Note: This post was begun months ago during the end of summer, but life became complicated so its final edits and publication were postponed again and again.
Every week, it seems, I discover yet another amazing aspect of Morocco. Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve had a chance to explore the coastline south of Casablanca. I’ve wandered through open-air fish markets where we bought some fresh fish, paid to have it grilled, and ate overlooking fishing boats scouring the Atlantic coast. I’ve walked along both crowded and empty beaches early morning to late evening. I’ve lain and watched meteor showers from a silent, darkened rooftop. Yet, perhaps the most intriguing outing thus far was my trip to the mausoleum of Lalla Aïcha Bahria, a tragic saint, and the nearby town of Azemmour.
Though thoroughly a Muslim country, many much older, traditional beliefs still pepper the faith. Belief in black magic, or witchcraft, though not publicly discussed, is not unheard of. Many small villages throughout Morocco have elders who will cast spells for those who seek their services. Their spells, they claim, can help with broken marriages, unrequited love, even revenge.
“…abandoned women, divorced, spinsters or women looking for their future husband invest places throughout the year. They come from different regions of Morocco, basing their wildest hopes on the saint. Others come to cure infertility or protect against the “evil eye” or bad luck. It must be said that the place, isolated, lends itself to this kind of worship.” (L’Economist, translated)
Some of these sites are more famous, and powerful, than others. There are some, for example, around Marrakesh that assist with mental afflictions and one, the Mausoleum of Sidi Abderrahmane that sits on a strange little outcropping near Morocco mall, that specializes in prophecy.
Walking through the market area of the mausoleum of Lalla Aicha Bahria, voodoo-like paraphernalia is available for purchase in the various shops around the plaza. There are shops that sell various talisman and prepared animal parts. As we walked through, people who claim to be from particular families and lineages offered to cast spells, say chants, perform rituals, and interpret signs. It was fascinating.
Across the delta lies the city of Azemmour, an old Portuguese fort that functioned as an Atlantic port. Like other cities along the Moroccan coast, the Portuguese established strategic trading and supply points for their African explorations. Most of the old medina walls remains intact including the local mellah, or Jewish quarter, with its occasionally functioning synagogue. Throughout the mellah are remnants of Jewish shops and homes, including the rabbi’s (rebbi) house.
Within the medina walls, near the main entry gate, is the former residence of the regional Portuguese governor. His elaborate kasbah overlooking the Oum Er-Rbia River delta and large courtyard can still be seen. The second longest river in Morocco, the Oum Er-Rbia (“mother of springtime”) begins high in the Atlas Mountains and slowly winds its way toward the Atlantic Ocean.
After wandering around the town and being escorted through the kasbah, we decided to hire a rowboat to take us along the river for some sightseeing. As we rowed slowly along, shorebirds flew, swam, and fed along the banks while schools of fish leaped out the of the water around us.
Along one bank are a series of caves which, according to the locals, served a meditation spot for a Muslim mystic. All told, it was an amazing little place and high recommended for a day’s outing.
Also published on Medium.