Category

Museums

Category

Majorelle Gardens and YSL Museum

The Majorelle Gardens and Yves St. Laurent Museum are worthy of planning a visit to Morocco just to see them! Even though I’ve written a lot lately about my language learning, which has occupied most of my mind, it’s time to let you in on some other things I’ve seen lately.

After Christmas, we took a trip to Marrakech. I had visited Marrakech before. It was the first time I came to Morocco in 2012 and I was with my son. Even though I love Marrakech, I find it very aggressive and not a place I want to live, but love to visit. Given that, I was anxious to visit with my husband who has been there many, many times.  His experience and knowledge would make it a different experience, and it was. Over the next few days, I will tell you all about our visit and some of the major sites.

First, let’s start with the Majorelle Gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum, which is my absolute favorite. This was my second visit there. It is a two and a half acre botanical garden started in 1923 by the artist Jacques Majorelle. It took him forty years to build the garden. They recently opened an entirely new section which made the garden almost double the size of my prior visit.


In 1980, the designer Yves St. Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge purchased the property and villa located on it and began restoration. The villa houses the Islamic Art Museum and the Berber Museum and on the property but at a separate entrance is the Yves St Laurent museum dedicated to his designs.

Tomb of Yves St Laurent and his partne
Tomb of Yves St Laurent and his partner

The gardens are open every day of the year. It is one of the most visited sites in Morocco. It takes several hours to go through the gardens and the museum. There are cafes inside the museum properties, but also some nice restaurants and cafes located just outside.


We had lunch between visiting the gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum, which has a separate entrance, and it was the perfect break.

If you go to Marrakech, do not miss this garden! No photos are allowed in the museum.

The Mosque of Hassan II

The Grande Mosque of Hassan II is a must see when visiting Casablanca. We are returning to pick up my passport, but, we won’t be sightseeing this time. However, it occurred to me that I hadn’t told you about this incredible site.

For instance, this mosque is the only one that non-Muslims can enter in Morocco. Additionally, it is also the largest in Morocco, the second largest in Africa and the fifth largest in the world. The minaret is the tallest in the world.  It is 689 feet or 60 stores and on top is a laser pointed toward Mecca.

The mosque was designed by Michel Pinseau and completed in 1993. The mosque stands on a promontory looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. It will hold 105,000 worshippers. The ceiling is retractable and the walls are built of handcrafted marble. It truly is a remarkable sight and like most religious structures is awe-inspiring.


Most importantly, Morocco’s artisan woodworkers, zellij artists, carved stucco moldings, and marble workers all outdid themselves in the work in this mosque. For example, there is cedar from the Atlas Mountains, marble from Agadir, and granite from Tafraoute. Murano glass chandeliers hang from the domes in the central hall.


The cost of the mosque was 585 million euro, which was a highly controversial sum of money for this low-mid income country. The funds were acquired from public donations, business entities, other Arab countries and construction loans provided by western countries. Twelve million people contributed to the cost, ranging from contributions as low as 5 dirhams.


The cost of entrance is 120 dirhams. Additionally, it includes a guided tour in a variety of languages. On the other hand, entrance to the museum is 30 dirhams. It is well worth a visit. The museum has more information about the artisan work in the mosque. There is a school of artisans located on the premises. You can check the website here for more information about opening times.

Mzoura-The Stonehenge of North Africa

On our recent trip to Larache, I discovered a side note in my DK Eyewitness Guide for Mzoura. If you haven’t tried the DK Eyewitness Guides, you should. They are my favorite guidebook by far, particularly when you go to larger cities and can get the Top 10 guides.

Mzoura is an archeological site containing 167 monolithic stones in a circle. It’s the North African Stonehenge! I was excited to see it but finding it was quite the adventure. The drive was lovely down back roads and through fields and over hills. After stopping several times to ask for directions, we finally found the site.


Unfortunately, it was in a poor state with weeds and wildflowers overgrowing the stones. There was a locked gate, but as we approached, a man came out to let us in. There were goats grazing on the site.


Still, you could make out and walk around the distinct circle of stones. One of the stones was about 6 feet tall and stood pointing directly to the sky. The circle of 167 stones is about 55 meters in diameter and is, according to legend, the site of the tomb of the giant of Antaeus.


