Chellah – Rabat, Morocco / Hooked in Necropolis, Addict of Metropolis

Moving to Morocco has provided me with an incredible opportunity to approach photography from a new angle.  I have travelled throughout China, Hong Kong, India and Central America lugging multiple flavors of medium format gear and film, though I have never had a chance to set up shop and get comfortable with my surroundings.  In the past it has always been a rush from city to city with very little time to react to challenges and new vantage points – if I was interested in creating an image, time was of the essence as I may not see that place or view again.

I recently went on a scouting trip – recon, if you will – to Chellah, a Roman necropolis located on the outskirts of Rabat.  From Wikipedia:

The Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, who founded several colonies in Morocco, probably inhabited the banks of the Bou Regreg. Chellah is the site of the ruins of the Roman town known as Sala Colonia, referred to as Sala by Ptolemy. Excavations show an important port city with ruined Roman architectural elements including a decumanus maximus or principal Roman way, a forum and a triumphal arch….The site was abandoned in 1154 in favour of nearby Salé. The Almohad dynasty used the ghost town as a necropolis. In the mid-14th century, a Merinid sultan, Abu l-Hasan, built monuments and the main gate, dated to 1339. These later Merinid additions included a mosque, a zawiya, and royal tombs, including that of Abu l-Hasan.[3]

I ran around Chellah photographing the ruins for the better part of an hour prior to the tour buses rolling in.  Notice the lack of extremely sun burnt European tourists in the following photographs.  Aside from the extremely friendly staff and police officers assigned to patrol the ruins, I felt like I was completely alone.

Just me and the birds.

The grounds are huge and range from ruins of Roman roads to destroyed columns and tombs.

I promised that there would be destroyed columns!
An hour later, the buses arrive. They were disappointed in the eel pit’s lack of eels, too.

One of the big attractions that all of the guide books publicize is the “eel pit” (sweeeeet) that offered great luck and fertility to those that tossed eggs to the eels.  Unfortunately, the eel pit looks like it has seen better days and apparently did not contain any eels.  My loss.  There were, however, cats everywhere.

Maybe the cats ate the eels?

The following photograph is my favorite.  Any translators in the audience?

Those probably aren’t the lyrics to “Ghetto Defendant” by the Clash, right?

After the quick visit to Chellah I am looking forward to returning during better light and possibly with my film camera.  The light at this time of the morning – well after dawn – is rough.  Exposing for the details in the shade leaves the sky a ghastly white.  Exposing for the sky and clouds is just as rough on the landscape.  I am pleased with some of these grab shots, though am looking forward to a return visit at dawn or dusk or on an overcast day.

A note to potential visitors – admission to the ruins is cheap.  A bottle of water inside of the gate may cost three times as much as entry.  Also, if you arrive early you may have the ruins all to yourself until the tour buses start to roll in.  I am not sure if they allow tripods.  More on that later.


As always, all of the above photographs are protected by copyright.  And pitbulls.


  1. ChutneyD


    1. Play your cards right and maybe you’ll get tossed in!

  2. Elisabeth Vural

    Joel – I feel like I was just reading a chapter from Lonely Planet Morocco. These pix are beautiful and sorry about the eels – thank goodness there are other ways to get pregnant – E

    1. Thanks for the compliments – I appreciate it!

  3. Pictures and text excellent – makes one want to visit !!

    1. Well? Get over here already!

  4. […] where vegetarians dare not tread and for good reason.  I would suggest that the squeamish readers click here right about now.  Things are about to get…really real.  Don’t say that I didn’t […]

  5. I visited Chellah in January 2013 and saw an eel in the fountain! It took some patience to wait for it to come out, but it finally did. Maybe they are winter eels?

    1. That’s incredible – I thought that the eels had all moved on to greener pastures (or that the cats had decimated their population). I am going to tell people that they have to look harder when they’re standing on the edge of the pool!

      Where else did you visit? How was your stay? Thanks for stopping by.

  6. I was visiting friends in Alicante, Spain and we visited Rabat for a weekend (flew into Casa and took the train). We stayed at a riad in the medina and visited the Kasbah and the beach, the Mausoleum and Hassan Tower, and of course Chellah. Here’s a link to my photo of the eel in the fountain: It took a few minutes of my friend pointing and saying, “RIGHT THERE!” for me to spot it!

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