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whole of Morocco was a highwayman or a robber to be found."

And probably both sides of the picture are true.

* * * * *

What, then, was the marvel across the valley, what were the "lordly
pleasure-houses" to whose creation and enlargement Moulay-Ismaël
returned again and again amid the throes and violences of a nearly
centenarian life?

The chronicler continues: "The Sultan caused all the houses near the
Kasbah[8] to be demolished, _and compelled the inhabitants to carry away
the ruins of their dwellings_. All the eastern end of the town was also
torn down, and the ramparts were rebuilt. He also built the Great Mosque
next to the palace of Nasr.... He occupied himself personally with the
construction of his palaces, and before one was finished he caused
another to be begun. He built the mosque of Elakhdar; the walls of the
new town were pierced with twenty fortified gates and surmounted with
platforms for cannon. Within the walls he made a great artificial lake
where one might row in boats. There was also a granary with immense
subterranean reservoirs of water, and a stable _three miles long_ for
the Sultan's horses and mules; twelve thousand horses could be stabled
in it. The flooring rested on vaults in which the grain for the horses
was stored.... He also built the palace of Elmansour, which had twenty
cupolas; from the top of each cupola one could look forth on the plain
and the mountains around Meknez. All about the stables the rarest trees
were planted. Within the walls were fifty palaces, each with its own
mosque and its baths. Never was such a thing known in any country, Arab
or foreign, pagan or Moslem. The guarding of the doors of these palaces
was intrusted to twelve hundred black eunuchs."

Such were the wonders that seventeenth century travellers toiled across
the desert to see, and from which they came back dazzled and almost
incredulous, as if half-suspecting that some djinn had deluded them with
the vision of a phantom city. But for the soberer European records, and
the evidence of the ruins themselves (for the whole of the new Meknez is
a ruin), one might indeed be inclined to regard Ezziani's statements as
an Oriental fable; but the briefest glimpse of Moulay-Ismaël's Meknez
makes it easy to believe all his chronicler tells of it, even to the
three miles of stables.

Next morning we drove across the valley and, skirting the old town on
the hill, entered, by one of the twenty gates of Moulay-Ismaël, a long
empty street lined with half-ruined arcades. Beyond was another street
of beaten red earth bordered by high red walls blotched with gray and
mauve. Ahead of us this road stretched out interminably (Meknez, before
Washington, was the "city of magnificent distances"), and down its empty
length only one or two draped figures passed, like shadows on the way to
Shadowland. It was clear that the living held no further traffic with
the Meknez of Moulay-Ismaël.

Here it was at last. Another great gateway let us, under a resplendently
bejewelled arch of turquoise-blue and green, into another walled
emptiness of red clay; a third gate opened into still vaster vacancies,
and at their farther end rose a colossal red ruin, something like the
lower stories of a Roman amphitheatre that should stretch out
indefinitely instead of forming a circle, or like a series of Roman
aqueducts built side by side and joined into one structure. Below this
indescribable ruin the arid ground sloped down to an artificial water
which was surely the lake that the Sultan had made for his
boating-parties; and beyond it more red earth stretched away to more
walls and gates, with glimpses of abandoned palaces and huge crumbling

The vastness, the silence, the catastrophic desolation of the place,
were all the more impressive because of the relatively recent date of
the buildings. As Moulay-Ismaël had dealt with Volubilis, so time had
dealt with his own Meknez; and the destruction which it had taken
thousands of lash-driven slaves to inflict on the stout walls of the
Roman city, neglect and abandonment had here rapidly accomplished. But
though the sun-baked clay of which the impatient Sultan built his
pleasure-houses will not suffer comparison with the firm stones of Rome,
"the high Roman fashion" is visible in the shape and outline of these
ruins. What they are no one knows. In spite of Ezziani's text (written
when the place was already partly destroyed) archæologists disagree as
to the uses of the crypt of rose-flushed clay whose twenty rows of
gigantic arches are so like an alignment of Roman aqueducts. Were these
the vaulted granaries, or the subterranean reservoirs under the three
miles of stabling which housed the twelve thousand horses? The stables,
at any rate, were certainly near this spot, for the lake adjoins the
ruins as in the chronicler's description; and between it and old
Meknez, behind walls within walls, lie all that remains of the fifty
palaces with their cupolas, gardens, mosques and baths.