There is much controversy around the age of the site, but it is believed, based on some items found nearby to have been created in the 3rd or 4th century B.C. This would align with the rise of Mauretania and the first kings there.

The middle part, which is the tomb, was excavated in 1936 and no report was published, nor was the site left in good condition. I found one good aerial photo of the site from that time, which you can see here.

The site is located between Asilah and Larache towards the tiny town of Sidi el-Yamani. Be prepared to ask for directions!

Lixus Archeological Site-Larache, Morocco

Lixus is an ancient village located just minutes outside of Larache. It is located high on a hill between the Loukkos River and the port. The ruins here date back to the 4th century B.C. Among the ruins, you will see Roman baths, temples, ancient walls, a mosaic, and some remains of Capitol Hill.

The archeological site is huge at 160 acres and only about 20% of it has been excavated. Excavation began and ran continuously from 1948 until 1969. In 1989, the site was partially enclosed and today work continues on the property and making it more tourist friendly. Some of the mosaics located here have been moved to museums in Tangier, Rabat, and Tetuoan.


When we arrived, we found some young men at the entrance who work there as security and as informal guides. They must accompany guests on the site to ensure the security of the archeological artifacts and buildings. It was helpful to have the guide lead us through the path and answer questions that we had about the site, uses of different buildings, and the excavation process.


It took us about 3 hours to tour the site. The path to climb the hill is cleared and fairly easy. We stopped to look and take in the views at a variety of altitudes. The location between the river and the Atlantic Ocean proved to be strategic for the early communities.

Lixus was first settled by Phoenicians in the 7th century B.C. It was annexed by Carthage and eventually fell to the ancient Romans. Lixus was at its prime during the Roman Empire.


It was one of the few Berber African cities that boasted an amphitheater. In the 3rd century, Lixus was almost entirely Christian and there are ruins of a Paleochristian church overlooking the site. The Arab invasions destroyed the city.


We went to this area specifically to see this archeological site and we weren’t disappointed. The site is not pristine as many archeological sites in terms of clearing brush and foliage around the areas, but for me, this contributed to the mystery and potential for future discovery of this site. I enjoyed imagining what else might lie below just waiting to be uncovered.

Ksar Sghir Archeological Site

I have seen archeological sites all over the world now and I never tire of them. Morocco offers me even more opportunities to learn about these early civilizations. My imagination goes wild at the site of them. Often I wonder if we really have come so far.

Ksar Sghir is located on the Mediterranean Sea at the Strait of Gibraltar just about one hour Northwest of Tangier. It is twelve kilometers from the new Tangier Medport. It is a small town now of about 11,000 inhabitants and the ruins of the fort built around 700 A.D. stands at the edge of the sea.

F ounded first by the Phoenicians., Ksar Sghir means “small castle”. Its primary attraction at the time was a salting mine. The 15th-century fortress whose remains stand there now was built by the Portuguese. Many Moors arrived at this port after they were expelled from Spain during the Christian reconquest.

We traveled there and back by bus and it was a nice little day trip. The beach is nice and there is a small café with tables in the sand. We were there in early May, so not quite tourist or beach season yet.

On the main road, there are many cafés offering charcoal grilled chicken and meats. Choose the type and quantity of meat that you want and they will cook it up for you. That along with a Moroccan salad and some fries make a great meal. Most of the places have tables and chairs outside and the place we ate had a small terrace about the kitchen.


Unfortunately, the day we went the archeological site was already closed. It seems to be open in the mornings only, so we will definitely try again. It’s a nice little break from the city.

Museum of the Resistance-Tanger

Just inside the Grand Socco lies a little-known museum called Espace de la Memoire Historique de la Resistance et de la Liberation a Tanger. When you arrive in the Grand Socco, face the medina and you will see the keyhole entry door in white and green to your left.
Through the door, you will see a large Banyan Tree whose branches take root several times on the surrounding earth. There are a large square and a house facing you. The exhibit is in the house.

