Walking through the Medina of Tetouan, Morocco

April 16th, 2011

At first, when I looked over Tetouan Medina’s rampart at the bright white building built on the Jebel Dersa slope, I felt like I was in Andalusia. In fact, Tetouan has an important part of its history linked with Spain, when the city become a place of shelter for Granada’s refugees in the 15th century and later on when Tetouan and most of the Northern part of Morocco was under Spanish protectorat. The Spanish left the city in 1956, but the UNESCO site still retains its wonderful andalusian influence today.

Medina of Tetouan (Copyright: Jerome Lorieau)

On my first morning, I was surprised to be woken up by a canon shot. Half asleep, I wondered what it could be. I just couldn’t imagine the Spanish trying to take control of the city again. It was when I heard a second canon shot later in the day that I understood that those shots were a signal to mark the beginning and the end of the day’s fasting during Ramadan.

In the early morning, the medina of Tetouan was calm and quiet as people recovered from a short night celebrating Ramadan and feasting with their families. In the streets, workers swept away rubbish, whilst others were pulling empty trolleys. Pedestrians appeared from nowhere and disappeared as quickly as they came. In one of the main streets along the rampart leading to Rue Aljazaer, shop holders were setting up their stalls for a new day. The feeling of growing activity in the medina as the morning goes on is palpable. Like others, I then decided to disappear into the medina and took the first lane on my right. As I was winding through the lanes I felt as if I was in an Arabo-Andalu contemporary painting where patches of red, green and yellow colours were well-balanced against the white lime walls of the medina. The strong bright light reinforced this feeling by creating deep shadows and strong contrasts. Most of the lanes were empty. Only a group of boys were bringing it to life by running and jumping from one lane to another. Silence was sometimes broken by voices coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, like the strong wind invading the lanes of the Medina, causing floating material and carpets to create curves in this cubic world.

Boys playing in the Medina, Tetouan (Copyright: Jerome Lorieau)

At one point, I came across two charming women traditionally dressed. They were having a chat in front of a door. The eyes of was one of them was heavily made up with dark make up. She was obviously Moroccan but looked like a beautiful Spanish woman.They started to speak to me in Spanish (even if French is the second language studied at school, most of the people in Tetouan speak Spanish). We had a short conversation, and I certainly enjoyed their smiles. I didn’t even take a picture. Sometimes I am probably to shy. It is also very rare to have the chance to take pictures of women in Morocco, like some other Arabic countries. However it is not impossible but sometimes just a little bit more complicated for cultural reasons.

Man carrying bread, Medina of Tetouan (Copyright: Jerome Lorieau)

Back at the Medina, a strong light was illuminating a packed crowd rushing before sunset and shopping in a lively souk filled with fresh bakery smells. It was hard to believe that in a few minutes the street would be empty of people as people would be celebrating Ramadan.

Crowd and sunset on the souk, Medina of Tetouan (Copyright: Jerome Lorieau)

Back in my room, I was looking forward to the canon shot in order to enjoy the moroccan patissery I had bought a few minutes earlier and then rush into town to have dinner. I must say that I had difficulty finding restaurants in Tetouan. Most of those mentioned in my guide were closed during this period of fasting. Brasseries and cafés did not serve any food but just harira along with drinks. However, there were a few fast food restaurants serving burgers, salad or basic Moroccan foods.

Sadly I only stayed for two days in Tetouan. It is a city which deserves more than just a few days’ visit. I really liked it and the atmosphere of its Medina. I will certainly go back soon to explore it more.

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