Travels to Morocco Part IV: Tétouan, City of Artisans

Published in Dawn’s Prism on January 22 2020

The next day we decided to visit the nearby city Tétouan. I was keen to visit Tétouan as I was told by several shop keepers in Shafshawan that Tétouan is known as a city of artisans and artists and many art galleries and craft shops in Shafshawan are owned by Tétouanis. Also, the city has the only fine arts university in Morocco, the National Institute of Fine Arts Tétouan. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we visited. We took pictures of students’ art projects placed in the verandah and the garden.

Art school in Tétouan.
                                         Art school in Tétouan.

Tétouan was an hour drive away from Shafshawan. We drove past several fruit orchards — orange, lemon, pomegranate, almond — in the valley. On the northern slopes, at the foothills of Jabal Dersa, lay الحمامتہ البیضاء or ‘white dove’ as Tétouan is nicknamed by the Moroccans. The taxi driver dropped us at the plaza, outside the walled city.

White city, Tétouan.
                White city, Tétouan.

Magnificent in its layout, the square has patterned tiled floor — brick-red, emerald green and white. At the centre of the vast courtyard was a three-arched gazebo, with a slanting green-tiled roof. There were stone benches, lamp posts, and palm trees. On the left was Café Granada, a structure in white and green with arches, verandas and a central garden. We sat on the veranda and had a snack and tea. Though the old wall of the medina is in mud colour, it blends beautifully with white abodes inside. At the far end of the medina, at the top of Jabal Dersa, are the ruins of a historic garrison.

A square in Tétouan.
                          A square in Tétouan.

Tétouan’s medina, one of the seven historic cities of Morocco on the World Heritage List, has some of its main streets, or souks, covered with wooden crisscross jali. At several places, we noted plaques, placed for the Unesco World Heritage sites, such as one at a pastry shop indicating the original name, al-Ayoun Oven, built in the 17th century. The alleys leading to residential areas are narrower and have retained old stone arches. The new city, outside the medina, has wide streets, boulevards, modern buildings and beautiful squares. One roundabout had a large white dove at the centre, surrounded by national flags. Moroccan cities are adorned with national flags at too many places. Red flags with a green star at the centre pop up every now and then. Is it really needed? I wondered. Do fluttering national flags imbue the people with love of country? Or does love and faith in one’s country spring from one’s heart without any external trappings?

View this article on Dawn’s website.

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