Where does your olive oil come from?

If your extra virgin olive oil is from Spain, it may very well be from the region around Baena—it’s at the geographic center of Andalusia and it’s the heart of the olive oil industry. You might even find this name on your bottle. Like vine, olives have a terroir and Baena is a “Denominación de Origen”, meaning that its unique location and production techniques justify a name that is a designation of quality.

We stayed at the small white town of Zuheros located about 10 km (6 miles) south of Baena and surrounded by olive trees. This is a view from our hotel window; you may be able to see the larger town of Baena in the distance (center of photo). It’s really hard to imagine the number of olive trees—they cover every slope in this region. Along the road there is one olive mill business after another. Even the small village of Zuheros has one (see lower right side of the photo). You can pick your own olives and then have them pressed, but it’s a minimum quantity of 500 kg (that’s half a ton!). For 70 euros, though, that’s a really good deal and you will have enough to last you all year!

image

Like all of the white towns, Zuheros has a fortification on a rock promontory that is—you guessed it—made out of limestone.

image

Below is a view to the southeast from the castle’s tower. This is pretty much the whole town, with a sheer limestone wall behind it. At the top of the mountain is La Cueva de Los Murciélogos (bat cave) that we visited. It was different then any caves we’ve seen before. The stalactite formations are linear because they form only where there are fractures in the rock—the only places water can seep downward. We didn’t see any bats, but we did see rock paintings on the walls that have been radiocarbon dated at 4000 years B.P. (Neolithic period). A buried human skeleton and other human artifacts, including the oldest toasted grains in Europe, were also found here.

image

Beside olive oil, this agricultural region produces many artisanal foods and wines. We particularly enjoyed the varieties of goat cheeses. At the edge of town is a farm with a large goat herd (probably several hundred) that amused us with juveniles playing and this particularly silly goat who was standing on the feeding stand, where he could get a better view of the farmers preparing his dinner.

image

For its size, Zuheros has some excellent restaurants, including one adjacent to the castle with a magnificent view of the valley. We were fortunate to be there on a Saturday, when many Spaniards from Córdoba were spending the day in a charming mountain town, seeing the sites and eating together. The cave tour was fun, with our group of several families that included young children.

image

Another attraction of Zuheros is its location along the “Via Verde” (green path—it’s the path extending through the middle of the top photo). Like in the U.S., former railroad right-of-ways have been turned into paths for hikers and bikers. This one extends for almost 200 km and goes through one small, scenic town after another. Just when we thought we would be the only non-Spanish tourists, a group of 20 U.S. bicyclists on a 6-day tour came through town and stopped for a brief respite. They were enjoying their trip, and we would definitely return to this region for biking. There is also an extensive network of trails for hiking. We hiked a small part of the Via Verde to the adjacent town. Along the way Jay was able to thoughtfully pursue the noble olive.

image

Advertisements

Granada—the place of pomegranates

The Alhambra is a top tourist attraction and Granada is full of visitors from all over the world. The site itself is spectacular, with panoramic views of the surrounding city and valley. In the photo below—looking southeast from a hill at the north edge of town with even more incredible views—it’s easy to see why the rulers would have chosen this ridge to build their palaces.

image

The next photo is taken from within the Alhambra’s walls. The view is looking northwest, across the deeply incised Darro River valley, to the Albaicín. This neighborhood is part of the old medina that was an important residential neighborhood during the Islamic period—and it continues to be so today. Included in this photo is the rooftop terrace of our Airbnb house, from which we had a wonderful Alhambra view.

image

The Alhambra is certainly awe inspiring—it is the only surviving medieval Islamic palace complex in the world. It was during the last emirate of Al-Andalusia—the Nasrid emirate from 1240 to 1492—that Granada achieved its greatest splendor and when most of what survives in the Alhambra was created. One of the most popular areas is the Patio de Los Leones with its multiplicity of graceful arches surrounding a fountain of adorable water-spurting lions (they were restoring parts of the palace—the reason for the background rods).

