Friday, March 15, 2013

Finding a desert heroine

After I blogged about the Berber tea ceremony last month, various people suggested I must put it all into a book. Thanks, guys, you really got me thinking. And maybe I will. So to whet your appetite, here's some more of the places and sights you might find in that story, if (when!!) I write it.

winding medina alleys

The old walled city in Marrakech, the Medina, is incredibly picturesque and characterful, like this narrow street here. Walls jut out and alleyways go off under and between buildings. Very easy to get lost. In spite of that, and the lack of street lighting, it felt very safe when I was there, but, in my story, an unwary heroine could easily be waylaid.  (I am writing fiction, after all, and I get to decide what happens!)

Where might my waylaid heroine end up? Well, if she became a wife or a high-ranking concubine, she might end up in a house as magnificent as this one (now the Dar Si Said Museum). This is the entrance to the great audience chamber which was a male-only preserve. The noble who owned the house would receive petitioners there, though he himself sat apart in a side chamber – equally magnificent – to demonstrate his high status.

great audience chamber entrance

The decoration of such chambers was utterly astonishing. Sadly, not all of it is particularly well preserved. You get the best impression from looking at the ceilings which have suffered less than walls and floors from the ravages of time.

Here you can see the stunning painted wood ceiling and part of the tiled frieze beneath.

audience chamber: painted ceiling and tiled frieze

This is a relatively undamaged section of the wall carving in the great chamber, all done by hand and clearly expensive.  Yet another sign of the owner's high status. When it was new, it would have been even more colourful than this.

wall carving in great audience chamber

Our heroine would not have had access to the great chamber; at least, not when there were other men about, but she would have been able to use the garden, in the centre of the house.

As in all such houses, the central courtyard garden was a place of calm and beauty, with water and fountains and beautiful plants and flowers. In truly grand houses, the central courtyard was really large. What you see here is perhaps one-eighth of the whole.

courtyard garden, Dar Si Said museum, Marrakech

Water, so precious in desert countries, was central and it was celebrated, as here, with fountains and beautiful tiling. When the garden was lush and green, particularly in spring and early summer, this would have been a glorious place to be, with the high walls shading the harem ladies from the hot sun as well as the prying eyes.

tiled courtyard pool, shaded by canopy

a Marrakech concubine?

Our harem lady might have looked something like this, perhaps, in elaborate robes and a huge amount of silver jewellery. Her hair appears to be completely covered, so I can't tell what colour it is, but her skin is very fair.  Perhaps her hair is, too? 

And yes, her bare skin is on show, right down to her waist. Somehow that doesn't quite fit with the demurely lowered eyes, does it?  I sense a spirit of mischief hiding there.

Maybe I've found the image of my heroine. What do you think?  Would you like to read about her?  I'd love to know.



girlygirlhoosier52 said...

Lovely photographs - thanks for sharing... I love this genre.. Thanks for sharing!

Louise Allen said...

Gorgeous! And I think that idea for a book sounds great.

Christina Courtenay said...

Yes please, this will make a wonderful story!

Jan Jones said...

I'd buy it!

Anonymous said...

Apologies to all for not responding sooner. I was away.

Glad you liked the blog and the photos. Must admit that some of the surroundings were really romantic though I'm less keen on the subjugation of females that often went with them. Any heroine I write won't put up with that, needless to say!

Grateful for the encouragement to write this story. It IS beginning to take shape in the back of my mind.

Not sure I'm going to be able to log in as me, so I'll sign this, just to be sure.

Best wishes to all
Joanna Maitland