It was a question born out of bewilderment. No tour bus as far as the eye could see. No importunate guides jumping at us with paws up. And the city's buzz sounded muffled from where we were standing even though our cab ride from Rabat's center took only a few minutes.
We trudged toward the magnificent gate with hesitance. The absenteeism of tourist hordes led us to the speculation that the driver delivered us to the wrong destination. I looked up at the Moorish arch that marks the entrance. It reminded us of Bab Oudaia, which we visited earlier that morning. Such an impressive sight. Somehow it indicated, this is where we we're supposed to be.
The admission fee, an incredibly cheap ten dirhams (about $1.20), is all a visitor has to pay. Fancy audio guides are nonexistent, and human ones come by only at certain times of the day. Apparently, noon's not one of them. Usually, the presence of tour guides peddling their service makes us sprint to the opposite direction. But for a place like Chellah, where info signs are nil, we longed for one.
The noise of civilization faded out all the more as we stepped deeper inside the historical site, and was replaced by the constant clacking of storks' beaks. Man, were there heaps of storks throughout the expanse. Either flying about, or idly sitting in their respective nests. They barely noticed us.
We let our toddler Luna run free.
Chellah was the site of ancient Roman city named Sala Colonia, as evidenced by a few key Roman architectural elements. Before the Romans took reign of the area in 40 AD, the Phoenicians were believed to have inhabited the banks above Bou Regreg river. In the 12th century, the Romans left the city and moved to Salé.
A necropolis was built on the same site in the 14th century under the reign of Marinid sultan Abou al-Hassan. He also added a mosque and a fortification wall. The Islamic complex is easily recognized, thanks to its still-standing minaret which is now home to — you guessed it right — a family of storks.
Chellah's crumbling ruins ain't an Angkor Wat. It ain't a Machu Picchu either. But you see, its charm lies in its sorry state. The structures' undiscerning features can flirt with one's imagination.
It's a place that is not masked with heavy makeup. Devoid of facilities that beg for a tourist's approval. No souvenir shops, no posh cafes with a view. Chellah may seem like an underdog in Morocco's tourism arena, but it has potential in becoming one of the frontrunners.
At least for a crowd like us who sees beauty in the forgotten.
Round-The-World 2011-2012, Morocco Leg:
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