For every culture I’ve had the pleasure of encountering and immersing myself in, there are countries and cities that remain elusive; the grip they have on my imagination not yet actualised in reality. A few years ago, I dreamt of Morocco. I made plans, found a path, and yet the opportunity to walk down the path of my innermost longings never materialised.
How fragile our dreams are till they are born.
Morocco literally means ‘the place the sun sets’. It is a country located in North Africa that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The capital city is Rabat and the largest city is Casablanca. Spanning an area of 710,850 km2 (274,460 sq mi), the North African country has a population of over 37 million. The full Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah can be translated as ‘Kingdom of the West’ or ‘Kingdom of the Evening’.
Due to Morocco’s strategic location, the land has been influenced by many cultures throughout its long history. The country’s architectural heritage is a blend of the intermingling of African tribes of the Sahara Desert, Islamic traditions from its Arab neighbours as well as European colonisers. This myriad of influences has created a culture unlike any other and nowhere is this more clear than in the country’s distinctive architectural style.
Morocco is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which makes it a spectacular destination for explorers and adventurers. If you’re anything like me and view the annals of history as signposts to a yet-to-be seen future, Morocco is full of gems for the seeker to unearth. As the closest African nation to Europe, numerous peoples and nations have travelled through these lands over the centuries. The buildings they constructed and the architecture they boasted have left a lasting legacy that both travellers and locals can marvel at and perhaps even behold.
The meaning of the word kasbah is varied and includes; “keep”, “old city”, “watchtower” and “blockhouse”. Mystery surrounds the kasbah’s original function – with some arguing that they were built as lookouts, and others saying that they were keeps or even granaries.
Kasbahs constitute one of Morocco’s richest heritages. Unique to the oases, these residences are concentrated in the southern extents of the eastern High Atlas Mountains. There are, however, some kasbahs that have been constructed in the region surrounding Marrakech, the fourth-largest city in the Kingdom of Morocco.
Constructed from indigenous mud or clay, kasbahs are born of the same colour that scorches the valley. They present a striking abode that is both austere and fragile. The thick kasbah walls that rise up towards the sky remind us of the tumultuous past of these oases which were once fraught with tribal wars. The aesthetics of the kasbah express a desire for sturdiness as well as muted elegance. Similar to the architectural traditions of historical civilisations and peoples, the kasbah reside in harmony with the natural environment and the landscape where they are painstakingly built.
The decorative motifs on the facades of kasbahs are always geometric–diamonds, chevrons, checkerboards and arcatures. Meticulous symmetry ceases to exist as each facade embraces its own unique character and persona. Objects such as small black stones, shells and horseshoes are embedded into the wall just above the door to protect the dwelling from nefarious and malignant forces.
Life in the kasbah is as basic as it is in the tents of the nomads. The furniture is sparse and functional. Life takes place in the shadows as only slanted rays of light succeed in making their way through the narrow holes that grace the walls. The absence of openings is intentional and was conceived to defend its inhabitants as well as provide thermal insulation.
Evenings are illuminated by candlelight. The dawn brings the scorching sun of the work day with its farming and herding. Unlike us modern city dwellers, the inhabitants of the kasbah never saw the need to stay up late.
Presently unable to set foot outside my island-city of Singapore, I rest my restless feet and find a semblance of peace amongst the pictures and images that photographers and documentary makers have created to allow me to travel the world without leaving my abode.
Perhaps a day will come when I will finally have the privilege to visit the North African country that has captured my imagination. But till that day comes, all I need to do is remember that the world is both a big and small place–and that we are all a small part of an interconnected whole.