This inner region is less ruined than the mysterious vaulted structure,
and one of the palaces, being still reserved for the present Sultan's
use, cannot be visited; but we wandered unchallenged through desert
courts, gardens of cypress and olive where dried fountains and painted
summer-houses are falling into dust, and barren spaces enclosed in long
empty façades. It was all the work of an eager and imperious old man,
who, to realize his dream quickly, built in perishable materials; but
the design, the dimensions, the whole conception, show that he had not
only heard of Versailles but had looked with his own eyes on Volubilis.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Meknez - the ruins of the palace of Moulay-Ismaël]

To build on such a scale, and finish the work in a single lifetime, even
if the materials be malleable and the life a long one, implies a command
of human labor that the other Sultan at Versailles must have envied.
The imposition of the _corvée_ was of course even simpler in Morocco
than in France, since the material to draw on was unlimited, provided
one could assert one's power over it; and for that purpose Ismaël had
his Black Army, the hundred and fifty thousand disciplined legionaries
who enabled him to enforce his rule over all the wild country from
Algiers to Agadir.

The methods by which this army were raised and increased are worth
recounting in Ezziani's words:

"A _taleb_[9] of Marrakech having shown the Sultan a register containing
the names of the negroes who had formed part of the army of El-Mansour,
Moulay-Ismaël ordered his agents to collect all that remained of these
negroes and their children.... He also sent to the tribes of the
Beni-Hasen, and into the mountains, to purchase all the negroes to be
found there. Thus all that were in the whole of Moghreb were assembled,
from the cities and the countryside, till not one was left, slave or

"These negroes were armed and clothed, and sent to Mechra Erremel (north
of Meknez) where they were ordered to build themselves houses, plant
gardens and remain till their children were ten years old. Then the
Sultan caused all the children to be brought to him, both boys and
girls. The boys were apprenticed to masons, carpenters, and other
tradesmen; others were employed to make mortar. The next year they were
taught to drive the mules, the third to make _adobe_ for building; the
fourth year they learned to ride horses bareback, the fifth they were
taught to ride in the saddle while using firearms. At the age of sixteen
these boys became soldiers. They were then married to the young
negresses who had meanwhile been taught cooking and washing in the
Sultan's palaces - except those who were pretty, and these were given a
musical education, after which each one received a wedding-dress and a
marriage settlement, and was handed over to her husband.

"All the children of these couples were in due time destined for the
Black Army, or for domestic service in the palaces. Every year the
Sultan went to the camp at Mechra Erremel and brought back the
children. The Black Army numbered one hundred and fifty thousand men, of
whom part were at Erremel, part at Meknez, and the rest in the
seventy-six forts which the Sultan built for them throughout his domain.
May the Lord be merciful to his memory!"

Such was the army by means of which Ismaël enforced the _corvée_ on his
undisciplined tribes. Many thousands of lives went to the building of
imperial Meknez; but his subjects would scarcely have sufficed if he had
not been able to add to them twenty-five thousand Christian captives.

M. Augustin Bernard, in his admirable book on Morocco, says that the
seventeenth century was "the golden age of piracy" in Morocco; and the
great Ismaël was no doubt one of its chief promoters. One understands
his unwillingness to come to an agreement with his great friend and
competitor, Louis XIV, on the difficult subject of the ransom of
Christian captives when one reads in the admiring Ezziani that it took
fifty-five thousand prisoners and captives to execute his architectural

"These prisoners, by day, were occupied on various tasks; at night they
were locked into subterranean dungeons. Any prisoner who died at his
task was _built into the wall he was building_." (This statement is
confirmed by John Windus, the English traveller who visited the court of
Moulay-Ismaël in the Sultan's old age.) Many Europeans must have
succumbed quickly to the heat and the lash, for the wall-builders were
obliged to make each stroke in time with their neighbors, and were
bastinadoed mercilessly if they broke the rhythm; and there is little
doubt that the expert artisans of France, Italy and Spain were even
dearer to the old architectural madman than the friendship of the
palace-building despot across the sea.

