Sunday, January 31, 2016

[RABAT] The Supermodel of Chellah

I never really knew that I'd find more Roman ruins in Morocco. In fact, all the Roman ruins I’ve been to are in Morocco. When you geek out about it, it’s actually fascinating to think how immense the empire once was. I mean, come on, this is like the edge of the Mediterranean, more like the beginning of the Atlantic, really. Oh no, verbal diarrhea much. Let’s talk about the ruins of Chellah, which is less than ten minutes by taxi from where I reside.

So what happened is that one boring weekend morning, during my first week in Rabat, I had a two-hour window or so in between shifts. It was a Sunday morning and I’ve already visited the only other tourist attractions in Rabat the other day. In effect, only Chellah was left in the itinerary unless I wanted to count in some government buildings that you can’t even take photos of. I wasn’t joking when I said that it takes less than ten minutes to get here. I paid the taxi driver just around MAD 14 (~PHP 70), I think.

Chellah will not really impress you that much if you have already been to Volubilis. Why so? One, Chellah is a lot smaller than Volubilis. There should be a spot on one of Chellah's walls where you can stand and see the entire place. You can’t really do that in Volubilis because there is no wall you can climb on unless you do it illegally, and the place itself is just so vast that one vantage point wouldn't suffice to capture everything. And of course, the tourists!

Chellah receives a lot more tourists despite its meager size. Blame its location within Rabat for this. Accessibility is the main reason here. Volubilis is rather out of the way. You really have to make an effort to go there, shared taxi rides and all. But yeah, Volubilis is way bigger. This means that finding a spot to call your own in Chellah is not that easy, albeit not that impossible to do. Perhaps it all depends on the right timing. I was able to capture some good shots sans tourists, so I think my timing was really good.

Before lunch is perfect, I guess? The sun is not that angry and the tourist buses will not be arriving in groups until late afternoon. Did I mention that there were Italians everywhere? They seem to really like it here. There are almost a dozen of them at school, and the tourists today came in one big tour bus. Of course, the Spanish are not to be outdone. Why am I even surprised that I’ve been conversing more in Italian and Spanish than French since I got here?

Fine then, a bit of a history lesson. Chellah is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, and then the Romans took over. It could be the other way around. I really have to check on that. And then the Spanish colonized the country somehow until modern-day Morocco was born. For now, the storks have taken over. I’m not sure if they are storks or seagulls but you see a lot of them here in Rabat, perhaps due to its location along the Atlantic coast. If anything, Chellah is popular because it’s where these birds usually hang out to smoke hash.

Don’t quote me on the hash thing, but I do know that the birds nest here. The ancient walls will always have a stork or two chilling out, glaring at you like they are planning something really sinister. Remember those Aussie birds in Finding Nemo? They are that same kind of cute and evil. But there hasn’t been any news of them attacking tourists whatsoever so I don’t think I’ll have to issue a warning just yet. I would even say that they add to the charm of the place, contributing to its current identity.

Aside from the birds and the Italians, Chellah also has those tablet thingies with Latin inscriptions on them. Again, the Latinist in me felt so incompetent not being able to understand much, which is sad. But mark my words, Chellah. I’ll be back. And when I do, no unfathomable tablet will be left untranslated. For now, I'll just take photos. Did I mention that the cats in Chellah are really friendly? They just approach you like that, unlike other cats in Rabat that usually flee when they see a human being.

My new cat friend was also a frustrated model, like, she was so game. I didn’t have to guide her that much when it came to which pose was the best. I only had to yell, “Chin up a bit!” or “Work that smize!” and everything went well. That feline is just so professional, she’s ANTM-ready. Someone call Tyra Banks. Her friend was just as photogenic but had some trouble with too much Moroccan food the other day, so I kind of caught her in a not so pleasant moment on camera. They never talked to me again. Other than that, everything went well.

Anyway, I think my rants and raves for Chellah should stop here. Given the limited options you have for touristy activities to do in Rabat, the ruins should be on top of your list, even more so now that the Hassan Tower is under construction. The Atlantic Ocean is also accessible in Casablanca, while Rabat’s medina is not as impressive as that of Fez, which means you only have the Qasbah left. If you want to do both in tandem, better do Chellah in the morning to jump-start your day.

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