NOTE ON MOROCCAN ARCHITECTURE
M. H. Saladin, whose “Manual of Moslem Architecture” was published in 1907, ends his chapter on Morocco with the words: “It is especially urgent that we should know, and penetrate into, Morocco as soon as possible, in order to study its monuments. It is the only country but Persia where Moslem art actually survives; and the tradition handed down to the present day will doubtless clear up many things.”
M. Saladin’s wish has been partly realized. Much has been done since 1912, when General Lyautey was appointed Resident-General, to clear up and classify the history of Moroccan art; but since 1914, though the work has never been dropped, it has necessarily been much delayed, especially as regards its published record; and as yet only a few monographs and articles have summed up some of the interesting investigations of the last five years.
When I was in Marrakech word was sent to Captain de S., who was with me, that a Caid of the Atlas, whose prisoner he had been several years before, had himself been taken by the Pasha’s troops, and was in Marrakech. Captain de S. was asked to identify several rifles which his old enemy had taken from him, and on receiving them found that, in the interval, they had been elaborately ornamented with the Arab niello work of which the tradition goes back to Damascus.
This little incident is a good example of the degree to which the mediaeval tradition alluded to by M. Saladin has survived in Moroccan life. Nowhere else in the world, except among the moribund fresco-painters of the Greek monasteries, has a formula of art persisted from the seventh or eighth century to the present day; and in Morocco the formula is not the mechanical expression of a petrified theology but the setting of the life of a people who have gone on wearing the same clothes, observing the same customs, believing in the same fetiches, and using the same saddles, ploughs, looms, and dye-stuffs as in the days when the foundations of the first mosque of El Kairouiyin were laid.
[Illustration: From a photograph from the Service des Beaux-Arts au Maroc
Marrakech—a street fountain]
The origin of this tradition is confused and obscure. The Arabs have never been creative artists, nor are the Berbers known to have been so. As investigations proceed in Syria and Mesopotamia it seems more and more probable that the sources of inspiration of pre-Moslem art in North Africa are to be found in Egypt, Persia, and India. Each new investigation pushes these sources farther back and farther east; but it is not of much use to retrace these ancient vestiges, since Moroccan art has, so far, nothing to show of pre-Islamite art, save what is purely Phenician or Roman.