Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ancient Roman Influence

First, I just wanted to say that it has been an amazing first week here in Rabat, Morocco. I am having a wonderful time learning Arabic, and enjoying the Moroccan culture through the sites and sounds of the city.

However, it was not until several days into the program that I finally had some time to truly visit some of the areas of Rabat. Having majored at UCLA with a B.S. in Anthropology, archaeology happens to be a great passion of mine, and I greatly enjoy visiting world museums that display archaeological finds from various time periods. Having learned that Rabat has a Museum of Archaeology stationed nearby, of course I just had to go see it, so I did.

The museum was much smaller than I anticipated, but very quaint. It had a good amount of artifacts from the Neolithic through the Islamic period, separated by rooms. However, though the participants in the GPA Fulbright Program here in Morocco have been learning about Moroccan, Arab, and Amazigh (Berber) culture, I have not heard anything regarding the Romans that once occupied this land as well. I had no idea that Roman influence was significant in ancient Morocco, and was pleasantly surprised to see an array of Roman artifacts ranging from marble statues, slabs with Latin script, and bronze figurines. There was an entire cabinet full of miniature bronze figurines that depict many of the most significant Roman gods (Minerva, Bacchus, Eros, Fortune, Victory, Neptune, Mercury, & Vulcan). Moreover, there were miniature statues of Isis, who is an Egyptian god that had many cult followers in Egypt, Greece, and ancient Rome, which may have lead to Isis cults in Morocco in the past.

I was literally the only “tourist” in the museum, though it was nearly 1 in the afternoon. Apparently, the museum does not get very many visitors, although I do think it is a very interesting place to visit. One of the museum workers that I met there walked with me a bit from room to room trying to explain to me (in French, though I don’t speak French) some of the important artifacts that the museum holds, and I was fascinated by it. In addition, he also informed me that because of Islamic law forbidding idols, much of the artwork that depicted Roman gods was once destroyed, sold off, or reutilized for its raw material, and that is why ancient Roman artwork doesn’t exist as much. At the end of my visit, he told me to visit the Roman site of Chella, which was 1 km away. It didn’t take long to walk there.

The site of Chella was amazing. There is a large fortress that surrounds the entire area. You can make out some of the ancient buildings, though the later Islamic influence is evident by old cemeteries and small mausoleums. The site is very nice to walk through, and there is even a lovely garden near the bottom. But the view is fantastic since you can see the river below, the hillsides, and all the greenery of the surrounding area. The architectural style of the ancient site is very beautiful, although it appears that there is not much upkeep since the site in overrun by grass and weeds. Plus, the site is also overrun by many large storks with giant nests not only in the trees, but on the top of the buildings as well.

At one time, it appears that Roman influence used to be significant in Morocco’s past. However, after centuries of changes to the culture of Morocco, it does not appear that people relate themselves any more to the ancient Romans, but rather more to either the Arabs, Amazigh, Jews, and possibly the Andalusians.

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