image

Here is a closeup of a detailed plaster carving on a wall in one of the rooms. How most of the palace rooms were used is not known, mainly because the conquerors destroyed evidence of the previous culture and the people themselves were expelled. In an irony of history, the Muslims brought the knowledge of paper making from the Orient to Spain, from where it spread throughout Europe. But their own libraries and other paper records were burned, thus removing much knowledge of the Islamic culture in Al-Andalus.

image

There are many other attractions in Granada beside the Alhambra. Let’s look at one of the geological attractions! On our path to the Alhambra, we walked along steep cliffs of conglomerate called the Alhambra Formation. It formed during the past 20 million years (probably closer to 5 million or even less), when the adjacent Sierra Nevada was being uplifted and sediments were being carried by debris flows to form alluvial fans (debris cones) along the flank of the mountain range. Much like the conglomerate in Ronda, there is a large range of sediment sizes and the clasts are imbricated (with an orientation like my hand in the photo below), which shows the direction in which the debris flowed. These sediments are now visible because rivers have cut down into the formation and exposed the layers.

image

The clasts are also variable in composition, reflecting the heterogeneity of the rock types in the Sierra Nevada. Unlike our Sierra Nevada in California, which is composed of mostly granite, the Andalusian Sierra Nevada is composed of mostly metamorphic rocks that were changed by the heat and pressure generated in this collision zone. The several rainy days while we were in Granada had the benefit of making the Sierra Nevada (meaning snowy mountain) live up to its name! Here is a view of the sierras from a viewpoint in the Albaicín that was near our house but a little higher up the hill. In 30 minutes from the city, you can be in these mountains, but that will have to wait until another trip since we did not have a car. (The white building is a “summer palace” uphill from the main part of the Alhambra.)

image

Another interesting place to visit is the Sacramonte neighborhood. Here people have lived in caves cut into the Alhambra Formation, and some even continue to do so today. An excellent Museo de las Cuevas (Cave Museum) provides information about how people have lived there, what plants and animals are endemic to the region, and how caves form, both here and around the world. The next photo is a view looking south along the valley, with the Sacramonte neighborhood and its cave dwellings on the right (south-facing slope with dry grass and cactus plants), and the Alhambra on the left (north-facing slope with lush vegetation).

image

The next photo is from the museum, showing how the caves are cut into the conglomerate sediment.

image

The Sacramonte neighborhood is also famous for its flamenco bars. Although we saw this show in the town center, it was designed like a cave and featured excellent performers (singer, guitarist, and dancer). The name of this club is “Le Chien Andalou” after the name of the French film with Salvador Dalí!

image

What about the pomegranates? That is what granada means in Spanish! It’s fun to see the pomegranate images all over town. My favorite was in the main cathedral. You know it’s an important symbol when it’s under a gold crown!

image

We also found some real pomegranate trees. Here is one at .the cave museum; hopefully, this is not like Adam eating an apple!

image

Who were the moors, anyway?

Now that we have reached Granada, the last place to fall during the “reconquest”, it seems time to reflect upon one of our primary motivations for a trip to this part of the world. After traveling throughout many parts of Latin America, we have become increasingly aware of the so-called “moorish influence” in the Americas. We had some vague notion of “the Moors” occupying southern Spain for a period of time, so that their influence on the culture of Spain extended to the Americas after the conquistadores arrived there. What we attributed to moorish influence were box-like wooden windows, extensive tile decoration, and food such as chiles en nogada—chiles in nut sauce (the chiles are stuffed with dried fruit, covered with a walnut sauce, and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds). So we wondered—who were the moors, anyway? During this trip, we have learned A LOT—and have much more yet to learn. But if you’re interested, here is a very brief synopsis.

