I had the remarkable opportunity to interview for my article, the two owners of the businesses of the Moroccan Pavilion, Mr. Rashid Lyazidi and his co-owner Rashid Sufani. Both men were hand-picked by the Moroccan Government and Disney for this task. These men have been with the pavilion since its opening day and have provided me with the majority of the incredible detail and information presented in the article. Their intimate knowledge of the history and culture of their native Morocco and the Moroccan pavilion itself made for one of the most fascinating interviews I have ever done! They took time from their busy schedules to speak to me and I want to thank them for their professional courtesy and their warm hospitality they expressed to me. Once again, my many thanks!
In my last installment of the World Showcase pavilions, I covered my favorite, Germany. This month I have chosen Morocco. In addition to having one of the best restaurants on property, Restaurant Marrakesh, The Kingdom of Morocco is also one our country’s oldest allies, dating back from our earliest beginnings. Formal U.S. relations with Morocco date from 1787 when the United States Congress ratified a Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two nations. The pavilion also holds the distinction of being sponsored by the Moroccan Government and select business people, not by a corporation.
The Moroccan Pavilion was opened on September the 7, 1984. The pavilion is basically broken up into two areas…The Villa Nouvelle or new city and the Medina, the old city. (Medina is the Moroccan word for City). Like the rest of the countries in World showcase, the architecture is true to the countries origin. In fact it is the most authentically detailed and correct of all the pavilions in World Showcase. The buildings represent architectural styles found in the Moroccan cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Rabat and Casablanca. The sections (Old city in the back and the new City in front) are separated by a huge stone portal called Bab Boujouloud Gate. This gate is a recreation of one found in the city of Fez. The country of Morocco’s history goes back over 12 centuries, and much of its food, language and customs are from influences of the Middle East, African, Spain and France.
In addition to the amazing skill of the Imagineers in recreating this Moroccan city is the fact the King Hassan II of Morocco at the time sent artisans and builders from Morocco the insure that the construction of the buildings were a perfect representation of his counties cities. It’s also interesting to note that the Islam religion does not permit the portraying of living objects, so that is why you see in any Islamic city, amazing detailed and colorful geometric patterns and designs. Now that a little background has been covered, let’s explore these two cities and their details…
One of the first things most guests will see, even from across World Showcase lagoon it the tall tower called a Minaret. These tall imposing prayer towers are a staple in Islamic countries. According to legend, the prophet Mohammed told followers to call the faithful to prayer from the highest point in the city. This tradition continues to this day. This Minaret in the plaza is an exact replica of the one in the city of Marrakesh, called the Koutoubia. A smaller Minaret in the old city is another replica of one in the historic site at Chellah near Morocco’s capital Rabat. This structure was built during the Byzantine dynasty. Let’s approach Morocco from the West, exiting the French pavilion. The first thing seasoned guests will notice is the addition of the new eatery, “The Spice Road Table” which replaced the stage for “Mo Rockin” the Arabic fusion rock band. (Don’t worry; the bandstand has been re-located next to the building with the sign, “Kingdom of Morocco”
I consider the food here at the Moroccan pavilion one of the best hidden gems on property. The Spice Road Table is neither counter-service nor table service per se, even though you are served both in the beautiful outdoor terrace covered area or sit inside, which offers a spectacular view of World Showcase. The décor with its beautiful blue and white paint represents the north of Morocco by the Mediterranean. But the fare offered, is not Moroccan, but a sampling of foods found in the Mediterranean area. Conversely, the foods served in the Tangierine Café and the amazing Restaurant Marrakesh is authentic Moroccan fare. The maximum seating is only 72 inside, 120 out, but it is intimate and the food is amazing! The eatery features what is called Mediterranean “Small Plates”. More like finger food or hors d’oeuvre’s. With offerings such as Spicy Garlic Shrimp, Salted Cod Croquettes, Lamb sliders, a full service bar and a great place to see Illuminations, this will be the new “Hot Spot” to gather. It’s conveniently located right next to the docking area for the Friendship ferry boats. Be sure to take time to observe the beautiful décor, both the artifacts on the walls and the architecture.
Right across from the Spice Road is an old favorite, the Tangierine Café. This counter-service staple has classic Moroccan cuisine and a pastry and coffee shop in the rear. Back outside, there is a new juice bar replacing the old snack kiosk, offering slushies, wine, beer and ice cream. But in the back of the old city is one of our favorite restaurants, Restaurant Marrakesh. Here you can sample some of the tastiest foods of Morocco. There is something for everyone; even a picky diner will have no problem here. For those who never tried Moroccan fare, this is a great chance to sample a hidden treasure. In addition, Marrakesh has a floor show featuring an authentic belly dancer and your kids are encouraged to dance with her. Accompanying her is a traditional musical trio. The instruments played are Sitar, Derbouka, or drums and the Aoud, guitar.