Ezziani's chronicle dates from the first part of the nineteenth century,
and is an Arab's colorless panegyric of a great Arab ruler; but John
Windus, the Englishman who accompanied Commodore Stewart's embassy to
Meknez in 1721, saw the imperial palaces and their builder with his own
eyes, and described them with the vivacity of a foreigner struck by
every contrast.

Moulay-Ismaël was then about eighty-seven years old, "a middle-sized
man, who has the remains of a good face, with nothing of a negro's
features, though his mother was a black. He has a high nose, which is
pretty long from the eye-brows downward, and thin. He has lost all his
teeth, and breathes short, as if his lungs were bad, coughs and spits
pretty often, which never falls to the ground, men being always ready
with handkerchiefs to receive it. His beard is thin and very white, his
eyes seem to have been sparkling, but their vigor decayed through age,
and his cheeks very much sunk in."

Such was the appearance of this extraordinary man, who deceived,
tortured, betrayed, assassinated, terrorized and mocked his slaves, his
subjects, his women and children and his ministers like any other
half-savage Arab despot, but who yet managed through his long reign to
maintain a barbarous empire, to police the wilderness, and give at least
an appearance of prosperity and security where all had before been

The English emissaries appear to have been much struck by the
magnificence of his palaces, then in all the splendor of novelty, and
gleaming with marbles brought from Volubilis and Salé. Windus extols in
particular the sunken gardens of cypress, pomegranate and orange trees,
some of them laid out seventy feet below the level of the palace-courts;
the exquisite plaster fretwork; the miles of tessellated walls and
pavement made in the finely patterned mosaic work of Fez; and the long
terrace walk trellised with "vines and other greens" leading from the
palace to the famous stables, and over which it was the Sultan's custom
to drive in a chariot drawn by women and eunuchs.

Moulay-Ismaël received the English ambassador with every show of pomp
and friendship, and immediately "made him a present" of a handful of
young English captives; but just as the negotiations were about to be
concluded Commodore Stewart was privately advised that the Sultan had no
intention of allowing the rest of the English to be ransomed. Luckily a
diplomatically composed letter, addressed by the English envoy to one of
the favorite wives, resulted in Ismaël's changing his mind, and the
captives were finally given up, and departed with their rescuers. As one
stands in the fiery sun, among the monstrous ruins of those tragic
walls, one pictures the other Christian captives pausing for a second,
at the risk of death, in the rhythmic beat of their labor, to watch the
little train of their companions winding away across the desert to

On the way back through the long streets that lead to the ruins we
noticed, lying by the roadside, the shafts of fluted columns, blocks of
marble, Roman capitals: fragments of the long loot of Salé and
Volubilis. We asked how they came there, and were told that, according
to a tradition still believed in the country, when the prisoners and
captives who were dragging the building materials toward the palace
under the blistering sun heard of the old Sultan's death, they dropped
their loads with one accord and fled. At the same moment every worker on
the walls flung down his trowel or hod, every slave of the palaces
stopped grinding or scouring or drawing water or carrying faggots or
polishing the miles of tessellated floors; so that, when the tyrant's
heart stopped beating, at that very instant life ceased to circulate in
the huge house he had built, and in all its members it became a carcass
for his carcass.


[5] The high plateau-and-hill formation between Tangier and Fez.

[6] So called to distinguish them from the tent villages of the less
settled groups.

[7] Sacred college.

[8] The citadal of old Meknez.

[9] Learned man.





Many-walled Fez rose up before us out of the plain toward the end of the

The walls and towers we saw were those of the upper town, Fez Eldjid
(the New), which lies on the edge of the plateau and hides from view Old
Fez tumbling down below it into the ravine of the Oued Fez. Thus
approached, the city presents to view only a long line of ramparts and
fortresses, merging into the wide, tawny plain and framed in barren
mountains. Not a house is visible outside the walls, except, at a
respectful distance, the few unobtrusive buildings of the European
colony; and not a village breaks the desolation of the landscape.

