Rabat – “I invite you to a marvelous journey through time. A journey of a thousand and one nights, embellished with the light and colors of Morocco.” These were the opening words of the landmark documentary on Sultan Moulay Ismail, produced by Secrets of History, aired on July 20 and seen by 2.2 million spectators worldwide.
Entitled “Sun King of the Million and One Nights”, the episode moved beyond history’s broad strokes, delving more deeply to investigate the gruesome, erotic, and fierce ways of modern Morocco’s founder.
Ismail, “the Warrior King,” ruled Morocco from 1672 to 1727 in a manner compared by Secrets of History to the grandeur of France’s Sun King, Louis XIV. Both descendants of prestigious dynasties, Moulay Ismail and his French counterpart mastered with proficiency the arts of rule and seduction.
Behind his terror and authority, Moulay Ismail was a man of medium size, handsome by accounts, always seen in white and green, except when angry, in which case he wore yellow. Most of all, he was charismatic.
An excellent horse rider, he treasured the Quran so much that his horse rides were accompanied by a slave whose task was to hold the holy book close enough for the sultan to read.
As a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, Moulay Ismail justified his actions, both cruel and kind, as being the commands of God and the Prophet.In his presence subjects bowed, their eyes to the ground, never to meet the authoritative eyes of the monarch.
The totalitarian commander inherited a country weakened by internal tribal wars and royal successions. He managed, however, to unify his kingdom using military campaigns.
Whenever a tribe surrendered to Moulay Ismail, the leader offered his most beautiful and cultivated daughter to the sultan as a gift, adding to his endlessly increasing harem. The history of the imperial harem became famous under Moulay Ismail’s rule.
He married four women and had more than 500 concubines. Women suspected of adultery were severely punished. Moulay Ismail is believed to have strangled unfaithful women, cut off their breasts, and pulled out their teeth.
Any subject unfortunate enough to have laid eyes on any of his women were punished by death. It is said that men who encountered the sultan’s women laid facing the ground, so as to avoid any accusation of having looked upon the sovereign’s harem.
The “Warrior King” fathered approximately 888 children, breaking history’s record of the number of offspring fathered by a man. He favored his legitimate sons over the rest of his children.
Aside from his infamous love of women, Moulay Ismail was a man of power. Never to be challenged nor opposed, he practiced his tyranny during war and in his everyday life.
Secrets of History recounted that after being helped by his slaves to ride his horse, he would cut off their heads for no reason. He also cut of his son’s left arm and right leg for having rebelled against him. His cruel nature was believed to be a technique of rule, essential for a 17th century monarch.
An aspect rarely known about the sultan was his love for cats. He had over 40 cats, all of which had names. He fed them fresh meat and spent a fair amount of his time playing with his favorites.
Nevertheless, even his cats did not escape his bloodthirsty nature.If it happened that one of his cats upset him, the king would send a group of his servants out to the streets to inform the public that a cat would be publicly executed, but not before being tortured. The king used his animals as a tool to declare to his subjects that his power could not be questioned, not even by a pet.
His gruesome ways, however, made of him one of the greatest figures in Moroccan history. Over 150,000 Sub-Saharan African men served in his elite Black Guard army.
During his reign, Moulay Ismail moved Morocco’s capital from Fez to Meknes. He executed a great deal of building programs in Meknes, including the construction of several gates, mosques, gardens, and Quranic schools.
He fought the Ottoman empire several times, denying the Turks entrance to Morocco. He also fought European conquerors at several seaports in the Kingdom and he regained control over the city of al-Mahdiya. Moulay Ismail also re-conquered Tangier from the English and took back Larache from the Spanish.
He and Louis XIV of France were close allies. In 1682, he sent Mohammad Temim to be his ambassador in France. He even proposed marriage to France’s princess, Marie Anne de Bourbon, but she declined.
At the time of Moulay Ismail’s death, the royal guard had become the largest army in Moroccan history.