Grand Socco
Grand Socco

Banyan Tree
Banyan Tree

On the day we were there, there was a celebration of the liberation, which took place on April 9, 1947. The Grand Socco’s real name is Place du Avril 9 to commemorate this day and the activities that happened in this square on that day. King Mohammed V, the current King’s father made a famous speech on that day.


Portraits of rulers of the past were brought outside for those in the area to enjoy. Inside the museum, there are more portraits, uniforms, and memorabilia from the time. Entrance to the museum is free.


The back of the museum runs against the beautiful hillside garden of Mendoubia. It’s a great place to take a picnic or to just sit and relax above rue de Italie, which is one of the most beautiful streets with the lovely architectural details. The strucutre of this palace is almost as interesting and beautiful as the exhibits contained within it. Pay particular attention to all of the beautiful mosiac details in each room, as well as the lighting.

Hagia Sophia-Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sofia means The Church of Holy Wisdom in Turkish. The first church on this site burned down in 404 and the one that exists today is the third one, built in 537. It is really amazing to see something still standing despite the countless natural disasters such as earthquakes and the many wars in the area.

The exterior of the building is not exactly as it was constructed because buttresses were added to secure the structure. This distracts a little from the original shape. It looks more mosque-like in its current form with the tall minarets at the corners.

Inside the structure, the galleries are where the women prayed and there are some wonderful mosaics inside left from the church days. Many of the columns inside were scavenged from the pagan temples and reused in this structure


In 1453, the church was turned into a mosque. The mosaics were plastered over and the mihrab and minbar were added along with the calligraphic roundels. The mosaics were not discovered until 1930 and since 1934, the structure has been a museum. The history of the structure and being inside it was amazing.

The Hagia Sophia is located on one end of Sultanahmet Square directly across from the Blue Mosque. It is opened every day from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. during April-October. In the winter months, the hours are 9-5.

There are two floors inside Hagia Sofia and there is a cemetery with tombs and some artifacts outside. There are a nice bar and place to sit outside and restrooms are outside. Security is tight in this museum and all of the monuments and museums, so plan a little extra time to get through the lines. The weekend lines were very long, but during the week, they were not too bad.


While you are in line guides will approach you and offer their services. This can be a good way to cut through some of the lines and save time as they enter through another door. They will have tickets to sell and add on the cost of the guide services.

Another option in an audio guide which lets you get the information, but go at your own pace. It is available in many languages. The cost of the ticket to enter is 40 Turkish lire, or about $10 and the audio guides is 20 lire or about $5.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul,Turkey is the largest European city with 20 million inhabitants. The city is located on both the European and the Asian continents with the Bosphorus running in the center.

This is the second time I have visited Istanbul. The first was five years ago with a friend. My husband and I chose this fabulous city to celebrate our wedding anniversary and my birthday. He has never been there.

The seaports are busy with boats coming and going and the shoreline and skylines along the water are dramatic and beautiful. There are mosques and minarets everywhere you look and because of that, when the call to prayer happens, it resonates loudly and hauntingly throughout the city and is quite beautiful and exotic.

Bosphorous
Bosphorous

We were there for 6 days, but I feel like I could take 6 weeks, or maybe 6 months to learn about this city. During that time, we stayed pretty close to the historic center Sultanahmet.

We had a fantastically located hotel which was recommended by a friend, and was cheap, clean and had a nice breakfast included. It was called the Side Hotel and Pension. We stayed in the pension side. It is about a 3-minute walk to the square located between the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

Using the Eyewitness Top 10 guidebook, we managed to see/do 7 of the 10 things that they recommended and we thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. We visited the Blue Mosque. It is for restoration, which was a huge disappointment for my husband, but he took it in stride. We were able to enter the courtyard.

Hagia Sophia was a church for 1000 years and then a mosque for 500. In 1935, it became a museum and it is incredible.

The Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman Dynasty. The gardens that surround the buildings of the palace are incredible. Tulips and millions of hyacinths made an incredible perfume.


The Grand Bazaar is huge and contains everything your heart desires. It was so large, that I much preferred some of the smaller markets around. I particularly like the Egyptian Bazaar, which is less touristy, and more locals frequent it.