The Moors are usually presented as a uniform group from North Africa who invaded Spain and Portugal. In fact, it was a very diverse group. In the 7th century, following the death of the prophet Mohammed in 632, Arabs went east from Mecca and spread the Islamic religion to the areas that are now Morocco and Tunisia. They converted the tribes who had been living in the region for thousands of years. The Romans called these people “Berbers” (barbarians) because they lived in simple agricultural villages scattered throughout the mountainous region. The tribes were actually quite diverse, with different languages and ethnicities; some remain living in so-called “Berber villages” today.

In 711, a Muslim group consisting of Arabs and Berbers (and probably some remnant Romans and others) went across the strait of Gibraltar and captured Gibraltar and Tarifa. Within the year, they gained control of nearly all of Spain and Portugal. Clearly, the inhabitants didn’t put up much of a fight! The Visigothic kings were highly unpopular and the Jews, who were particularly ill treated, helped the Muslims gain control of some areas. This was one reason why the Jews lived mostly in peace throughout the time the Muslims were in control.

The Muslims were in control of southern Spain for nearly 800 years—a very long time. There was a succession of different Muslim groups and the center of power shifted from Córdoba to Seville to Granada (and probably some others in between). The Muslims lost control to the Catholic christians progressively from north to south—most of Portugal and northern Andalusia (Córdoba and Seville) fell first in the 13th centuries, after 5 centuries of Muslim control. Granada, in the south, was the last to fall, in 1492, a familiar date to many of us. Isabel and Ferdinand, the Spanish queen and king who financed Columbus’ voyages, also collaborated with the church to conquer the southernmost territories. It was from southern Spain that the explorers were forth to conquer the Americas and spread the Andalusian influence.

Unfortunately, the Catholics were highly intolerant; within a few years of the reconquest, they passed a law requiring all Muslims and Jews to leave, convert, or be killed. Even those who converted (the Jews were called Conversos and the Muslims were called Moriscos—moors) were not safe. The inquisition was designed to search out anyone who had converted but who might still be practicing their previous religion in secret. There is much more that could be said about that part of the story.

An interesting aspect of this history is that the Medieval period, to me, was all about the Dark Ages—illiterate people who did not develop art and culture until the Renaissance changed things. Not true! In Andalusia there was a flowering of arts and culture during the Medieval period—education was available to all and learning was celebrated and many libraries and universities were created. But the winners always write the history books, and in this case the Catholics won. They burned down the libraries, along with much of the historical record, trying their best to erase the artifacts of the previous culture. But they survive in many places…

Notably in Granada, where almost miraculously a rich collection of the art and architecture can still be seen today—attracting people from all over the world. Even here, there is considerable degradation. In the photo below (Alhambra view from the roof-top terrace of our Airbnb!) one can see the steeple of a church that changes the skyline and the large rectangular palace built by King Carlos V. This building seems an affront to the more graceful buildings from the Muslim period.

image

Below is an example of a building within the Alhambra. It looks airy and light in contrast to the heavy, blocky structure of the Carlos V palace.

image

Cleanliness is an important tenant of Islam, and the Muslims in Andalusia were masters of water engineering. Extensive plumbing features were created to provide running water to homes, irrigate gardens, create fountains and, most importantly, supply water for the baths. In Ronda one can find the best preserved Arabic bath (photo below), which was located at the entrance to the walled city. Could we revive this custom of welcoming tired travelers to our cities with a hot bath? These baths were improved versions of the Roman baths. They had hot, warm and cold rooms, and a reception area. One of my favorite parts is the ceiling which has star-like vents to imitate the night sky.

image

The decorative arts are well displayed in the Alhambra, where just about every inch of building surface is decorated in tile, carved plaster, or inlaid wood. Here is a series of Arabic (so-called horseshoe) arches that are decorated with intricately carved plaster.

image

Another example of the intricate plasterwork can be seen below, in this case with Arabic writing. Many inscriptions in the Alhambra say “there is no conqueror but God”. Most of the carved plaster would have also been painted; a little of the paint in preserved on this wall.

