Koutoubia Mosque

Words: Maria de Dozsa
Image: Patrick Rafferty

5.30am. Through the darkness a gentle hum reverberates around the mosque. Incomprehensible, soft words travel through the small alcoves at the top of the tower and trickle into the streets below. They gather to a crescendo; “Allahu Akbar”. Men fall to their knees to begin the morning prayer.

6.30am. Silence. The sun rises in the East, a milky ball starting to burn through the white clouds. The air is cold, crisp. A stark contrast to this desert landscape. A light breeze shakes the nearby palm trees. Their leaves bend to caress the red stone walls that have stood for centuries.

9.30am. East greets West and North embraces South. Far below the golden spire men flood the streets, laying out their wares on moth eaten carpets. Coloured lanterns, silver fish, musty pine wood chests, brass Aladdin’s lamps. A sea of sparkling treasures.

11.30am. The squeaking of food carts fills the square. Table tops spilling with over-ripe fruit, strawberries that have spent too much time in the sun, their green flat leaves wilting. Blood red juice dribbling onto the pavements. An exotic array of pineapple, coconuts and mottled brown bananas.

12.30pm. Hot sun burns through the rooftops of the cafes resting high above the square. The souks below, the Koutoubia high above. A striking blue sky, so blue it looks photo shopped. Hundreds of mint tea pots litter table tops next to steaming tagines bursting with rich plums, almonds, apricots and meats.

1.30pm. The snake charmers weave their way through the souks. Wicker baskets conceal sandy coloured vipers and black cobras waiting to make their daily wages in the square. Glistening eyes peek through holes and look up at the Koutoubia, waiting for the lid to open and the tourists to come.

2.30pm. The monkeys arrive, jostling through crowds. Bouncing from the knees of their masters and somersaulting around and around until their feet meet the hard ground. Cold, metal collars restrict their necks, chains pull taught against their tugs.

3.30pm. A straggly ginger cat runs through a side street, clutching a chicken head in its mouth – wet and savage. Leftovers from lunch. The smell of rancid fish heads mix with petrol fumes from passing bikers heading into the city.

4.30pm. Children slip through the waves of merchants, street performers, tourists, snake charmers, and monkey tamers. A web of walking, talking Google maps. They collect a few dirhams for taking backpackers down the right roads and old couples down the wrong roads.

5.30pm. Lovers emerge from their couples’ hammam, sweat beads running down flushed, freshly steamed faces. They head for the horses and carts lined up neatly. Red and green with gold ones, blue and white with silver ones, ready to trundle through the Koutoubia gardens.

6.30pm. The sun sets and the circus is in full swing. The heat of the day subsides and the Koutoubia mosque stands tall in the centre of the city, the ringmaster of Marrakech.