Unlike many of its allies and neighbors, Morocco has remained quietly out of the political spotlight during recent years, having largely escaped the political unrest and revolution of the Arab Spring. Last year, however, the Kingdom was afforded the cultural limelight in Paris, France, in a series of events called A Moroccan Autumn in Paris. Despite France’s long-standing relations with many North African and Arab nations, it is unprecedented for one country to receive the concerted attention that Morocco has been enjoying these past few months. In two simultaneous exhibitions, on Modern and Medieval Morocco, have highlighted and celebrated Morocco’s artistic contribution in the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) and the Louvre Museum, respectively.
Medieval Morocco: An Empire from Africa to Spain, features works from the 11th to the 15th centuries CE/AD. In contrast, the institute’s Contemporary Morocco showcased work by 80 living artists.
The great news for culture enthusiasts, historians and visitors to Morocco is that the Medieval Morocco Exhibition will travel to Rabat in 2015! The exhibition will take place from March 2nd – June 1st.
The medieval era in Morocco was one of great conquering dynasties – the Idrisid, Almoravid, Almohad and Marinid sultans ruled great swathes of modern day North African (Algeria, Tunisia and Libya), Mauretania, Mali and into the Iberian Peninsula. Additionally, it was a period of great artistic, cultural, religious and scientific endeavor. The 300 pieces on display have never been assembled in one place before – many of them have never travelled – and have been brought together from Morocco, Spain, Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia.
The collection has been curated by French and Moroccan experts to bring this little-known period of Arab, European and African history to a wider audience. The artifacts span disciplines as diverse as architecture, engineering, Islamic ornamentation, textiles, pottery and Arabic calligraphy. They are arranged chronologically to enable a sense of historical and geographical context, tracing the rise and fall of successive dynasties, their seats of power and the breadth of their realms.
One of the most significant artifacts on display is a chandelier from the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez, the oldest university in the world. The polished copper chandelier was created in the 13th century once held 520 oil lamps. It was a challenge to extract it from the labyrinthine Fez medina (old city) and on exhibit it is lit as it would be in the mosque. Other exhibits, such as a minbar (a podium from which an imam preaches) from the same mosque were too delicate to transport.
To see this exhibition in Paris is special, but to see it in Rabat would make a perfect backdrop to your tour of Morocco, providing a great impression of the magnificence of the erstwhile Islamic empires and a sense of the origins of much of the cultural, artistic and architectural practices you will see on your trip.
Medieval Morocco: An Empire from Africa to Spain, is on at the Mohammed VI Museum in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, from March 2 to June 1, 2015.
Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Angle Avenue Moulay El Hassan et Avenue Allal Ben Abdallah, Quartier Hassan, Rabat, Morocco, Phone: 21 25 37 76 90 47
Written by Lynn Sheppard
Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.