Before the French arrived in Morocco in 1912, the whole of Rabat was contained in the medina. Today the historic area, with its narrow alleys, traditional architecture, and busy stalls, is dwarfed by the rest of the city, but it was considerate of the French to build around the old city rather than over it, preserving not only the buildings themselves, but also some of the traditional ways of Moroccan life.
On our trip to the medina, we were privy to some of that right from the start. The exterior of a small minaret on the first road we went down was being restored by three men, who from their perch on the scaffolding were carving out the charmingly simple design with just chisels and hammers, no power tools, safety helmets or even close-toed shoes required. We picked a good street to explore first–it was off the bustling main thoroughfare and was instead quieter and easier to pause for a photo or a breath.
I perhaps chose my treat prematurely though, stopping at the first pastry stall we came across. We chose three little cookies, two of which were filled with marzipan, the third a simple shortbread-like treat. Later we would see stalls selling what I think is halva. The slabs of candy were chopped into bite-sized pieces by a man wielding a gigantic knife who was completely unconcerned by dozens of bees settling on the candy.
Next I wanted to stop at the spice seller, with their sacks of not just cumin and saffron, but also flours, beans, pastas, and dried fruit. The kid helping us shaved off some of the cone of cumin and handed it to Colin in a little pink bag–100 grams, maybe a cup, for under $1.
We turned down an alleyway and found ourselves walking in front of a primary school. Soon the students from this school and maybe others would be released and would swarm through the busy medina with their uniforms and tiny backpacks. Besides the school there were flashes of old Morocco in that alleyway: whitewashed buildings with bold red or dark green doors and trim; impossibly tall and narrow stairs leading up to a residence; a woodworking shop; and a mosaicked entryway, admittedly covered by a few very modern fliers.
When we rejoined the fray on the main street, everything got newer and louder and more crowded. The stalls here mostly sell cheap Western clothing, but there were vendors with perfumes, leather goods, and food as well. Colin spied a shop selling metal goods that we’ll likely return to, to buy lanterns to cover some of the bare hanging light bulbs in our apartment.
Dusk started to fall, so we disentangled ourselves from the masses and found dinner. Then Colin dropped me off at my French school before heading home with a backpack full of our medina purchases.