Friday, November 29, 2013

#746 Old Medina, Rabat, Morocco

The view of the twin city of Sale across the river mouth as viewed from Rabat's old city.
I think if I had to pick a favorite capital city in the world, it might be Rabat, in Morocco. It is small and manageable, but central to the country and all the things one might need such as beaches, culture shows, and heritage. The incredible half completed Hassan Mosque (#864) sits on the top of the river cliff overlooking Sale the equally magnificent old city across the water (the Oued Bou Regreg). But one of the glories of Rabat is the old city which sits majestically on the cliffs above the beach, overlooking all that was important in its trade-packed history where it has risen to importance and fallen into village obscurity. It is not a huge old town, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in pretty alleyways and excellent shopping!
I think one of my favorite memories is from my first visit to the city. I was shopping in the old souq for souvenirs and gifts for Christmas, but it was hot and almost lunchtime, and one by one all the shops closed up for an afternoon siesta. The pretty wooden doors were soon all boarded up and the previously busy street was empty and quiet.
Returning years later when I was visiting Morocco for a friend's wedding, I was impressed that the beautiful sun shades and arches were still there and just as beautiful as I remembered.
The city is painted white and blue and green, but not overly so, and it is kept clean and safe because of both it's small size and the tourists that pass through, but it is local in a way that Fes and Marrakech are touristy.

Rabat has really only been the capital of Morocco since it was part of the French protectorate (away from the intrigues of the traditional capitals of Fes (#929), Meknes, and Marrakech (#988), although there were two brief imperial capital periods. However, it has been settled since the 8th century BC, with the necropolis at Chellah, a Phoenician then Roman settlement (called Sala Colonia), evolving into a Berber kingdom (keeping prominence as a settlement long after the Romans were gone, similar to its more northern cousin Volubilis (#912)). In the 10th century, the Zenata tribe that controlled Sale built a ribat (fortress-monastery) on the site of the Kasbah, which was later rebuilt by the Almohads in the 12th century. After the successful campaigns against the Spanish Reconquista under Yacoub al-Mansour, Ribat al Fatah (Victory Fortress) was expected to become a great capital, and the extensive walls and Bab Oudaia gate were built, the grand mosque planned, but all came to a halt with Al-Mansour's death in 1199 and the town fell from significance.
In the 17th century there was an injection of new settlers in the area with refugees from Muslim Spain, Christian renegades, Moorish pirates, corsairs and other adventurers, many of whom roamed the Atlantic for Christian slave labor, only partially reined in by the Alawite sultans. The old city has survived from this era, and the modern capital (since 1956 independence) was a recognition of its suitable location, but the old part of the city is definitely smaller than those in Fes, Meknes and Marrakech.
Inside you will find the Souq as-Sebbat with lots of jewelry for sale, and a small flea market near the river. In the days of the Sallee Rovers, the broad open area near the Kasbah was site of the slave auctions.

Source: Lonely Planet Morocco 6th Edition 2003

Thursday, November 28, 2013

#747 Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Samoa

In 1890 the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson had this mansion built on the outskirts of Apia, Samoa in hopes that the tropical climate would help his tuberculosis, but he only lasted four years before dying here, but not before he was adopted by Samoans as a storyteller. With a beautiful lawn and gardens next to untamed tropical forest where Stevenson is buried, the house was partially destroyed in cyclones in the early 1990s, but was loving restored as a museum for the centenary of Stevenson's death.
A short tour leads past the antiques and family photos. Why so amazing? Such manicured carefully tended humble appreciation of literature does not really get celebrated much, but when it's one of the things to see in tiny Samoa, it is valued.

