Monthly Archives: December 2014

Berber Jewelry, The Art of Moroccan Silver

Berber Museum, Majorelle Garden - Berber Jewelry

Berber Museum, Majorelle Garden – Berber Jewelry

Morocco is known for its artisans and the art of the jeweler or silversmith is one of many crafts practiced today. During your trip to Morocco you can watch artisans at work, marvel at the workmanship and detail of pieces in the jewelry souks and even negotiate the purchase of a unique piece. Many items of jewelry are appealing for their aesthetic value, but all pieces – whether new fabrications or antique treasures – draw on a fascinating history and symbolism.

Jewish Woman, Silver Jewelry

Jewish Woman, Silver Jewelry

Berbers traditionally wore silver and still do today although gold has become increasingly popular, especially in urban areas, due to its higher value. This probably was due to its availability: Morocco is a top 20 global silver producer and mines have been in use in the Souss-Massa- Draa region since the 1st century AD. Due to this resource, the town of Tiznit has grown as a major center of silver production and sales. The arrival of Islam in Morocco in the 7th century added a religious justification to the preference for silver, as certain texts of the Quran forbid the wearing of gold jewelry.

As in many traditional cultures, jewelry was and remains multi-purpose. It serves practical and adornment purposes as well as embodying a protective aspect or indicating wealth or social status.

Silversmith Amzrou Zagora

Silversmith Amzrou Zagora

Morocco has for many centuries been a melting pot of cultures and trading routes and as a result, many techniques were imported alongside materials or came with immigrant groups. Jews (coming from the Middle East during early migrations or later from Al-Andalus) were masters of the silversmithing techniques and passed their knowledge to their Berber neighbours and colleagues. In many places, such as the Mellah (Jewish quarter) of Marrakech or the village of Amezrou near Zagora, it is possible to visit craftsmen who still practice these methods of casting, piercing and enameling today, although the Jewish craftsmen are long gone. In Essaouira and in Fes, you will spot modern filigree work typical of the Jewish jewelers of a bygone era.

Berber Silver Tasfift

Berber Silver Tasfift

Berber women often receive elaborate silver jewelry from their husbands at the time of marriage. This ensures that she has her own wealth in the event of hardship or of becoming widowed. Traditionally, these pieces are worn at the wedding and include headdresses, earrings, necklaces, bangles, bracelets and rings. One of the headdresses worn by all Berber women at weddings is called a Tasfift and is essentially an ornate headpiece adorned with silver or nickel coins featuring King Mohammed V or Hassan II. It has  a rooster or chicken featured on the tip of the head to promote fertility of the new bride.

The pieces worn by Berber women at weddings  often feature beads of coral, amber or semi-precious stones plus cast coins and linked chains. Shapes and forms include those which are intended to ward off evil or geometric shapes reflecting both the Islamic tradition and Berber symbology. Many families sadly no longer have these heirlooms and in modern cities has become common to hire costume jewelry for the wedding day. It is possible to see examples of traditional Berber jewelry in the excellent Museums of Berber culture in Agadir and at the Majorelle Gardens, Berber Museum, in Marrakech.

A typical silver piece is the ‘fibula’. These are still made today and make unusual gifts as brooches. In fact, although decorative, the fibula has a very practical application in that it is used to join or fasten fabrics such as cloaks. It usually consists of either a singular triangle with a pin for fastening, or two such sections connected by a chain. The fibula design came to Morocco with the Romans and is essentially an early form of the safety pin. However, Berber craftsmen brought this useful item to a whole new level of aesthetics and symbolism. The triangular shape is said to represent woman (and fertility) and the tent (and therefore home or family).

During your visit to Morocco, you will see the Hand of Fatima or ‘khamsa’ represented everywhere from door knockers to decorations to jewlery. Common to the Islamic and Jewish faiths, it is believed to ward off evil or jealousy. The hand – with its five digits – is intrinsically linked to symbols of other faiths and cultures such as the five-pointed star or the pentagram. Modern and older khamsa pendants are available in souks all over Morocco.

Another common form is the ‘agadez’ or southern cross. These pendants are traditionally native to the Touareg tribes of the desert and are available across Morocco. There are said to be at least 21 variations on the central theme of an elaborate cross, each representing a tribe or homeland. Agadez crosses are made in the traditional way using a lost wax technique. Silver is melted on coal embers, and poured into a wax mold, placed in a mold of clay. Inserts of wood, glass or semi-precious stones, are sometimes added. It is said that these items are used for navigation in the desert, with the central cross denoting the four compass points.

