Rabat, Morocco: At Rabat’s historic Chellah, flowers, birds and dust reign as warm-hued Roman ruins give way to humidity and the hot Rabat sun. On the cloudless Ramadan afternoon of my visit, the site’s serenity breaks only for the occasional flap of storks’ wings or the chatter of excited tourist groups. As an ideal place to absorb history, practice landscape photography or even study, Chellah is my first and, so far, favorite, historic Moroccan site.
I’d seen the Chellah’s red, ancient-looking walls on many drives between my residence and workplace. When I found out that the site contains both Roman ruins and a necropolis, my interest was fully piqued. I decided to visit it the next day.
During my visit, I learned that the Chellah does, in fact, contain both Sala Colonia, an ancient Roman city settled around 40 A.D. and abandoned between 1100 and 1600 A.D., and Chellah, the site’s namesake, a Merenid necropolis built on Sala’s ruins by the 14th century Merenid sultan Abou al-Hassan Ali.
Though it serves as a tomb, Chellah is full of life. In addition to hosting beautifully tended flower gardens and marine creatures, the site serves as a nesting place for storks. These large birds have mostly made homes from the ruin’s walls, though a few perch on Chellah’s minaret. In terms of tourist attention, they probably rival the nearby tombs of Ali and his wife.
My favorite part of Chellah was the eel pond. This was mostly because it was a hot day and I was thirsty but forbidden by etiquette to drink in public due to Ramadan fasting. The eel pool was cool and breezy. The dark green waters were only occasionally interrupted by darting dark fish and the occasional movements of small turtles and large frogs. It’s said here that feeding boiled eggs to the ensures fertility and easy childbirth, but alas, I didn’t take part in this ritual: no eels appeared, probably because they had taken refuge in the pool’s deeply shaded alcoves.
My second favorite part was the unexpected bamboo grove. The individual plants were engraved with love pacts, signatures and drawings. Whenever the wind blew, I heard the stalks knocking together in a deeply satisfying way.
I may have broken the serenity of Chellah when I climbed a wall to get a picture of far-off storks. A guard began watching me very closely and later angrily. The worst part? The pictures didn’t even turn out that well.
For more about my Moroccan adventures, visit From Rabat, With Love: Settling into Morocco’s Capital City