We visited the Basilica Cistern, which is underground and beautiful. Parts of it are also being restored which was a slight distraction.
One of my favorite things was the Turkish bath or hammam! We chose Cemberlitas which is historic, although a little touristy. For about $45, I had a bath (scrubbing bubble bath) and half hour massage.

There are separate sides for males and females. Inside this ancient structure, it is easy to let yourself get lost in time and your imagination runs wild with the history and beauty of the rituals there. I don’t have any photos of that event though!

We cruised the Bosphorus for a day and stopped on the Asian side for a seafood meal. Using the BIG BUS, hop on/hop off system is a great way to acclimate yourself to the city and see things that you might not otherwise be able to.  There is an audio guide in many languages and it’s well worth the money.

Eating in Istanbul is relatively inexpensive and the food is delicious. There are lots of grilled meats and fish and fresh vegetables. Their “mezzes” or small appetizer plates make it very convenient to try lots of different things.


Istanbul has taken the place as one of my favorite cities in the world. It is exotic, yet modern and filled with history and culture. Stay tuned to learn more about certain important sites!

Rock the Kasbah Museum of Tangier

The Kasbah Museum or Kasbah Museum of Mediterranean Cultures is located on top of the hill in the medina. Kasbah actually means the citadel or fortress of a village. It is usually located at the highest point for defense purposes.

The Kasbah Palace is in the eastern part of the Kasbah in a strategic position. It was used by both the Carthaginians and the Romans. This was the site of the governors of the city as early as the 12th century. The Portuguese governors resided here between 1471 and 1661. From 1662 to 1684, a larger castle was the residence of British governors.

Ahmed Ben Ali who fought against the English occupation in 1684 built the current palace that houses the museum. Since 1737, this structure has been the seat of power and the symbol of local authority. In 1922, the Kasbah Palace became a museum.

Kasbah Museum Tanger
Kasbah Museum Tanger

The building itself is worth the climb to the top of the hill and the small entrance fee of 20 dirhams. Hours of operation for the museum is 10-6 every day except Tuesday. Outside the gate at the top of the Kasbah, don’t miss the stunning views of the port and the Mediterranean Sea.

View from Gate
View from Gate

Inside the museum, you will see a typical Moroccan style palace. It features zellij coating, carved plaster, painted and carved wooden dome. The large patio is decorated in white marble indicating their European origin.

Tile work
Tile work
Wooden carved ceiling
Wooden carved ceiling

The collection of the museum consists of archeological and ethnographic artifacts. There is a useful video at the beginning of the exhibit and artifacts brought from throughout the area. Of particular interest is the mosaic brought from Volubilis and a large ancient map of the world said to be one of the first.

Mosaic from Volubilis
Mosaic from Volubilis

Artifacts
Artifacts

Also, don’t miss the gardens! The Moroccan-Andalusian style garden includes a beautiful fountain, all types of tropical plants and orange trees.

Gardens
Gardens

Gardens
Gardens
Gardens
Gardens
Gardens
Gardens

Roman Tombs Archeological Site, Tangier

On a cliff in Marshan, there is a plateau overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There you can see the Punic-Roman tombs. The site is about 450 meters from the Kasbah and not too far from the king’s summer palace.

Roman Tombs, Tangier
Roman Tombs, Tangier

Marked only by this sign and the columns that frame the view to the sea, you will find visitors sitting on the rocks, taking photos and enjoying the sea breezes that waft overhead.
Roman Tombs, Tangier
Roman Tombs, Tangier

Most of the graves face the sea and from their location, you can discern the old gates of Tangier on the west side. Ninety-eight graves were exhumed in 1910 with fifty being found as late as 1960. Today only about two dozen of them can be seen at this location. They are in the shape of a box engraved into the stone.
Roman Tombs, Tangier
Roman Tombs, Tangier

Punic and neo-Punic artifacts dating back to the first century B.C. were found at this location. Today they are contained in the exhibit at the Kasbah Museum. There is a small sarcophagus, the size used for a child, an urn, a small broken glass vase and an incense burner.
Cafe Hafa
Cafe Hafa

This is a great place to visit before taking the walk further down the Hafa cliff to Café Hafa for tea and Baysar!
Cafe Hafa
Cafe Hafa

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