As we drew nearer, the walls towered close over us, and skirting them we
came to a bare space outside a great horseshoe gate, and found ourselves
suddenly in the foreground of a picture by Carpaccio or Bellini. Where
else had one seen just those rows of white-turbaned majestic figures,
squatting in the dust under lofty walls, all the pale faces ringed in
curling beards turned to the story-teller in the centre of the group?
Transform the story-teller into a rapt young Venetian, and you have the
audience and the foreground of Carpaccio's "Preaching of St. Stephen,"
even to the camels craning inquisitive necks above the turbans. Every
step of the way in North Africa corroborates the close observation of
the early travellers, whether painters or narrators, and shows the
unchanged character of the Oriental life that the Venetians pictured,
and Leo Africanus and Windus and Charles Cochelet described.

There was time, before sunset, to go up to the hill, from which the
ruined tombs of the Merinid Sultans look down over the city they made
glorious. After the savage massacre of foreign residents in 1912 the
French encircled the heights commanding Fez with one of their admirably
engineered military roads, and in a few minutes our motor had climbed to
the point from which the great dynasty of artist-Sultans dreamed of
looking down forever on their capital.

Nothing endures in Islam, except what human inertia has left standing
and its own solidity has preserved from the elements. Or rather, nothing
remains intact, and nothing wholly perishes, but the architecture, like
all else, lingers on half-ruined and half-unchanged. The Merinid tombs,
however, are only hollow shells and broken walls, grown part of the
brown cliff they cling to. No one thinks of them save as an added touch
of picturesqueness where all is picturesque: they survive as the best
point from which to look down at Fez.

There it lies, outspread in golden light, roofs, terraces, and towers
sliding over the plain's edge in a rush dammed here and there by
barriers of cypress and ilex, but growing more precipitous as the
ravine of the Fez narrows downward with the fall of the river. It is as
though some powerful enchanter, after decreeing that the city should be
hurled into the depths, had been moved by its beauty, and with a wave of
his wand held it suspended above destruction.

At first the eye takes in only this impression of a great city over a
green abyss; then the complex scene begins to define itself. All around
are the outer lines of ramparts, walls beyond walls, their crenellations
climbing the heights, their angle fortresses dominating the precipices.
Almost on a level with us lies the upper city, the aristocratic Fez
Eldjid of painted palaces and gardens; then, as the houses close in and
descend more abruptly, terraces, minarets, domes, and long reed-thatched
roofs of the bazaars, all gather around the green-tiled tomb of Moulay
Idriss, and the tower of the Almohad mosque of El Kairouiyin, which
adjoin each other in the depths of Fez, and form its central sanctuary.

* * * * *

From the Merinid hill we had noticed a long façade among the cypresses
and fruit-trees of Eldjid. This was Bou-Jeloud, the old summer-palace
of the Sultan's harem, now the house of the Resident-General, where
lodgings had been prepared for us.

The road descended again, crossing the Oued Fez by one of the fine old
single-arch bridges that mark the architectural link between Morocco and
Spain. We skirted high walls, wayside pools, and dripping mill-wheels;
then one of the city gates engulfed us, and we were in the waste spaces
of intramural Fez, formerly the lines of defense of a rich and
perpetually menaced city, now chiefly used for refuse-heaps, open-air
fondaks, and dreaming-places for rows of Lazaruses rolled in their
cerements in the dust.

Through another gate and more walls we came to an arch in the inner line
of defense. Beyond that, the motor paused before a green door, where a
Cadi in a silken caftan received us. Across squares of orange-trees
divided by running water we were led to an arcaded apartment hung with
Moroccan embroideries and lined with wide divans; the hall of reception
of the Resident-General. Through its arches were other tiled distances,
fountains, arcades; beyond, in greener depths, the bright blossoms of a
flower-garden. Such was our first sight of Bou-Jeloud, once the
summer-palace of the wives of Moulay Hafid.

Upstairs, from a room walled and ceiled with cedar, and decorated with
the bold rose-pink embroideries of Salé and the intricate old needlework
of Fez, I looked out over the upper city toward the mauve and tawny

Just below the window the flat roofs of a group of little houses
descended like the steps of an irregular staircase. Between them rose a
few cypresses and a green minaret; out of the court of one house an
ancient fig-tree thrust its twisted arms. The sun had set, and one after
another bright figures appeared on the roofs. The children came first,
hung with silver amulets and amber beads, and pursued by negresses in
striped turbans, who bustled up with rugs and matting; then the mothers
followed more indolently, released from their ashy mufflings and
showing, under their light veils, long earrings from the _Mellah_[10]
and caftans of pale green or peach color.

