26 March 2015

A desert in Barbary: On foreign soil

It is always worth knowing a little bit about a country to which one is about to travel, and so I thought I would look up some things that piqued my interest. Did you know...?

Near Ouarzazate, in eastern Morocco.
The University of al-Karaouine (Arabic: جامعة القرويين‎) in Fes is the oldest, continually operating university in the world, built and founded between 857-859 A.D. (The oldest in Europe is in Bologna, Italy, was founded in 1088.)

The national animal is the Barbary lion (panthera leo leo). Their original habitat was the Atlas Mountain range but they were hunted to extinction in the wild in the early 20th century. Barbary lions were used by the Romans in the gladiator arenas, given as gifts to royals, both African and European, including two that lived in the Tower of London in the Middle Ages.


Other animals of note in Morocco: the ubiquitous camel, the Dorcas gazelle, the Saharan striped polecat, the honey badger, over 450 types of birds, 25 kinds of bats (what?!), 24 venomous snakes, including the the Sahara Sand Viper, the Puff Adder and the Egyptian Cobra, and around 30 scorpions. Apparently, the worst is the black Fat-tail Scorpion (they come in yellow, too!), of the genus Androctonus, which name translated from Latin via Greek means man-killer. Good to know.

Hope I don't step on one....
The 1786 Treaty of Peace & Friendship between the U.S. and Morocco is the oldest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history. The diplomatic property in Tangier was originally acquired in 1821 and occupied continuously for 140 by the U.S. consulate and legation; it is now a museum and the only property outside of the U.S. which is a nationally recognized historical landmark.

Speaking of extra-national property, Spain has two enclaves in Morocco, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, once trading ports, now independent cities.

Morocco is one of the four countries that comprise the Barbary Coast, most famous to the west for the Barbary Wars of the early 1800s, arising from the extortionist practices of the pirates along the north African coastline. Bonus if you know off the top of your head which American president refused to pay "tribute" to the pirates. (It was Thomas Jefferson.) Tired of our merchant ships being attacked, ole TJ thusly ordered in the Navy, equipped with 1stLt Presley O'Bannon and a few other Marines, and well, you know the rest.
(drawing by Arman Manookian, c.1920)
The Strait of Gibraltar passes between Spain and Morocco, the narrowest point is 8.58 miles/14.3 kilometers.
The view from Spain to Morocco across the Strait. Yes, that is snow.
(photo: Mike Randolph)
There is a ski resort in the Atlas Mountains. Just saying, there is. See the snow?

If you watched Lawrence of Arabia, The Sheltering Sky, Gladiator or Kundun, you can thank the Moroccan desert and Atlas Studios, based just outside of Ouarzazate.

....and lastly, it is tradiotionally the liver, not the heart, that is the symbol of love in Morocco. (So many open-ended alcohol comments here.....) They do make wine in Moroccoa, FTR.

My favorite discovered proverbs, which I am writing on paper and bringing with me:

Endurance pierces marble.

Exert effort, you shall be rewarded.

In movement, there is blessing.

In Morocco, never be surprised. 
If you see a donkey flying, just say Allah is capable of anything.


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