topics: artisans, education, medina, Kasbah, Moors, history; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: September 28–29, 1997

Person of the Day: Ahmed Habri click to view a photograph

Ahmed works for the information office in Tetouan, both manning the desk and acting as a personal guide for visitors. A descendent of the Spanish Moors who settled in Tetouan in the 15th Century, he has lived his entire life in Tetouan's Kasbah (or castle and immediate surrounding area), at the very heart of Tetouan's extensive medina, or old town. Ahmed studied history and Spanish at the university in Granada, Spain, and spent time in the United States and England perfecting his English. These language skills, his encyclopedic knowledge of his home town, and a natural friendliness made him an interesting and informative guide.

Place of the Day: Artisan School

Children who show an aptitude for physical work are given the opportunity to study "handicrafts" at the Artisan School in Tetouan. Under the close eye of their teachers, students spend ten years learning a craft. Girls learn how to design and knit carpets, while boys produce intricate woodcuts, leather goods, precious jewelry, tile mosaics, and Moroccan clothing. Only after having proven their work to be of the highest quality do they receive their diplomas and the opportunity to open up their own shops in the Kasbah.

Group Dispatch, September 28–29

picture of Padraic

On Sunday the 28th, we woke up early to cycle from Tangier to Tetouan, the capital city of the Rif Mountain region of Morocco. Despite getting caught in a heavy rain shower near the end, the ride was a short 53 km in an easy five hours (well, maybe not so easy for Ethan and andrEa, who pulled the trailers for the first time).

In Tetouan, we bumped into a man from the local tourist information office, Ahmed Habri (see our Person of the Day), who turned out to be a great help showing us around. After finding us a place to stay and stash our bikes, Ahmed took us for an extended tour of Tetouan's oldest neighborhood, the Kasbah, in the middle of the medina click to visit the World Heritage Site page click to visit the World Heritage City page, or old city, one of the many special places in the world included on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites. As he led us through the narrow maze-like streets full of vendors (Sunday is market day, when all the farmers bring in their crops) he explained the fascinating history and culture of the city.

Most of the old city was built to house Moors (Spanish Muslims) forced to flee from southern Spain by the conquering Christian armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (yes, the same royal couple who sent Christopher Columbus off to America). Some families here still live in the same houses that their ancestors built in the early 1500s; both the medina and the Kasbah still have a Spanish feel. For example, each house has a huge, ornately decorated door made of cedar wood, much like the doors we had already noticed in Algeciras.

We were amazed to hear that over 600,000 people live in the Kasbah, which is less than two-thirds of a mile by half of a mile at its widest point. How could they fit, especially since no houses were over two stories high?! Wandering through the crowded streets — without ever retracing our steps — we passed thousands of people gathered around small stalls buying and selling everything from freshly ground spices and dyes to used satellite dishes!

We also seemed to pass a mosque every few feet — which makes sense considering the Kasbah has almost 1,200 of them! Ahmed pointed out some interesting elements of traditional culture. He stopped at a musician's stall to explain Moroccan wedding ceremonies., where the bride is taken to the wedding sitting inside a small, decorated box. She is carried to the ceremony while musicians play special wedding tunes, and when the procession arrives she is unboxed and presented to the groom at his family's home!

The next morning we plunged back into the Kasbah and emerged on the other side at the centuries-old artisan school (see our Place of the Day), where we watched students training in the traditional Moroccan handicrafts. After a quick trip to the shop where some of this work is sold to the public, we finished our tour with a visit to the Musée Marocain. Another full day done, we bade farewell to Ahmed to begin packing for tomorrow's trip to Chefchaouen.

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