image

Each room is decorated with a different design. To me, the most fascinating designs are the geometric tiles. The more you look at the design, the more different patterns emerge. It’s a field of study to figure out how the artists created these complex geometries.

image

So all of those incredible designs we saw in Morocco were actually created in Andalusia and carried to Morocco in the exodus, when the Muslims were expelled. Our guides told us that the culture in Morocco advanced considerably when the Andalusians arrived with their higher levels of learning. Today in Morocco and Tunisia you will find Muslims of many ethnicities, including those who were originally European but whose ancestors converted to Islam during that period of Spanish history. No more will I talk about the Moorish influence in Mexico; as in Morocco, I will talk about the Andalusian influence, as that’s where the development occurred! I will also no longer talk about the Moorish period in Spain, but about the Islamic period, which is a more accurate description.

It’s interesting to see how much of the Islamic culture from the 8th–15th centuries still shines through in Andalusia. While walking through the streets of Granada, we came upon this house with its Arabic arches and graceful styling that someone is keeping alive (although ancestors of the original owners may still have the keys in Morocco, since people thought they might sometime be able to return to their homes).

image

Every city and town we’ve visited has had the narrow, winding streets of a past medina. We particularly enjoying seeing how the modern, commercial city of Málaga had converted their ancient medina into pedestrian-only streets that attract people in swarms—to enjoy shops, restaurants, and drinking establishments, just like they did in the Medieval past!

image

Don’t worry—there will be some geology in the next post!

Los Pueblos Blancos (The White Towns)

The area around Ronda has a large concentration of White Towns, so called because all buildings within these towns are painted white. Most of the roofs are made of brown or red tile. The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and was successively occupied by the usual cast of characters—Phoenicians, Carthiginians, Greeks, and Romans. But it was during the reign of the Moors (711–1492) that these towns developed their distinctive character—they all have the medina’s crazy maze of narrow, winding streets. Fortunately, we went to Fés first, so now we can handle any other medina that comes our way.

Although Ronda itself is considered a white town, it is the smaller towns without modern additions, lying nestled into steep slopes of this mountainous region, that have the most charm. We visited our first small town while on a 49-km bike loop from Ronda. (This region, with scenic mountain roads connecting delightful small towns, is a mecca for hikers and bikers. We rented a bike from CycleRonda, owned by a Dutch guy who will help plan trips for a day or several weeks.) Here is a photo of Alpandeire, which seems to spill down the hillside. We stopped for lunch and encountered a convivial group of locals who helped us find the one cafe/bar that was open on the small main plaza—on what appeared to be the only flat place in town.

image

We rode through another town where all buildings were painted blue rather than white. What in the world happened here? Turns out the town was used by Sony Pictures as a set for a 3-D Smurf film (Los Pitufos in Spanish), released in 2011. The buildings were painted blue for the filming and townsfolk were given money and white paint to return their houses to the original white. However, they voted to retain the blue color and seem proud of their distinctive difference. Who knows—maybe they will film a sequel there! The photo below shows a statue of Smurf along the main road through town—with Jay in a shirt of the right color for scale.
image

We rented a car on one day to reach some of the towns that are a little more distant from Ronda. It was a wild ride on the precipitous mountain roads! Our favorite White Town was Grazalema, which is an entry point to the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema with its extensive network of hiking trails. Here it is, with its stunning backdrop of limestone peaks.

image

The tidy white houses with their window boxes of flowers along the narrow cobble streets elicited continual gasps of “how cute” during the several hours of our visit. “La Casa de las Piedras” (the house of the rocks) pretty well sums up the setting of this town, which also offers a wide variety of artisanal food products, including the famous Payoyo cheese.

