Reunited with our driver we left the main square and drove just a short way until we reached the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, which interestingly (and without satisfactory explanation that I could find) is one of only three Moroccan shrines that non-Muslims can visit.
The mausoleum was constructed during the reign of Moulay Ismail and since his death has been a point of reverence and a visit to his final resting place is believed to bring baraka, a sort of divine blessing but again I’m not sure if this included anyone or is restricted to Muslims. Moulay Ismail was responsible for driving out the Spanish and British from Morocco, uniting the country and the establishment of the Alaouite ruling dynasty. His strict observance of orthodox Islamic ritual has also conferred a kind of salutary healing power on him and many Muslims visit the shrine in the hope of receiving health, well-being and good luck.
Moulay Ismaïl was an interesting character and by all accounts a man of excesses. It is said that he personally killed over twenty-five thousand men but to compensate for this he is alleged to have fathered eight hundred and eighty-nine children and this is generally considered the record number of offspring for any one man throughout history that can actually be verified. It is estimated that to father that number of children Ismaïl would have had to have sex several times every day for sixty years so that must have been a real chore! When he wasn’t slaughtering or shagging he was building himself his new capital city at Meknès which took twelve years as he dismantled the Badii Palace in Marrakech and removed the treasures and relocated them in his preferred location.
Being unexpectedly allowed into this place we walked through a series of courts and chambers decorated in bright yellow tiles and spiralling stuccowork. Behind the courts is the sanctuary that holds the remains of Moulay Ismail and his family members and after we had taken off our shoes at the door we were invited into the mausoleum but not the Mosque.
After the mausoleum visit we went next to the Heri es Souani, the site of Moulay Ismail’s stables. We paid the reasonable entrance fee and were allocated a guide. He asked if we understood French or English, we told him English and he looked at us with a face that said ‘That’s a shame because I do this tour in French’ and he set off on his commentary to our appropriately blank faces. He took us through a remarkable system of high-vaulted chambers with a series storerooms and granaries. In the time of Moulay Ismail, these were used to hold provisions in a case of a drought or a siege and behind these chambers were the stables for seven-thousand horses. That’s an awful lot of horses and an awful lot of equine shit to shovel so there were living quarters over the top for the hundreds of grooms and labourers that would have been required to support an operation such as this.
At the completion of the tour the guide said goodbye but rather like a barnacle on a rock stayed close by, we set to walk off but then suddenly he seemed to remember that he could speak a bit of English after all, he coughed an attract attention sort of cough, held out his hand and asked if we had forgotten something. We had of course and we rifled our pockets for some loose change to give the man his deserved tip.
That was the end of our visit to Meknes and in the late afternoon Abdul steered the taxi out of the city and quickly joined a toll motorway that was straight and quick and soon we were back in the suburbs of Fez. There were a lot of police check points to negotiate and Abdul explained that they were speed cops who were collecting tax revenues, much the same as in the UK but here they don’t have sneaky cameras to do the dirty work! The checks didn’t seem to apply to Abdul who seemed to know all the police officers personally and he waved to them and smiled as they inevitably beckoned him through the bollards.
It was a sort of rush-hour in Fez and Abdul joined the lines of undisciplined traffic as he bullied his way through traffic lights and junctions, impatiently blowing his horn or flashing his lights at anyone that he considered was holding him up, which was pretty much everyone else out on the road this Saturday night.
He returned us safely to the Riad and we had a rest and a beer and Micky ill advisedly went out for a walk where he was accosted by a youth who insisted on taking him to a restaurant recommendation and told him that he would meet us again later to escort us there. It seems that this is an important part of the Moroccan economy which works on introductions, tips, bribery and corruption as we had discovered the day before on Hamid’s walking tour of the Souks. Actually Hamid had already recommended this very restaurant and was legitimately entitled to the 10% commission if we dined there and we had already decided that was what we would do.
We left the Riad and walked into the streets and Mick’s new pal was thankfully nowhere to be seen but along the way we attracted the attention of another local boy who, sniffing the 10% for himself, insisted that he was taking us to the restaurant that we were already going to anyway. He was a nuisance and a pest and it could have become unpleasant because when Kim explained this to him and told him to go away he became indignant and threatening and told us not to tell him to go away when he was in his own country and we were only visitors.
It turned out to be a nice restaurant but the boy dropped by to say that he had brought us there and then Micky’s pal turned up claiming the same thing and suddenly there were three people after the 10%. We explained to the restaurant staff that Hamid had made the recommendation and he should have the commission but Micky went outside to see the boys and although he didn’t own up to this I suspect he gave them a few dirhams just to go away.
The meal was excellent and we enjoyed three courses of traditional food and to our amazement Sue demonstrated that the lunchtime plate clearing surprise was not a one-off phenomenon and she ate everything again and declared it delicious. I began to worry that one of my favourite materials for my journals – Sue’s fussy eating – might be in jeopardy here in Morocco! As we finished the meal and the wine there was some entertainment as the waiters joined a couple of traditional musicians in an impromptu singing and dancing routine which was excellent and we joined in and enjoyed it.
On the short walk back to the Riad, Micky’s pestering pal appeared out of the shadows of a doorway and complained that he had been cheated out of his commission by Abdul and he had made no money tonight. We might have guessed that Abdul would be involved somewhere in this. He accompanied us all the way back assuring us that he would keep us safe in a dangerous neighbourhood but we didn’t feel at all threatened so we ignored him and back at the Riad we rang the bell and when we were inside the heavy door was closed in his face and we certainly didn’t give him the tip he was hankering for.