66: Traveling in Morocco: Azrou

Azrou is a lovely little city in the Middle Atlas Mountains, a little less than a mile elevation. Azrou is famous for hand-made Berber (tribe) wool woven rugs. It has a lovely little medina in the old part of town, and a bustling newer city center as well. There are several rug merchants who will be happy to display their rugs, often over a steaming pot of traditional Moroccan tea – hot and strongly sweet, served with mint. The rugs are lovely, colorful, various sizes, with geometric patterns. Some of the smaller rugs are not really rugs, they are intended as capes, with strings to tie them on for the really cold days. Remember this area is nearly a mile high in elevation, and gets snows in the winter fairly often. The prices are astounding. Remember that these are hand-made artifacts, some of them antique, some newer. Many are 100 percent hand-shorn, hand-carded and spun, hand-woven wool. Some have mixed fibers, especially the plant-based silk. Some are flat rugs, and some have plush pile. Some are simply too lovely to walk on, and I would only hang them on the walls, like tapestries. If you ask the merchant, he can usually tell you from what part of the country the rug is from, and perhaps even the tribe of the women who created it, by the patterns in the rug. Ask him if there are any weaver’s “signatures” in the rug. If there are, he will show you the places where the pattern of the rug varies subtly, which is the weaver’s “mark,” or signature in her rug, much like when an artist signs their painting. I am wearing one of the heavy cotton/wool capes, and my husband is wearing an antique wool d’jellaba, the hooded wool cloak that men and women both wear. Behind us is a display of some of the lovely rugs that this particular merchant had up for display.

Azrou also has several shops where you can buy the wool yarn in hanks, if you would like to try your hand at knitting, crochet or weaving yourself. In other shops, there are mouth-watering displays of lovely women’s traditional caftans, or indoor clothing. D’jellabas are for outdoor wear, and are usually hooded. The indoor garments are much more elaborate, made of delicate fabrics, embroidered, beaded and sequined, and don’t have hoods. I don’t have pne of those yet, even though we have lived here for about twenty months. They are all lovely, and come in such a fantastic array of colors, patterns and design, I get paralyzed at the bounty of selection, and end up not buying a single thing – every time. You are measured, and the garments are made especially to fit just you – although you can buy one “off the rack,” if it fits you. Everything about the garment is color-coordinated, even down to the especially woven flat braids that are applied for trim. They are custom-made for each garment. And get this – these delicious confections of feminine magnificence usually cost less than 100 US dollars each. Some are a single layer, some have overlayers of transparent, matching fabric, some come with matching trousers. They are all gorgeous, stunning, elaborate and fantastical, especially when you are looking at a store full of them, all lined up in glittering, glimmering rows.

Azrou has delicious, fragrant pastry shops that also serve tea or coffee. Moroccan men sit in sidewalk cafes, drinking coffee or tea, watching the world walk by. Moroccan women usually are served inside, but I like to sit outside with my husband, even if that is a trifle strange. I think I get away with it because it is apparent that I am not Moroccan, so perhaps they just figure that I don’t know how things are done here. Our favorite restaurant is actually a little sandwich shop just off the centreville plaza. They serve a delicious, hearty Moroccan traditional sandwich filled with grilled ground beef that is mixed with spices and grilled. Meat prepared this way is called Kefta, and it is stuffed into half a round loaf of bread, a meal in itself, for the grand total of 11 dirhams – less than 1.25 US. You can even add cheese for another couple of dirhams. Azrou also has a fish hatchery for trout, which is served fresh at several of the town’s restaurants. Hard to get better than that! At the hatchery, you can buy fresh-sealed packages of smoked fish and other delicacies, too.

And then, you can roam around the narrow back streets of the medina, the old part of town, and shop for all sorts of necessities and luxuries.

Happy exploring in Azrou!

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