Sophisticated Living Indianapolis

JUL-AUG 2012

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Page 39 of 131

Lobby of the Sofitel Rabat Jardin des Roses After a six-hour flight from JFK, we touched down at 5:30 a.m. in Casablanca, where after collecting our bags, we were greeted by our guide for the week - Saida Ezzahoui - a petite woman possessing immense charisma and seemingly indiminishable energy for such an early hour. We settled into our comfortable shuttle bus, and as the silhouette of palm trees became illuminated by the sunrise, Saida launched into a fascinating overview of Morocco's history, religion, language, topography and customs. With five million inhabitants, Casablanca is Morocco's biggest and most modern city. Named by the Portuguese after an impressive white house of a 10th-century chief, Casablanca was included in the portion of the country between Fez and Rabat that was a French protectorate from 1912 to 1956, resulting in a legacy of French influence in the school system and government. Te city's importance as a hub of business was evident by Palm Beach-like enclaves of grand ocean view homes hidden behind manicured hedges. A light breakfast of pastries and mint tea at a café on the Atlantic was followed by a visit to the impressive Hassan II Mosque, the largest in the country and the seventh largest in the world, capable of holding 105,000 worshippers. One of only two 38 mosques in the country open to non-Muslim visitors, Saida, a Suni Muslim, provided us with an easy-to-understand overview of her faith, highlighting its ease of practice and more tolerant nature (poignantly underscored by her conservative Western dress sans hijab). Meknes, originally settled by Berbers in the ninth century, was our next stop. Bab Mansour is the most notable among the city's 27 gates. Within the medina's main square there were carts laden with sheep carcasses, and Saida explained that Muslims were celebrating Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, with each family slaughtering a sheep to mark the occasion. After telling us about the sheep her family kept in their garage to mark the holiday, she likened it to the American tradition of turkey on Tanksgiving, and we laughed at the thought of a DIY turkey day. Under the rule of Moulay Ismaïl, known for his abject cruelty, his capital city of Meknes became noteworthy for its extravagance, with some 25,000 slaves used during the construction of the imperial palace and monuments, some of which included stoned pilfered from the nearby Roman ruins at Volubilis. Te remains of the palace, including stables capable of accommodating 12,000 horses, provide a fascinating glimpse of life in medieval Morocco.

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