image

We have vowed to return to explore the many hiking trails that radiate out from Grazalema into the national park. We may choose not to visit, though, during the annual Toro de Cuerda (bull on rope). Unlike in Pamplona, in Grazalema there is only one bull that is tethered to a rope and allowed to run through the town while the “young dudes” alternatively chase or are chased by the bull, while everyone else strives to watch from a safe distance. Less dangerous than the better-known bull running, but still fraught with peril! A statue in the middle of the town’s main plaza commemorates the event.

image

Another stunning “falling down the hillslope” White Town is Zahara de la Sierra. Here is the church with rock wall as a backdrop. A fortress was built at the top to protect the residents.

image

It is possible to drive on one road through town, although we parked at the edge and walked in. We had lunch at El Gallo Cevercería (the rooster bar), where local people were chatting animatedly to each other and to other locals who would drive by and stop on the road to chat. This is clearly a culture that works to live, rather than vice versa. People working even the most menial jobs seem to be continually laughing and joking—enjoying life.

image

Sentenil de las Bodegas is the strangest White Town we visited. Here the buildings are not just sitting on the slope but built into it. The rock cliff is excavated, and the houses built under the overhanging cliff (see left side of photo below), so that the back wall and roof of the buildings are the natural rock, which remains exposed inside the buildings. It must get pretty crazy when it rains in the winter! This photo is of the main plaza where the barely-one-car-wide main street widens just a little. One person parked just a little too far into the street, causing traffic gridlock for about 30 minutes—a complete standstill. The restaurant waiter just laughed—it happens every day!

image

The mountain peaks in this area are made of limestone formed from the shells of marine organisms in the ocean that existed between Europe and Africa before their collision. Limestone is suceptible to chemical weathering (i.e., it dissolves) but in this semi-arid region it is able to maintain high topography, unlike the limestone valley where I grew up in Maryland, which is very humid. The recent tectonic activity also creates the rugged topography. In this area are many thrust faults—they result from compressive forces that thrust older rocks upward on top of younger rocks. The thin, rocky soil that forms on limestone is just fine for the ubiquitous olive trees that require little fertility or water. Here is one more photo, with limestone peaks and fields of olive trees on more gentle slopes.

image

Final language note. You may notice that none of these town names sound Spanish. That’s because they are not! Most are Spanish adaptations of Arabic names from the Islamic (Moorish) period. For example, many towns start with “Ben” (e.g., Benaoján) which is a spanishization of the Arabic “ibn” meaning “son of”. In the Spanish language, in general, many words, including most that start with “a”, were adopted from Arabic. This includes the name of southern Spain (Andalucia) which is only slightly changed from the Arabic word for the region (Al-Andalus).

Surrounded by mountains and rich culture in Ronda (Spain)

Ronda means “round” in Spanish. The city is located in a roundish valley surROUNDed by mountains; the region is therefore referred to as the “Serranía de Ronda” (sierra=mountain). Within the valley, Ronda sits on a rocky promontory that has been additionally fortified by rock walls over the ages. Below is a view of Ronda looking north while hiking on a trail south of town.

image

The Serranía de Ronda is a foodie paradise, although it’s more difficult for vegetarians in this meat-oriented culture. There are many artisanal products including excellent cheeses, fresh and dried fruit treats, and of course jamon (ham), of which there are many types. The plate below has four types of ham, plus a wonderful cheese, and is a typical offering at tapas bars.

image

Red wine (see photo above!) is an excellent accompaniment to the food. There are many bodegas (wineries) in the region—we found the quality high and the price economical. (It helps that they don’t mark up prices so much in restaurants, like they do in the U.S.) Below is a view from Ronda across the surrounding valley, where good agricultural land supports the local food and wine production.