Source: Lonely Planet's Samoa & Tonga 6th Edition 2009

Sunday, November 24, 2013

#748 Fethiye, Turkey

Livable and yet still traditional, Fethiye is a pretty town on a beautiful bay on Turkey's southern coast, flooded with history and heritage, mixed with modern, tourist-oriented Turkey. Named for an early Turkish pilot, ironically it doesn't even have its own airport (most traffic uses Dalaman, and hour to the west), but it was previously known as Makri ('long one' from the shape of its harbor).  
As ancient Lycia's most important city Telmessos ('the land of lights') from the 5th Century B.C., historical relics abound such as the tombs seen on the hills (including the Tomb of Amyntas) , the Hellenistic theatre near the marina and the sarcophagi in the middle of the street! Either as Telmessos or Anastasioupolis, as it was also known it has variably been part of the Persian empire, the Attic-Delos Union, Alexander the Great's empire, the Roman then Byzantine empire, until it became Ottoman after the late 12th century. It has been known for its perfume production, and for having a sizeable Greek population before the population exchange.
Now a major tourist hub, with several stunning beaches (such as Oludeniz, supposedly the most photographed in the Mediterranean, and Chalish), pretty harbors and bays, ancient Lycian cities and the famous Lycian Way walking path, sailing opportunities, market stalls, small villages (including the ghost village a Karakoy) and resorts. With the Taurus Mountains rising up as a backdrop to the calm turquoise waters, and an ideal temperature and climate, its popularity is not surprising.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

#749 Seville Cathedral, Spain

The first time I went to Seville, it was a quick weekend trip from Morocco over Easter with several exchange friends from Al Akhawayn University. I don't think we slept for three days, doing the 8 hour drive to the coast in a shared taxi to catch the last ferry on Friday night. We cramped into a tiny hotel in Algeciras, while others roamed the streets all night. We took the first bus to Seville which was probably at least 5 hours, and arrived in the middle of the parades -- I was astounded to see that the Klu Klux Klan hoods had their origins in Catholic ritual and couldn't stop looking at the many white masks. I was entranced with my first experiences of tapas, sangria, all-night salsa bars, and the magic of Spain. I watched the sunrise after one particular night-spot, then began the long journey back in order to make it just in time for class on Monday morning! That time I was only in Seville very briefly, but I was destined to return for a work conference many years later. I only visited the cathedral very briefly on my first visit, following one parade float in and out the massive doors.
The most memorable symbol of the cathedral, the tower called Giralda was actually built during Moorish Spain as the minaret of the Almohad Mosque (begun in 1184). Similar to the Mezquita (#946) in Cordoba, the mosque was converted into a church (and the Giralda a bell tower) after the Reconquista (1248). The Giralda was designed by the same architect (Jabir) as the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech (#988) and the Hassan Mosque in Rabat (#864), although the top part of La Giralda dates from the Renaissance. I found it most impressive because it has no stairs to ascend to the top, only a ramp, and this ramp is high and wide and flat enough that a horse can be ridden all the way up!
Officially called the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, it is the largest gothic church and the third largest church in the world. It surpassed the biggest at the time (the Hagia Sophia) when it was completed in the 16th century, having taken over a 100 years to build (1402-1506). It was damaged and/or destroyed by several earthquakes such as in 1356, 1376, 1511, and 1888. 
The nave is the longest in Spain and rises to a height of 42m. It has 80 chapels inside and 15 doors on its four sides: aside from the Main Door (the Door of Assumption), there are the Door of the Baptism, the Door of the Nativity (or Saint Michael), the Door de la Longa (or Saint Christopher), Door of the Conception, Door of the Lizard (a stuffed crocodile hangs from the ceiling!), Door of the Sanctuary, Door of Forgiveness, Door of the Sticks (or Adoration of the Magi), and the Door of the Bells. 
The burial place of Chistopher Columbus is just one symbol of its connection to the new world exploration: it was the trade wealth from the Americas that allowed such a large monstrosity to be built, and the gold that gilds its interior came from the new world. Along with the Alcazar and the General Archive of the Indies, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Interesting Anecdote: In 1874, artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo's painting of Saint Anthony was stolen, only to be sold to the New York City Art Gallery by an immigrant, who purchased it for $250 and sent it back to Spain.