The traditions and designs related to Berber jewlery are sure to give any visitor to Morocco a great insight into local culture… As well as making a great gift or souvenir purchase!

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about Berber Silver Jewelry or a Berber Village Tour 

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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ASTA Destination Expo, Marrakech, Your Morocco Tour Guide

ASTA Destination Expo, Marrakech

ASTA Destination Expo, Marrakech

ASTA (American Association for Travel Agents) will host its first Expo in Marrakech, Morocco from February 26th – March 1st, 2015. The ASTA Expo is geared towards Morocco Travel Agents and dedicated to showcasing Morocco and teaching industry professionals how to sell Morocco as a destination. The ASTA Marrakech Expo will include various sessions that impart information on Morocco ranging from Cultural Tourism to Adventure Travel, the Unique Cuisine of Morocco to Panel Discussions on Luxury Travel.

Some of the speakers scheduled for the ASTA Estination Expo in Marrakech are: Driss Benhima, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Royal Air Maroc Airlines, Abderrafia Zouitene, the CEO of the Moroccan National Tourist Office. There will also be a panel discussion featuring Ms. Fatima Zahra Mansouiri, the Mayor of Marrakech.

The ASTA Destination Expo will also offer Morocco site seeing opportunities for a fee along with a special events inclusive of a Dinner Fantasia Event. There are at present 42 exhibitors scheduled to attend.

For more information about the ASTA Destination Expo or a Marrakech Tour 

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque and Tomb of Lalla Zohra

Koutoubia Mosque & Koubba Lalla Zohra

Koutoubia Mosque & Koubba Lalla Zohra

The Koutoubia Mosque, visible from many vantage points of Marrakech and towering over the world famous Jmaa el Fna Square, is an iconic symbol of the so-called ‘Red City.’ At 77 meters (over 252 ft), it dominates the skyline and is a useful orientation aid. Look out for the minaret with its distinctive four cooper balls from the roof of your riad or hotel. On clear days you will spot it from the window of your plane as you arrive for your Marrakech vacation in the Moroccan sky.

Built in the 12th century, the Koutoubia is one of Marrakech’s oldest buildings. It remains the city’s largest mosque and was completed under the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184 to 1199). A unique experience of any visit to Marrakech to sit on one of the cafe terraces in Jmaa el Fna as the sunsets behind the Koutoubia and the call to prayer rings out before the beautiful floodlighting is illuminated over the mosque.

Although not open to non-Muslims, the Koutoubia and the 2 hectares (5 acres) Lalla Hasna gardens within which it sits are one of Marrakech’s most popular tourist attractions. In the Moroccan-Andalusian style, the gardens are laid out in a symmetrical pattern with fountains and fruit trees which frame the minaret perfectly for your holiday photographs.

Also worth looking out for at the base of the Koutoubia Mosque is the tomb of Koubba de Lalla Zohra. Although typically Islam forbids the worship of any individuals, Moroccan Islam incorporates the worship of saints and holy men and women, known as marabout. When travelling, you will see the mausoleums and monuments to their memory across the country – typically as white-washed, square koubba buildings with domed roofs and crenulated walls.

Beside the Koutoubia, you will find one such tomb, that of Koubba de Lalla Zohra (also known as Lalla Zahra el Kouch). She was buried here in the 18th century. As is common in Moroccan history, where little was recorded in writing and stories morph slightly with each recitation, Zohra’s origins are unclear. The most common legend has it that she was the daughter of a liberated sub-Saharan slave who, after converting to Islam, became an Imam (Islamic preacher). Another indicates her father was Abdellah el Kouch, chef to a Sheikh. A further story, perhaps tangled in the mists of time, suggests she was actually part of the Almohad dynasty and therefore a kind of aristocrat. Either way, locals believe that by day she was a woman who died young, but by night she became a dove. Flying through the ancient city, she performed miracles and religious acts and learned all of Marrakech’s secrets. In a religion dominated by male scholars, Lalla Zohra is an important figure for local women and has assumed the status of a saint. Many pay their respects at her tomb and send their children to be blessed there. Some Marrakchis may still name their children after Zohra. Rumour has it that some women avoid eating dove or pigeon (a key ingredient in Moroccan pastilla pastry) in her honour.