image

Because of its wine and food, culture (e.g., flamenco music) and scenic beauty, Ronda draws many tourists from all over Spain, as well as internationally. A magnet for tourists is the Puente Nuevo (new bridge), which spans El Tajo (gorge) where the Rio Guadalevin has cut a knife-blade-wide fissure through the rocks and created stunning cliffs around the town’s edges. [Note: Guadalevin is a Spanish version of California’s oft-mis-named Sierra Nevada Mountains—meaning snowy mountain mountains. Guada is the root of an Arabic work for river, so the name means the river of wine river—le vin adding yet another language—French—to the mis-naming!] The view of the bridge below is from a place on the south cliffs where it is possible to walk down and take the classic photo. “New” is what would still be considered very old in the U.S. The oldest bridge is from the Arabic period prior to 1492. The so-called “old” bridge was built in the 17th century and the “new” bridge was built in the 18th century. These bridges are all visible on the other side (north side) of the New Bridge.

image

Puente Nuevo is certainly an amazing feat of human engineering, especially considering the time period when it was built. But it is the geology (of course!) that creates the stunningly dramatic setting. The erosion of water has created steep cliffs that are natural rock walls from which to gain one incredible vista after another—the place is a paradise for photographers too. Here is a view of the sheer rock walls, with one of the many viewpoints in the city.

image

Yes, I know—you can’t wait to hear the story the rocks have to tell—so here it is! Although the surrounding mountains are mainly marine limestone (more about that in the next post), the rocks underlying Ronda are younger non-marine sediments that were shed off the mountain range to the south that was the locus of the collision between Africa and Europe. Looking at the photo above, you may notice that the rock wall consists of sediments of various sizes, including clasts that are larger than soccer balls. The sediments are also poorly sorted—meaning that they range in size from very large to very small. These sediments were deposited by debris flows, where steep slopes from mountainous regions enabled sediments to be dumped unceremoniously downhill in large debris piles called alluvial fans. Furthermore, it’s possible to tell the direction of flow—see photo below, where the sediment clasts are imbricated (that is, leaning in a certain  direction), showing that the water was flowing from a southward to a northward direction. Jay’s hand is parallel to the clast imbrication, indicating that the sediments flowed from the right side (south) to the left side (north). Isn’t sedimentology a fabulous field of study!!image

But back to the practical day-to-day reality. And what could be more real than eating! Tapas are the reality of day-to-day life in Andalucia. Why not go to the Bodega San Francisco, where excellent tapas can be had on a regular street near our B&B—yummmm….

image

The Rock of Gibraltar (and Tangier update)

Once again, a post was accidentally “published” before completion. The announcement of completion provides an opportunity to publish a few photos of Gibraltar, a truly strange piece of Great Britain, now that we are back on the south coast of Spain. The northern “Pillar of Hercules”, this block of limestone rock rises incredibly steeply on all sides—from the sea and from the land. According to myth, it was Hercules who opened the strait of Gibraltar. According to geologists, it was the collision of Africa and Europe that created this folded and faulted limestone block and erosion by water that created an opening (the strait) within the collisional belt.

The photo below shows the rock as it looks when one arrives from the north, at the border between Spain and Great Britain.

image

The next photo is from the top of the rock, where one could get vertigo from the breathtakingly high and steep slopes, and where wind drafts cause fog to form and sea gulls to delight in the fast-flowing updrafts. Incredibly, the Brits seem to have found the one place in the Mediterraean that is always cool and foggy—we lost the chilly climate as soon as we transited back across the border into Spain!

image

But who cares about anything else when there are monkey antics! There to greet you as soon as you disembark from the cable car that carries you to the top, the Macaque monkeys are continuously entertaining. Here is one silhouetted against the downward vista to the port area. This is the same type of monkey we saw in Morocco—not just humans have used the close connection between Africa and Europe here to transit!

image

We were fortunate to be there when there were many juvenile monkeys who played without stop—chasing each other, wrestling, jumping from limb to limb, and sometimes crashing swiftly to the ground—still on the learning curve! They moved too fast for effective photography, but here is a couple with the female carefully grooming the male—who appears to have no cares whatsoever in the world!

image

Buried in turbidites—wild + wacky Tangier

With its strategic position at the entrance to the Mediterranean and gateway to Africa, Tangier has been a continually changing panoply of marauding groups who used the position to foray further and continue gaining power. Some have hung around to embrace the sea and light and easy-going lifestyle.