The houses were humble ones, such as grow up in the cracks of a wealthy
quarter, and their inhabitants doubtless small folk; but in the
enchanted African twilight the terraces blossomed like gardens, and when
the moon rose and the muezzin called from the minaret, the domestic
squabbles and the shrill cries from roof to roof became part of a story
in Bagdad, overheard a thousand years ago by that arch-detective



It is usual to speak of Fez as very old, and the term seems justified
when one remembers that the palace of Bou-Jeloud stands on the site of
an Almoravid Kasbah of the eleventh century, that when that Kasbah was
erected Fez Elbali had already existed for three hundred years, that El
Kairouiyin is the contemporary of Sant' Ambrogio of Milan, and that the
original mosque of Moulay Idriss II was built over his grave in the
eighth century.

Fez is, in fact, the oldest city in Morocco without a Phenician or a
Roman past, and has preserved more traces than any other of its
architectural flowering-time; yet it would be truer to say of it, as of
all Moroccan cities, that it has no age, since its seemingly immutable
shape is forever crumbling and being renewed on the old lines.

When we rode forth the next day to visit some of the palaces of Eldjid
our pink-saddled mules carried us at once out of the bounds of time. How
associate anything so precise and Occidental as years or centuries with
these visions of frail splendor seen through cypresses and roses? The
Cadis in their multiple muslins, who received us in secret doorways and
led us by many passages into the sudden wonder of gardens and fountains;
the bright-earringed negresses peering down from painted balconies; the
pilgrims and clients dozing in the sun against hot walls; the deserted
halls with plaster lace-work and gold pendentives in tiled niches; the
Venetian chandeliers and tawdry rococo beds; the terraces from which
pigeons whirled up in a white cloud while we walked on a carpet of their
feathers - were all these the ghosts of vanished state, or the actual
setting of the life of some rich merchant with "business connections"
in Liverpool and Lyons, or some government official at that very moment
speeding to Meknez or Casablanca in his sixty h. p. motor?

[Illustration: _From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au

Fez Eldjid (the upper city)]

We visited old palaces and new, inhabited and abandoned, and over all
lay the same fine dust of oblivion, like the silvery mould on an
overripe fruit. Overripeness is indeed the characteristic of this rich
and stagnant civilization. Buildings, people, customs, seem all about to
crumble and fall of their own weight: the present is a perpetually
prolonged past. To touch the past with one's hands is realized only in
dreams; and in Morocco the dream-feeling envelopes one at every step.
One trembles continually lest the "Person from Porlock" should step in.

He is undoubtedly on the way; but Fez had not heard of him when we rode
out that morning. Fez Eldjid, the "New Fez" of palaces and government
buildings, was founded in the fourteenth century by the Merinid princes,
and probably looks much as it did then. The palaces in their overgrown
gardens, with pale-green trellises dividing the rose-beds from the
blue-and-white tiled paths, and fountains in fluted basins of Italian
marble, all had the same drowsy charm; yet the oldest were built not
more than a century or two ago, others within the last fifty years; and
at Marrakech, later in our journey, we were to visit a sumptuous
dwelling where plaster-cutters and ceramists from Fez were actually
repeating with wonderful skill and spontaneity, the old ornamentation of
which the threads run back to Rome and Damascus.

Of really old private dwellings, palaces or rich men's houses, there are
surprisingly few in Morocco. It is hard to guess the age of some of the
featureless houses propping each other's flanks in old Fez or old Salé;
but people rich enough to rebuild have always done so, and the passion
for building seems allied, in this country of inconsequences, to the
supine indifference that lets existing constructions crumble back to
clay. "Dust to dust" should have been the motto of the Moroccan

Fez possesses one old secular building, a fine fondak of the fifteenth
century; but in Morocco, as a rule, only mosques and the tombs of saints
are preserved - none too carefully - and even the strong stone buildings
of the Almohads have been allowed to fall to ruin, as at Chella and

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