You cannot enter the Koutoubia Mosque, but the area around it is certainly worth a visit and a while on a bench under the shade of a citrus tree (perhaps contemplating the legend of Lalla Zohra) makes a welcome break from the bustle of Place Jmaa el Fna and the medina.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about a Marrakech Tour or Koubba Lalla Zohra

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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A Guide to Gluten Free Eating in Morocco

Moroccan Bisara, Dar Dara Guest House Chefchaouen

Moroccan Bisara, Dar Dara Guest House Chefchaouen

Traveling abroad can seem daunting for those who have special dietary requirements or allergies. For people who follow a gluten or wheat-free diet, with its staple carbohydrates of bread and couscous – can seem particularly challenging. Do not worry – you can enjoy a great trip to Morocco – even without eating wheat – if you consider some key pointers before and during your trip.

Moroccans typically eat bread three times a day (or more). It seems at first to be hard to avoid. If you are staying in guesthouse or hotel accommodation, let them know about your dietary requirements. For breakfast, you could enjoy Moroccan beysara (a traditional soup made of dried pulses and topped with olive oil and cumin – it’s very common in Fes) without the accompanying bread or a simple meal of orange juice, omelette and tea or coffee. Either option is readily available in Morocco in the mornings. It is worth noting that bread is baked in Morocco several times a day and each city has a slightly different variation on the flat, round theme. As such, it does not contain preservatives and only stays fresh for the day. Many people who do not tolerate commercially-made bread at home tolerate Moroccan bread well because of this.

It is possible to source a range of flours in Morocco and your hosts may be able to prepare wheat-free bread or pancakes for you if you explain your needs carefully. Some useful vocabulary:

English                     French                                      Moroccan Arabic (Darija)
Wheat                       blé                                              gemah
Rye                            seigle                                         chaâir
Barley                       semolina semoule d’orge        belboula, tchicha
Buckwheat              sarrasin (blé noir)                   el hanta souda
Cornmeal                semoule de maïs                       bdez
Corn flour               farine de maïs                           Maizena
The shining stars of Moroccan cuisine are the tajine and couscous. The former are like stews or hotpots, prepared on the stovetop or on a fire in a conical-shaped dish, which is also called a tajine. Typically, they contain meat or fish plus vegetables or sometimes dried fruits. Vegetarian versions are increasingly available in restaurants. They are usually eaten by a group of people or a family, who collectively dunk bread into the sauce and use it to scoop out the stew. If you prefer not to eat bread, simply ask for a fork or spoon.

Couscous refers to a broth of meat and/or vegetables on a bed of fluffy, steamed semoule (ie wheat semolina, a micro-pasta prepared by rolling and steaming the flour). Any couscous you find in a restaurant is almost certainly made of wheat. However, if you are staying in a riad guesthouse, you could request bdez (cornmeal) or tchicha or belboula (barley – note, it’s not gluten free but it is wholemeal). Riad owners often employ local women as cooks and they know all the best recipes!

The classic Moroccan soup, harira, often contains wheat pasta and is thickened with wheat flour. Again, you may be able to ask the chef in your riad to prepare it with rice noodles and cornflour. Other meals that are suitable for those on a wheat-free diet include lentil (aâdis) or bean (loubia) hotpots (often found at workers cafes and truck stops), and roasted or grilled meats or fish. The latter are typically served with sautéed vegetables and rice (with meats) or a classic Moroccan salad (diced tomato, onion and cucumber) with fish. Morocco has long Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines and the seafood in towns such as Essaouira, Agadir or Oualidia is not to be missed! Ask around for smaller restaurants owned and run by chefs – they are more likely to be accommodating. In cities such as Casablanca or Marrakech, you will find more international cuisine options such as Asian food with its basis in rice, or Brittany crêpes from France made from gluten-free buckwheat flour.

One way to be sure of what you are eating is to chose a self-catering option for your trip or stay in a riad where you have access to the kitchen. In large cities you will be able to access wheat-free breads in French-style bakeries as well as wheat-free staples such as oat flakes (porridge), corn chips, rice crackers and other imported goods in most large supermarkets. You are unlikely to find quinoa very easy, but you will never be far from a potato! Part of the fun of a self-catering vacation in Morocco is shopping in the souks, where you will find an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, meats and fish at a fraction of the price in the US or Europe.

Whether you choose to cook for yourself, or eat in restaurants, hotels and guesthouses where your meals are provided, with a little preparation and forewarning, you are sure to enjoy the best that Moroccan cuisine has to offer!

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about Gluten Free Eating in Morocco or a Morocco Food Tour

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

 

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Filed under Morocco Travel