With the food covered, let’s walk through Morocco! Next to the Spice Road are typical Moroccan shops. The Souk-Al-Magreb shop offers souvenirs and next door is the little shop “The Art of Henna” This ancient Moroccan art is made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant, mixed with lemon juice; and this produces temporary “Tattoos”. You can have your own personal “Henna”, just pick from many offered in a catalog. An ancient tradition, on a woman’s wedding night, the bridal party puts select tattoos on the bride and, according to tradition she cannot work nor do chores until they wear off. Across to the main plaza (Villa Nouvelle, new city), you will see a traditional fountain found in Moroccan cities and in the back is the Bab Boujouloud Gate, separating the old and new cities and beyond, the old city Medina.
Take time to observe the amazing tile work on this fountain. On the left of the fountain is an often overlooked exhibit, the Museum “Moroccan Style-The Art of Personal Adornment.” Inside you’ll find beautiful displays of adornment and clothing used by the Moroccan people. One very interesting custom is the one called Fantasia, a festival commemorating the bond between man and horse. The Arabian horse is central to the tribesman and many noble and wealthy families dress themselves and their steeds in elegant costumes, and during these festivals celebrating the importance of the horse, ride toward each other, stop and fire their rifles in the air. The museum is small, but take the time and look. It is a fascinating journey into the culture.
From this wide open courtyard, we enter under the Bab Boujouloud Gate and into old Morocco. If you have seen the Indiana Jones movies and the scenes of the streets of Cairo, you can now experience the feeling live. The old city features narrow, winding crooked streets, with shops all along, like a page out of the Arabian nights. If you are very observant, notice the different color tiles and paints. White walls and green tiles represent the imperial cities, Fez and Rabat, when in the south of Morocco, Okar or earthen colors are the norm. The first building you will see on your left is the “Fez House” replicating a typical home in Morocco, much like Spanish Haciendas, with a central courtyard. Here is where you can see the second Minaret in the old city, the replica of one found in the city of Chellah. In the shops you can find more “Treasures” Rugs, leather goods, even authentic Moroccan food staples to try your hand at home with a new cuisine. In the courtyard in the back next to the Restaurant Marrakesh is a replica of a fountain found in Fez called the Nejjarine. To the left of the restaurant, look up above you’ll see a reproduction of a water clock, also found in the old city of Fez.
According to Rashid, this water clock (Bouania) sits atop one of the oldest universities in the world, the Al-Karawine which was founded in 812. If you are wondering why Restaurant Marrakesh is located in the rear of the pavilion, and not out in front is in keeping with authenticity. In the old cities, eateries are always in the back of the cities. And here is some trivia I learned from a good friend of mine…Looking at the Moroccan Pavilion from Mexico, you can actually see the top of the Tower of Terror in the background of the Moroccan skyline. But the Imagineers, along with the proper paint and some fancy architecture on top of the tower, allows it to blend right in and no one will even notice! A bit more trivia, in building the city, craftsman used over nine tons of tiles, most of them hand-cut to make the beautiful patterns and geometric shapes, in adorning the structures.
The Moroccan Pavilion is a feast for the eyes, ears and nose. Take the time, and observe. As you walk through the old city, you can hear the music in the background, and smell the teas, leather and food. Take a couple of minutes and just look at the amazing geometric patterns and colors of the tiles on the buildings. If you come to Morocco by way of the Friendship launches, look for the huge water wheel at the dock next to the Spice road. Irrigation, with water wheels such as this came from the Middle East. The wheel is hard to see since the Spice Road Table was constructed. If you go into the Brass Bazaar, look up at the ceiling. It appears that the posts, beams and stick overhead are opened to the sky. But a closer look and you’ll see there is a skylight above, protecting the store from the elements. Very clever!
Another bit of trivial. At the shop of Souk Al Magreb, you will see many t-shirts with a yellow camel on it with the name of Habibi, which means my darling in Arabic. There is a story behind this souvenir T. It seems that the camel and its owner Ahmed are real. Noted children’s book author Betsy Lewin wrote a child’s book based on the real characters. Look up at the ceilings and tile works in the many buildings, and be amazed at the intricate detail and beautiful ornate lamps and lanterns. Remember, all of this detail was supervised by the workers sent by King Hassan II, all to ensure its authenticity.
Another place to sample more tastes of Morocco is in the Pastries and Coffee bar in the rear of the Tangierine Café. Some of my favorites are the Moorish espresso with nutmeg and cinnamon and the Kasbah Coffee with a little bit of hazelnut liqueur. My wife and I also enjoy the Moroccan Mint tea (Hot or Cold). There is much to see and experience here at Morocco, America’s oldest ally. The history and culture, and let’s not forget the food make this pavilion a must stop when in EPCOT. And when you stop, sample the wonderful cuisine offered here, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.