Morocco can seem like something conjured from a dream. The twisty alleys of its old-town medinas hold secrets around every corner. Its markets are infused with the aroma of spices and the lilting melodies of musicians, with jewel-colored leather and scarves and rugs as far as the eye can see.
Morocco’s history is just as colorful. Nomadic peoples like the Berbers and the Tuareg (a.k.a., the Blue People) were roaming and riding the Sahara desert for centuries. The cities — Tangier and Casablanca, Marrakech and Fez — were well-known havens in and around the World Wars for secret agents, ambitious businessmen, and glamorous movie stars.
Providing a background for all of this is Morocco’s breathtaking scenery: the rugged beauty of the Atlas mountains, the flowing dunes of the Sahara, the sparkling beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and the fragrant cedar forests.
In this episode, we discuss books that transported us to Morocco, including two very different — but equally moving — memoirs of personal adventures; a historical novel featuring two strong heroines and a mysterious amulet; a poignant look at the fading art of Moroccan storytelling; and a contemporary thriller about a traveler’s worst nightmare.
Read the full transcript of Episode 7: Morocco.
… just to sit on a rooftop at night and see the sun setting behind the Atlas Mountains is just, I don’t know — it takes my breath away every time, and it’s been 15 years, and I still like never get tired of it. — Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki
Connect with Amanda, a.k.a., Maroc Mama
Books mentioned by Amanda
Tangia vs. Tagine: As Amanda explained in our interview, tangia is a dish (and vessel) made in Marrakech. The tagine is the cooking vessel and stew made all over Morocco.
And here’s a post with excellent photos of Amanda making the tafernout bread she mentioned in our conversation.
Al-Qarawiyyin Library: The oldest library in the world is the Al-Qarawiyyin Library, located in Fez. It was founded in 859 by a woman named Fatima al-Fihri. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant and used her inheritance to establish a learning complex that included a library, a university, and a mosque.
Atlas Studios: The world’s largest film studio, located in the desert just outside Ouarzazate on the road to Marrakech. You can read more and see photos at Atlas Obscura, and this New York Times piece ‘Morocco, From Coast to Desert’ is compelling.
Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association: Should you like to swim the 9 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar, you’ll find all the info you need at the website of the Swimming Association.
Mercedes Gleitze: She was the first woman to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, and she did it in 12 hours in 1928. Read more about this remarkable woman and enjoy the darling photos.
A first-hand account of the swim: In 2017, Liz Denyer, Matt Duggan, Elliot Newsome, and Claire Wilson swam across the Strait of Gibraltar from Europe to Africa. This is Elliot Newsome’s story about the experience.
The New York Yacht Club Library: Author Richard Hamilton was inspired to write Skeletons on the Zahara when he found a diary in the Yacht Club Library. Here it is:
Tuareg people: The Tuareg are Berber nomads who live in the Sahara and play an essential role in the story of The Salt Road, one of our recommended books. Their traditional dress includes garments of a particular shade of blue that can also dye their skin. The women are known for their intricately braided hair; see an example of the braids right here.
Vendela Vida on NPR: In this interview, Vendela Vida talks about the events that prompted her to write The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty.
The Rumi poem: Rumi was a 13th-century Sufi poet who wrote The Divers Clothes Lying Empty:
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Top image courtesy of Wei Pan.
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