known as as “Idonia,” “The home of the Nightingales,” about five miles out on Mount Washington.
It is a beautiful ride out to Idonia, and of course everyone calls on Mrs. Perdicaris. Another very beautiful house is that of the countess de Buisseret, a Washington girl who married the Belgian minister to the Moorish court. Her tropical garden is indeed one of the “sights.” But perhaps one of the most enjoyable and beautiful of all excursions from Tangier is that of the city of Tetuan, about forty miles away. Tetuan lies embowered in orange groves and surrounded by mountains.
Of course forty miles sounds a ridiculous journey to an American, but something in the nature of an expedition is needed to go to Tetuan, such as mules, provisions, and very possible a small tent.  If one does not know the ropes, the dragoman not only exacts a large fee, but gets his victim up at some unearthly hour like five o’clock in the morning and insists on riding over the mountains all day long in a hot sun.
If, one the other hand, the traveler will start, say, at nine o’clock and ride as far as the fondak, or half-way caravansary, there camp for the night, and push on to Tetuan next morning, he will be rewarded by one of the most enjoyable and novel experiences conceivable. Most interesting is it to fancy oneself leader of a caravan in a savage country of North Africa, plodding along in single file while the guides on their mules or camels sing and play; and as one gets to the summit of a pass one looks down into the great valleys, where the tortuous paths of the torrents are marked by masses of scarlet oleander, whose vivid blossoms contrast so beautifully with its long, dark green leaves.
At Tetuan one finds the greatest bazaar in Morocco for the making of Morocco-leather slippers, and in a large cave outside the walls, one may behold the potter “thumping his clay” just as old Omar, the tentmaker, tells us in his quaint, old Rubaiyatt, written a thousand years ago. The entire expedition, lasting three days, will cost only about fifteen dollars. Then there is a coasting line of steamers by which one may visit the Moorish towns of the Atlantic seaboard, such as the Holy City of Rabat, El-Araish, Dar el-Baida, Saffi and Mogador which is the last of all the ports now open to Christian traffic.
 Rabat Morocco
All these places are absolutely safe—probably a good deal safer than New York City in some respects, so wholesome a terror have the tribesmen and their sheiks for the armed might of the Christians. Of course Christians may not enter Moorish mosques, --a thing that will surprise them, after having freely entered the mosques of India, Cairo and Constantinople. 
The Moorish Moslem, however, has ever been fanatical since the days he overran southern Spain and established his great mosque at Cordova—which, by the way, is probably one of the “sights” which the American traveler may do on this trip, returning direct from Tangier by the Spanish steamer “Joaquin Pielago” to Cadiz—a matter of only seven or eight hours.
From Gadiz one may visit Seville, Cordova and Granada – a very fitting termination to one of the most novel tours an American can take.

1 comment(s) so far...


Re: Morocco Travelogue by An American 1905

Wow, fascinating! It's always really interesting to read historical travel advice and see how much has changed in the interim.

By Amika on   8/4/2011 11:02 AM

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