Image by Andrea Pistolesi Getty Images
The Phoenicians were the first to settle on this sloping site above the Bou Regreg river, and the Romans took control in about 40 CE, renaming the settlement Sala Colonia. Scattered stones from their city remain, but give little idea of its size or form. Abandoned in 1154, it lay deserted until the 14th century, when Merenid sultan Abou Al Hassan Ali built a necropolis on top of the Roman site and surrounded it with the defensive wall that stands today.
From the massive main gate, a path heads down the hill to a viewing platform that overlooks the scant remains of the Roman city ('Site Antique'). Below this are the remains of the Islamic complex, with an elegant stone-and-tile minaret, now topped by a stork’s nest, the only remains of a once-impressive mosque. Behind the mosque is the ruined tomb of Abu Al Hasan and his wife, complete with stone carving and traces of zellige (colourful geometric mosaic tiles) ornamentation. To its right (east) are the tombs of several saints and the Bassin aux Anguilles, a pool that attracts women who believe that feeding boiled eggs to its resident eels brings fertility and easy childbirth.
Next to the minaret, at a lower level, is a small medersa (school for studying the Quran) with the remains of pillars, students’ cells, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca) and an ornamental pool. This was closed for restoration on our most recent visit. At the bottom of the site, on the slope beneath the tomb of Abu Al Hasan and his wife, is a shady walkway lined with flowers, palm trees and bamboo.
The Chellah is an evocative setting for the annual Jazz au Chellah festival staged in September.