Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: The Atlas Mountains and the Grand Souk of Marrakech. Morocco
Do you remember an inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an inn,
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny and who weren’t paying any?
(Under the dark of the vine verandah)
Hilaire Belloc. Tarantella. (1929)
Between Two Worlds
Travel is said to broaden the mind, some people say the bottom too! But travel only broadens the journey of life when we pay attention to the details. For example, take a look at a map of Morocco and you will notice that three quarters of its coastline borders the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Mediterranean Sea. Also, it lies very close to southern Spain, their tips almost touching at what the ancients called the Pillars of Hercules.
Today we know this narrow passage, separating two continents and two great seas, as the Strait of Gibraltar. Maps during Renaissance times had the warning, non plus ultra here – “nothing further beyond” – serving as a notice to mariners that beyond that point nothing was known.
The ties between Morocco and the rest of north Africa have long been as strong as with western Europe. The country fell into the Roman Empire for several decades until conquered by Muslim forces in the late 6th century. From 711 until around 1300 people from Morocco, called Moors, ruled the Iberian Peninsula, the two cultures greatly informing one another. This influence survives today in what is known as the Andalusan style of architecture.
Most of Morocco consists of the Magreb, the great unknown that is the Sahara Desert. However, it is scoured west to east by parallel ranges of mountains that include the highest peaks in north Africa. The very highest, Jebel Toubkal, is 4.167 metres high, starkly barren and blisteringly hot in summer, while entirely ice-bound through winter. The peak is extremely prominent and when white with snow resembles a somewhat smaller Mount Everest. It lies almost in the middle of the country about 63 kilometres south of Marrakech.
We all have a sense of who Atlas was, a figure from classical literature that held up the earth on his shoulders. The story begins with Homerian legend and the convoluted stories of immortals at the dawn of humankind. According to the legend the primordial creators were Uranus and Gaia. By the third generation Atlas was the dominant of the Titans and Zeus the most senior of the Olympian gods. There ensued a 10-year battle between them, the Titanomachy Wars, which was finally won by Zeus and his merry band.
Have a look at our video below.
Citadel in the Hills
The Kasbah du Toubkal is a warm retreat from the cold mountain air of the High Atlas; an absolute haven that feels like it is still the home of a Berber chief. Everything about the buildings and décor is authentically Moroccan, which along with the warm hospitality of the proud local people who run it, cannot fail to impress.
The views from the gardens and terraces are awe-inspiring, sweeping upwards towards the high peaks where isolated homes cling to the mountainside and downwards to the valleys where little villages with fields and orchards, are dominated by the minarets of many mosques.
The call to prayer sounds out several times a day, the call taken up by every mosque and as the sound echoes through the mountains it can be heard even when you are trekking higher up the slopes. If for no other reason, it gives you pause to think, to take in the splendour around you and realise the privilege of being there.
The Kasbah owners are deeply committed to various development and upliftment projects in the area, most notably in health, education and the environment. It is rather nice to know that your guest levy provides a reliable income, which contributes towards the sustainability of these projects.
La Sultana, Marrakech
Cool and serene amid the hustle and bustle of the ancient Medina in Marrakech, the La Sultana Hotel is a fabulous mix of contemporary and traditional. It has strong Moorish influences in its furnishings and décor and takes great pride in its service and cuisine. La Sultana offers a stunning 360 degree view from its terrace, which includes the minarets of the ancient city and on a clear day the legendary peaks of the Atlas Mountains. What more could one ask?