Sunday, May 26, 2013

The El Glaoui Palace (Palais El Glaoui) in Fez [Guest Post!]


GUEST POSTER: Justin
On a nondescript street in a quiet district on the outskirts of the Fez medina, I noticed handmade a sign above an unassuming doorway informing passersby that this was the entrance to “Palais El Glaoui.”

Sign above the door.

I was curious and interested, but surprised, because to the best of my knowledge El Glaoui had been in Southern Morocco.

You may recall that last summer Lauren and I passed through Telouet and visited the Glaoui Kasbah on the way from Aït Benhaddou to Marrakesh. I had heard of the Glaoua, but did not then know much about them, other than that they were the main topic of a book called Lords of the Atlas by Gavin Maxwell and that the leader of the Glaoua (called El Glaoui) had been some kind of powerful local warlord who had collaborated with the French during the Protectorate. Intrigued by the scale and decaying splendor of the Glaoui Kasbah, and with it being in as remote a location as Telouet of all places, I tracked down a copy of Maxwell’s book (by tracked down I mean I looked for it in the Peace Corps library a few times until someone returned a copy). Beginning in the late nineteenth century El Glaoui (first Madani, then his brother Thami, following Madani’s death in 1918) rose, through a combination of skills, circumstances, and ruthlessness, from being a relatively minor local chieftain to the ruler of an enormous neofeudal estate encompassing a vast swath of southern Morocco, effectively a state within a state, only to lose everything following Moroccan independence in the mid-twentieth century. Lords of the Atlas isn’t a great book, but there is not a whole lot of other English material on them. 

These two adorable puppies wanted to be my friend.

So it turns out that Thami, who as Pasha of Marrakesh was based out of that city, also owned this palace in Fez. 

A central courtyard.
Empty fountain in the central courtyard.
These doors (in the background of the photo 
above) look like they had once been brightly 
painted, but time and exposure to the elements 
have bleached them out pretty well.

Many of Morocco’s museums consist either of collections housed in former palaces, such as the Kasbah Museum in Tangier (primarily exhibiting archeological finds), the Jewelry Museum in Rabat, the Dar Jamaï Museum in Meknes (showcasing Moroccan artisanry), and the Museum of Marrakesh in Marrakesh (contemporary Moroccan art), among others; or simply museums where an old palace is the museum, such as the Bahia Palace and El Badi Palace, both in Marrakesh. And most of the publicly accessible areas in these palaces (excluding the El Badi, which is really only the ruins of that palace) are in fairly reasonable states of repair, often after some more or less extensive restoration work. I was only able to visit a few rooms of it, but the El Glaoui Palace in Fez, which was not listed in any of my four guidebooks, is interesting inasmuch as it gives an idea of what some of these restored palaces may have looked like prior to restoration, or if had they been left to crumble. 

The woman showing me around said this was the
courtyard of the harem. I have no specific reason to
disbelieve her but am reflexively suspicious when people
tell me things that strike me as potentially designed
to play into to Orientalist fantasies.
A collapsed walkway in what I was told was the harem.

The El Glaoui Palace also is the studio of Abdelkhalek Boukhars (aka Abdou), a painter and the guardian for the El Glaoui Palace. Abdou’s paintings, most of which are nonrepresentational and called to my mind Pollock, in the setting of the empty old palace I found pretty neat. 

Some of Abdelkhalek Boukhars's paintings.
While the El Glaoui Palace is not the first place I would suggest visiting while in Fez, if you will be there for a few days it is worth checking out.

One of several salon's off of the central courtyard,
I did not think to ask if it is still in use.
Some beautiful zellige mosaic.
More beautiful zellige.
Painted wood ceiling.
This dog has decided that I have visited the palace long enough,
and it is time for me to leave.
This is what the entrance looks like if you are looking for it. 
Also I added it to Google Maps here

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