The city lay stretched before us like one immense terrace circumscribed by palms. The sky was pure blue, verging to turquoise green where the Atlas floated above mist; and facing the celestial snows stood the Koutoubya, red in the sunset.
People were beginning to come out on the roofs: it was the hour of peace, of ablutions, of family life on the house-tops. Groups of women in pale tints and floating veils spoke to each other from terrace to terrace, through the chatter of children and the guttural calls of bedizened negresses. And presently, on the roof adjoining ours, appeared the slim dancing-boys with white caftans and hennaed feet.
The three swarthy musicians who accompanied them crossed their lean legs on the tiles and set up their throb-throb and thrum-thrum, and on a narrow strip of terrace the youths began their measured steps.
It was a grave static dance, such as David may have performed before the Ark; untouched by mirth or folly, as beseemed a dance in that sombre land, and borrowing its magic from its gravity. Even when the pace quickened with the stress of the music the gestures still continued to be restrained and hieratic, only when, one by one, the performers detached themselves from the round and knelt before us for thepeseta it is customary to press on their foreheads, did one see, by the moisture which made the coin adhere, how quick and violent their movements had been.
The performance, like all things Oriental, like the life, the patterns, the stories, seemed to have no beginning and no end: it just went monotonously and indefatigably on till fate snipped its thread by calling us away to dinner. And so at last we went down into the dust of the streets refreshed by that vision of white youths dancing on the house-tops against the gold of a sunset that made them look - in spite of ankle-bracelets and painted eyes - almost as guileless and happy as the round of angels on the roof of Fra Angelico's Nativity.
THE SAADIAN TOMBS
On one of the last days of our stay in Marrakech we were told, almost mysteriously, that permission was to be given us to visit the tombs of the Saadian Sultans.
Though Marrakech has been in the hands of the French since 1912, the very existence of these tombs was unknown to the authorities till 1917. Then the Sultan's government privately informed the Resident General that an unsuspected treasure of Moroccan art was falling into ruin, and after some hesitation it was agreed that General Lyautey and the Director of Fine Arts should be admitted to the mosque containing the tombs, on the express condition that the French Government undertook to repair them. While we were at Rabat General Lyautey had described his visit to us, and it was at his request that the Sultan authorized us to see the mosque, to which no travellers had as yet been admitted.
With a good deal of ceremony, and after the customary pourparlers with the great Pasha who controls native affairs at Marrakech, an hour was fixed for our visit, and we drove through long lanes of mud-huts to a lost quarter near the walls. At last we came to a deserted square on one side of which stands the long low mosque of Mansourah with a turquoise-green minaret embroidered with traceries of sculptured terra cotta. Opposite the mosque is a gate in a crumbling wall; and at this gate the Pasha's Cadi was to meet us with the keys of the mausoleum. But we waited in vain. Oriental dilatoriness, or a last secret reluctance to admit unbelievers to a holy place, had caused the Cadi to forget his appointment, and we drove away disappointed.
The delay drove us to wondering about these mysterious Saadian Sultans, who, though coming so late in the annals of Morocco, had left at least one monument said to be worthy of the Merinid tradition. And the tale of the Saadians is worth telling.
They came from Arabia to the Draa (the fruitful country south of the Great Atlas) early in the fifteenth century, when the Merinid empire was already near disintegration. Like all previous invaders they preached the doctrine of a pure Islamism to the polytheistic and indifferent Berbers, and found a ready hearing because they denounced the evils of a divided empire, and also because the whole of Morocco was in revolt against the Christian colonies of Spain and Portugal, which had encircled the coast from Ceuta to Agadir with a chain of fortified counting-houses. To bouter dehors the money-making unbeliever was an object that found adherents from the Rif to the Sahara, and the Saadian cherifs soon rallied a mighty following to their standard. Islam, though it never really gave a creed to the Berbers, supplied them with a war-cry as potent to-day as when it first rang across Barbary.
The history of the Saadians is a foreshortened record of that of all their predecessors. They overthrew the artistic and luxurious Merinids, and in their turn became artistic and luxurious. Their greatest Sultan, Abou-el-Abbas, surnamed "The Golden," after defeating the Merinids and putting an end to Christian rule in Morocco by the crushing victory of El-Ksar (1578), bethought him in his turn of enriching himself and beautifying his capital, and with this object in view turned his attention to the black kingdoms of the south.