In the historical period (centuries B.C.), so-called Berber tribes lived in small villages; Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans sequentially occupied Tangier and created the first fortresses and larger settlements. Vandals and Byzantines invaded, followed by the Arabs in the first part of the 8th century, when the local people were converted to the Islamic religion. From Tangier, the Arabs continued north to Spain, parts of which they occupied for nearly 8 centuries.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Portugal, Spain, France and Great Britain used Morocco like a game of cards, variously grabbing and gifting parts of the country until its independence from France in 1956. What has given Tangier much of its modern reputation was the period from 1912–1956 when Tangier was turned into an “International Zone” divided among many countries, including the U.S. (the rest of Morocco remained under French control). This was indeed a wild and wacky, so-called “Interzone”, period when people flooded in from many parts of the world seeking adventure, exploitation, and inspiration. Many books and movies are based on this period, with its spies, criminals and artists. Even today, the city has a large expat community as people seek the beauty and alternative lifestyle Tangier offers.

Much remains from the Roman period. The photo below shows Roman tombs in rock on a Tangerine cliff top overlooking the sea—not a bad place to be buried! The rocks are sandstone that was deposited by turbidity flows that carried sand from a coastline to the deep sea. Not surprisingly, these rocks are similar to those found in Tarifa on the other side of the strait. The mountain range in southern Spain continues under the Mediterranean, which is less than 300 meters deep here, and into northern Morocco.

image

We did a walking tour in Tangier with Abdullah, whose appearance reflects the diversity of ethnic groups that have passed through this region. The photo view is northward to the port where ferries shuttle people back and forth across the strait.

image

We stayed with a woman from New York who has been living in Tangier for 8 years. She remodeled a house into a small B&B that is situated in the heart of the small medina—this one compact enough to find one’s way around without so much difficulty! Her beautiful house is decorated in bright colors and filled with Moroccan art—a pleasure for the senses. From the rooftop terrace there is a stunning 360-degree view that includes most of the medina and the coastline. The photo below is toward the Kasbah which is the part of the medina that, in ancient times, was given extra fortification to defend the city.

image

The Kasbah Museum includes many interesting historical remnants, including a floor mosaic from the old Roman city of Volubilis that we visited outside of Fés. Even in the open-air ruin, many floor mosaics were preserved, but this one in the museum, which shows Venus navigating, is particularly vibrant. For sure, the Romans were partying it up here more than 2000 years ago! Morocco’s rich agricultural land provided essential foodstuff for the empire.

image

The relationship between the U.S. and Morocco has been positive. Did you know that Morocco was the first country to recognize our independence?—a fact that all Moroccans we met proudly shared with us. The Tangier American Legation Museum, which is the only U.S. National Historical Legation outside the U.S., celebrates the relationship between our countries. This photo of a photo in the museum shows Obama with their king who by all accounts is enlightened. Prior to the Arab Spring events he instituted a new constitution that is gradually giving the citizens ever more democratic rights.

image

One day we visited the charming town of Asilah whose seaside location and mild climate attracts visitors including expats who live there part of the year. Houses in the small medina are painted white with blue accents that match the intense blues of the sea and sky, and provide the perfect Mediterranean vista.

image

Walking the streets in the medina provides other visual treats—many walls are painted with a huge variety of different art works. Here is part of one particularly excellent example.

image

The final photo is part of another mural in Asilah. We saw many cats in Morocco and were impressed by how well treated they were in a country where people are mostly poor. Then we heard the story about the prophet Mohammad. Apparently, one day a cat was sleeping on his robe and, rather than disturbing the cat, Mohammad cut off a piece of his robe and went on his way while the cat remained in its spot. We saw many cats in the street that had been provided with small cushions or cloths to make them more comfortable!

image