Saturday, April 4

Morocco VII: Seraglio of Ouarzazate

February 13, 2020
As always: click upon any image to expand it.

We bussed south from Erfoud out of the High Atlas Mountains through hairpin, windy passages toward The Door of the Dessert, the city of Ouarzazate.

Plate 54

Mid and Southwest along the spine of Morocco it’s sandy. Ouarzazate is nestled at the crossroads of the subsistence Draa, Dades and Ziz valleys. . 

Plate 55
The small Ouarzazate city’s bordered by tangerine dunes to its west and south. Caravans knew the town as either the gateway to the desert or it’s end. It was where traders debarked or finished their 52 day Timbuktu trek. 

Which made its 18th century Berber rulers important and rich.

With the great desert defining its southern border, the scenery’s nourished Africa’s two greatest movie studios where films like, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Living Daylights (1987), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Kundun (1997), Legionnaire (1998), Hanna (2011), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) were shot, along with part of the TV series Game of Thrones.

Plate 56
Perhaps imaginary art professor Zdan Tabaamrant might lecture profoundly over the depth
of this expensive Byrne image of the legendary Kasbah of Taourirt. Or then again, maybe not.
It’s also home of the massive Kasbah of Taourirt built by the Berber Sultan Glaoui in the late 1700s at the height of the caravan trade. Now its ruins are under UNESCO supervised restoration and we toured its seraglio: the sequestered living quarters of the Sultan’s wives, concubines, and some of their youngest children. Those harems lived in seraglios guarded by Janissaries and giant eunuchs who paced its bleak halls. 

Plate 57

Bleak? Imagine 30 or so women, many just girls, living entire lives among mysterious stairwells and strangely shaped rooms lit by low windows: desert hot in summer and then winter chilled. 

Plate 58
For entertainment they peered down  through filigreed bars upon bustling courtyards of people they’d never know. Here they slept: thin rugs on cement floors. 
Plate 59
Lives lived within garnet, azur, and white walls sometimes decorated with meticulously painted strips at their tops just below finely worked cedar ceilings. These women were designed, decorated, and restrained by barred windows and the Sultan’s cravings. 

As unnamed poets wrote,

In a harem
all women’s hearts
by lust and slavery
are torn apart

…and they,
put on,
took off, 
pants, briefs 
and veils,
as ‘wants man’…
Plate 60
What were their secrets? Their hopes? Dreams? Seraglio was where women lived like pigeons. Most arrived as children themselves, frequently pre-teens, into a scented purgatory: to choose between satisfying Sultan, torture, or death.

Plate 61
Okay, monochrome bleaches away life’s romantic overlay distilling feelings down to the dismal. In fact, our guide pointed out the lavish ceilings and exquisite details along the walls’ upper edgings. 

Plate 62
So here’re a couple of Technicolor cells. Take their palettes back now and imagine them spilled upon the earlier sad images up above. Imagine golden and bejeweled furnishings upholstered in silken fabrics. Imagine musicians, food-mounded plates and indulging servants. Conjure everything except liberty to take a walk, meet kin, read, write, speak your mind but only to be, “as wants man”.  
Plate 63

BTW, the last word above is not men, but ‘man’. 

Coming quite soon… Morocco VIII: Ruins of the Ksar of Ait Ben-Haddous  

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