Who doesn’t feel a certain familiarity with the ancient architectural decors of Morocco. still visible in the streets of Fes, Marrakech or Rabat ? The traveler is continually amazed by the colorful zellige stucco, the delicately carved wood and monumental calligraphic patterns that twirl around curves and light arabesques. Few of us seem able however, to place these architectural and artistic productions in an accurate historical perspective.
This is probably the main goal of this exhibition- it tries to accomplish a different trip around Morocco, that of the history of Islamic dynasties succeeding each other between the tenth and fifteenth centuries. This chronological order allows us to better understand the originality of the culture of medieval Maghreb between Africa and Spain, where Morocco is the epicenter of this exceptional artistic fulfillment. These five centuries of history cover a fascinating period of the Islamic world, where political and religious oriental powers fall into pieces after Umayyad and Abbasid unity and where Spain is no longer the epicenter of politics, religion and culture of the western Islam and where North Africa is gathering around powerful dynasties which bring together an Arab language and indigenous Berber specificity. This revival in the North Africa is naturally conditioned by complex regional and tribal alliances and shifting jeux- de- coulisses.
The subtle religious doctrines serve a certain territorial unity or an allegiance to a particular eastern or western caliphate. It is not inside this historical complexity that we want to draw the viewer, even if this remains present in the background.
The landscape we wish to unveil showcases the history of cities and monuments that are born and transformed during these five centuries. While we feel at the beginning of this cycle the shy emergence of an original artistic expression reflected in the birth of Fes and its mosques, the new urban conception and territorial unity that takes shape in the middle of the eleventh century, put into place by the Almoravids, are at the origin of an impregnated art of Andalusian and Oriental examples of Fatimid Egypt or Syria. Almohads, between the twelfth and thirteenth century, achieve probably the most interesting synthesis of a native sensitivity, visible in a form of simplicity and austerity both related to religious reform and presented with some Andalusian influence most likely brought over by princes sometimes educated at the courts of southern Spain. Finally, the Merinides, thanks to their prestigious program of beautification of the cities and building of madrasas, achieve the fulfillment of this particular cultural identity.
Let us also not ignore that this cultural and artistic expression is set within a Mediterranean environment of political and cultural issues especially rich between the tenth and fifteenth century. The eastern shore of the Mediterranean is marked at that time by the confrontation of the Franks and Arabs, who see the Turks establish their grip on the Eastern world.
From Egypt to Middle East thus succeed each other during this period the three brightest religious, political and cultural dynasties, the Fatimids. the Ayyubids and Mamluks. The Christian Europe, beyond its ideological and military confrontation with the Muslims of Spain and the Middle East, intensifies its commercial and artistic exchanges with Africa and the Orient. Pisa, Genoa and Venice testify to the activity of the Mediterranean trade, which are reflected in artistic and intellectual life.
The exhibition is on at Musee Mohamed 6 in Rabat until 3 March 2015 and is open to public on all week days except Tuesdays. It is also included with all our Spain Morocco tailor made tours that stop in Rabat.