One of the Almohad Sultans who, during their hundred years of empire, scattered such great monuments from Seville to the Atlas, felt the need of coolness about his southern capital, and laid out the olive-yards of the Agdal.
To the south of Marrakech the Agdal extends for many acres between the outer walls of the city and the edge of the palm-oasis—a continuous belt of silver foliage traversed by deep red lanes, and enclosing a wide-spreading summer palace and two immense reservoirs walled with masonry, and the vision of these serene sheets of water, in which the olives and palms are motionlessly reflected, is one of the most poetic impressions in that city of inveterate poetry.
On the edge of one of the reservoirs a sentimental Sultan built in the last century a little pleasure-house called the Menara. It is composed of a few rooms with a two-storied loggia looking across the water to the palm-groves, and surrounded by a garden of cypresses and orange-trees. The Menara, long since abandoned, is usually uninhabited, but on the day when we drove through the Agdal we noticed, at the gate, a group of well-dressed servants holding mules with embroidered saddle-clothes.
The French officer who was with us asked the porter what was going on, and he replied that the Chief of the Guild of Wool-Merchants had hired the pavilion for a week and invited a few friends to visit him. They were now, the porter added, taking tea in the loggia above the lake, and the host, being informed of our presence, begged that we should do him and his friends the honour of visiting the pavilion.
In reply to this amiable invitation we crossed an empty saloon surrounded with divans and passed out onto the loggia where the wool-merchant and his guests were seated. They were evidently persons of consequence: large bulky men wrapped in fresh muslins and reclining side by side on muslin-covered divans and cushions. Black slaves had placed before them brass trays with pots of mint-tea, glasses in filigree stands, and dishes of gazelles’ horns and sugar-plums, and they sat serenely absorbing these refreshments and gazing with large calm eyes upon the motionless water and the reflected trees.
So, we were told, they would probably spend the greater part of their holiday. The merchant’s cooks had taken possession of the kitchens, and toward sunset a sumptuous repast of many courses would be carried into the saloon on covered trays, and the guests would squat about it on rugs of Rabat, tearing with their fingers the tender chicken wings and small artichokes cooked in oil, plunging their fat white hands to the wrist into huge mounds of saffron and rice, and washing off the traces of each course in the brass basin of perfumed water carried about by a young black slave-girl with hoop-earrings and a green-and-gold scarf about her hips.