To celebrate the UNESCO International Day for Monuments and Sites on 18 April, the High Atlas Foundation organised a day of activities with 40 young Souiris (Essaouira residents) in the historic medina of Essaouira.
The HAF-hosted event was entitled: “La Patrimoine comme temoin de l’unité et diversité” – ‘cultural heritage as the witness of unity and diversity’ and was organised and within the framework of its cultural and educational project funded by the US Ambassadors Cultural Preservation Fund. The event began at the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah Museum and consisted of a treasure hunt and art workshop.
Despite the event being in the school holidays, at 9am there were already a number of young people aged 12-18 years waiting at the door of the Sidi Mohammed Ben Adbullah Museum, the starting point for the day. The Museum is named after the sultan who established Essaouira and who was responsible for developing its port and inviting foreign traders to develop commerce from the city.
Inside, the participants were split into 8 groups of 3-4, ensuring a mix between the participating associations, Bayti and Argania. Both associations work with young people from difficult or under-privileged backgrounds and were pleased to be involved in a project which provided a fun but educational activity for children who had not been able to travel during the vacation.
Each group was provided with a pad and pen and a ‘heritage passport’, on which they would have to collect a photo sticker from each of 9 historical sites relevant to Essaouira’s multicultural past. They were instructed to listen carefully to a lively presentation given by museum curator, Ms Ghita Rabouli and teacher Ms Khadija Beihaqui. As they visited the museum, they were able to see many artifacts of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim inhabitants of this seaside town.
Following the presentation, the groups set off on their ‘treasure hunt.’ At each location, they had to answer a question relevant to the site and the site ‘animateur’ gave them a clue to lead them to the next location. Once they had visited 9 sites, they had to return to the Bastion Bab Marrakech, an example of a well-used and sympathetically renovated historical site integrated into the medina walls and close to the position of the first Muslim cemetery of Essaouira.
After lunch, the participants received an inspirational and informative presentation by art teacher, Mr. Ouaskar el Houssine. He showed them old black and white photos of the places they had seen during the morning, as well as paintings of Essaouira monuments and other heritage sites in a number of artistic styles. This presentation served to provoke reflection among the groups and encourage them to express their impressions of the day by painting a group picture.
At the end of the day, each group was invited to present its painting and explain its message. One group drew Dar Damana, an important zawiya – a place where a particular Muslim sect learns and practices their religious rituals.
The message of the image below is “Hands off our heritage!” It is inspired by the hands of Fatima seen on both Muslim and Jewish doors and ornaments and believed to ward off the evil eye or bad luck.
The winning groups for the treasure hunt (judged on completion, accuracy, group discipline and timing) and the top three painting were awarded prizes and everyone received a certificate of participation.
The objectives of the day were to bring alive Essaouira’s rich cultural heritage and its multi-cultural past to local youngsters. When we heard comments such as “I wish we could do this once a month” or “I didn’t know Essaouira had a museum” and “I didn’t know there was a synagogue here, ” we were sure we had achieved our goals!