Alaouite (or Alawite) - the name of the current Moroccan royal family, in power since the 17C and claiming direct descent from the prophet Mohammad through his daughter, Fatima. Read more here.
Almohad - Muslim Berbers who in the 12C defeated the Almoravids and conquered northern Africa and Andalusia (Al-Andalus), the then Moorish part of Spain. Read more here.
Almoravid - short-lived Muslim Berber rulers of Morocco and Andalusia. Their capital was Marrakesh, which they founded in 1062. The dynasty originated among the nomadic Berber tribes of the Sahara. Read more here.
Argan (oil) - an oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree, endemic to Morocco, valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and medicinal properties. Most of the oil today is produced by a Berber women’s cooperative. Read more here.
Bab - door or gate.
Borj - watchtower.
Babouches - slip-on shoes with pointed toes traditionally - and still - worn by Berber men and women. Local tradition dictates the colour worn: eg. yellow in Fez, red in Marrakech.
Berber - essentially a catch-all term for all the indigenous people of northern Africa west of the Nile River, embracing several different ethnic groups and cultures; language and history are the common factors. Two-thirds of Moroccans consider themselves Berber. Many Berbers refer to themselves as imazighen, which translates roughly to ‘free people’ or ‘free and noble men.’ Historically, Berbers from the Roman province of Mauretania [page 40>History>The Roman Era] were called Mauri or ‘Moors,’ and in the 16C Europeans referred to the southern Mediterranean shore as the Barbary Coast.
Bleu de Fez (or fakhari) - Fez’ signature blue-and-white pottery dates from the Almohad era. It take 8 years of apprenticeship to qualify as a master potter, able to mix his own colours and design and execute the traditional patterns. The famous Fez blue is made from cobalt oxyde that occurs naturally in the region’s rocks.
B’sara (or besara) - a thick soup of pureed broad beans with garlic, olive oil, cumin and hot peppers, traditionally eaten for breakfast.
Dar - a house with a central courtyard but no garden.
Derb - narrow street, alley.
Djellaba - a long, loose-fitting unisex outer robe with full sleeves and a pointed hood. The hood serves both to
protect the wearer from the elements and as an informal pocket for bread and other purchases.
Dwira - a small house (the diminutive of dar).
Fassi - people of Fez.
Fez hat - a conical hat made of stiff red felt with a flat top and a black tassel that was once widely worth throughout North Africa. Read more here.
Funduq (or fundouk) - usually inns for travellers, merchants and their animals but may also refer to warehouses and craft workshops. Both had courtyards where heavily laden caravans would arrive, unpack their goods and do most of their trading and selling. Sleeping quarters were provided upstairs for the travellers, downstairs for their beasts.
Green - the symbolic colour of Islam, a tradition which is thought to have come from the colour of the flags carried by Mohammed’s tribe. You’ll notice it in the decoration of mosques, the bindings of Korans and in the flags of most Muslim countries.
Hammam - a traditional communal bath with steam rooms. There are more than 100 of these around Fez. Some of them very old and beautiful with high, domed ceilings and tiled decorations but there are also modern versions with spa treatments. Men and women go in at separate times to steam, scrub and soak according to a fairly strict protocol. In many the visit concludes with an exfoliating scrub by an attendant. Note that many hammams have different time slots for men and women, and the traditional ones generally do not supply towels or cleaning supplies. Check before you go.
Hendira - a flat cloak woven by Berber mothers for their daughters’ trousseaus. Some are so thick, with a shaggy pile inside, that they’re used as carpets.
Kasbah - the fortified residence of a local leader and shelter for all in the event of an attack, often on a hilltop
or at the entrance to a harbour. A typical kasbah has high walls and no windows.
Kasr - a palace or very large house.
Koran (or Qur’an) - the holy book of the Muslim faith.
Jnane - garden.
Maghreb - the area of northern Africa to the west of the Nile River, which includes five countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. The word means ‘the land of the setting sun,’ and refers to its position as the westernmost point of the Islamic empire under the prophet Mohammed. Mashrabiya - a panel, screen or lattice carved out of wood, usually cedar, and used in a window opening Masjid - an area within a mosque reserved for prayers, in Arabic literally a place of prostration. The word masjid is used alone to denote a prayer room used for the five daily prayers; a masjid jāmi is larger, sufficient to accommodate the entire congregation for the Friday prayers and sermon. There is seldom any furniture in the area in order to allow worshippers to prostrate themselves in rows, facing in the direction of Mecca. Men and women pray here, although sometimes segregated into different zones. Worshippers are expected to clean themselves before entering, and to remove their shoes.
Medluk - an exterior coating for walls made with fine sand and lime, among other things.
Mechouar - an assembly place.
Medersa - primarily a theological college focusing on Islamic studies, culture and language but courses, even historically, includes mathematics, physics, chemistry, foreign languages and astronomy.
Medina - simply means ‘city’ in Arabic but typically refers to the old, walled sections found in many North African cities. The medina is Fez is thought to be the oldest and largest of all.
Mellah - a walled Jewish quarter within a city, the one in Fez being the earliest (established in 1438). Mellahs were typically near the residence of the ruler, who saw an interest, given their influence on the economy, in
Merenid (or Marinid) - 13C and 14C rulers of Morocco and north-west Africa, after the Almohads, with their capital at Fez. The city owes most of its greatest mosques and monuments to them. They established Fez El Jdid as well as the first medersas in Morocco.
Mihrab - a semicircular prayer niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates direction of Mecca and therefore the direction that Muslims should face during their prayers
Mosque - a building dedicated to Islamic worship.
Moussems - festivals, usually held in honour of saints.
Muslim prayer times - Led by an imam, Muslims pray facing towards Mecca five times a day: near dawn(fajr), exactly at noon (dhuhr), in the afternoon (asr), just after sunset (maghrib) and around nightfall (isha’a). The exact times of the prayers vary with the movement of the sun. On Fridays at noon a congregational prayer, jumu’ah, and a sermon, khutbah, are held at the larger mosques.
Ramadan - an annual, month-long period of religious observance that marks the point at which the Angel Gabriel gave the Koran to the Prophet Mohammed. During this period observing Muslims fast and refrain from drinking, smoking or sex from dawn to dusk. Pregnant or breast-feeding women, small children, those travelling and the sick and elderly are exempt from fasting. There are special meals served at the beginning and end of eachday. The dates vary according to the moon, shifting backwards by about eleven days each year. The month ends with the three-day Eid celebration.
Ryad (or riyad, riad) - a traditional house with an enclosed courtyard or garden.
Sahrij - reflecting pool.
Sidi - a masculine title of respect, today the equivalent of ‘Sir’ but once used by slaves to address their master.
Souk (or soq, souq, etc) - a commercial quarter or market area.
Zuia (or zawiya) - a shrine or mausoleum where people to pray, sleep and/or prepare food.
Zellij (or zellige) - glazed clay tiles set into plaster in geometric patterns, similar to mosaic. The designs are based on Islamic principles and artistic traditions. You’ll never, for example, see the shape of a flower or animal in a zellij as this is considered idolatry.