The Door-knocker Tour
The guide, a man of about 20, at the entrance to kasbah was lying. He told me the café didn’t open until 6pm. It is in fact open from sunrise to sunset. But, I had a few hours to kill while waiting to meet with some friends and little else to do for a distraction as most shops were closed for lunch. I decided to follow him, interested in what he would show, tell, and expect from us at the end. He showed me his national identity card in lieu of a guide license. It showed was that he was a resident of Oudaya.
Within a few steps, I felt like I was in a neighborhood in Chefchouen, but in place of cool mountain air was a breeze from the ocean. Oudaya lacks the sophisticated boutiques of its Northern blue-and-white cousin. Here were only residential markets and an orange juice stand. Boys in half wet suits carried battered surf boards through the narrow streets, half of which was shaded from midday sun by the blue and white walls surrounding it. The walls were pieced by ornate doorways that hinted at the architecture and ambiance hidden within.
The guide tells me that the painted door style is Andalusian, not Berber.
We tried to stay on the shady side of the street. All we could see were doorways, walls, and a view of the ocean and river that separates Rabat and Sale.
The guide discussed the symbolism of the wall colors and the various origins of the doorknocker styles. The Hand of Fatima (a feminine hand wearing a ring), Hamsa (stylized hand with two thumbs, Jewish origin), Hand of the Virgin (no ring, Portuguese), and scissors. The scissors, like the hand doorknockers, are talismans used to ward of the evil eye or bad luck. The scissors, also and more intuitively, signify a barber shop. One bizarre door was decorated with a variety of brass objects, including Roman chariots. It was the door of an apothecary of Egyptian origin.
Door of an Egyptian apothocary in Oudaya.
I ask and the guide tells me the blue color used on the medina walls represents the ocean and also serves as a mosquito repellant because “mosquitos only like yellow”. He tells me that the white paint on the outside of the buildings between the street and the curb symbolize both Islamic religion (white, he says, is for the Prophet) as well as pathways that have an exit. He shows me places where the same section where building meets curb is painted light blue, explaining that this color marks Andalusian homes and paths with no exit.
The white paint on the curb indicates this path
should have an exit.
I have never heard Andalusian used as a race. Certainly when the Moors were forced out of Spain, many Jews and Muslims settled in Morocco in towns like Chefchaouen and Rabat. I wonder if Andalusian means Jewish in this case. I know the guide, in the Moroccan tradition, will answer any question I may ask just. I know in advance that his answer won’t satisfy me.
He points to the gate to the Oudaya and says that the shell detail was a symbol of victory in the Almohad dynasty.
We go by Dar Baraka on our way to an open plaza that overlooks the Sale and the Bou Regreg river. There is sign with a gold cat on it. He explains that the cat represents luck and the gold represents wealth.
From there it is short walk to the café and gardens, which are, at 3pm, miraculously open.
The guide wants 170 dirhams for this short tour, an unreasonable amount of money. I offer him a bit more than he deserved because my daughter dropped a bag, the contents of which amount to close to his asking price, and he quickly back tracked and retrieved it for us.
Enjoying tea with my travelling companion. The charming open ledge isn’t very kid-friendly, but the gardens are great for toddlers.
Overall, the tour was a rip-off that was worth the time and money. If you want to go into Oudaya, don’t bother with a guide. It is a small, lovely, and relatively friendly, although the guide did shoo away one persistent beggar boy during our tour. Still, you don’t need to spend any dirhams to see it unless, like me, you are interested in what the locals have to say – historically accurate or not- about symbolism and history.