Doors, Gates, and Arches: A Look into Opportunity – Alex Frumkin

When God closes a door, he opens a window. In this expression, doors and windows both represent opportunities because they both open up a different experience in life. The Old Medina (City) of Fes – Fes el Bali –   has very few windows, but it has many different doors, gates, and arches that each open up to their own unique experience; it’s very interesting to consider how many literal doors there are in Morocco in contrast with how few metaphorical doors to economic prosperity there are.


When I lived in Fes, I lived in the section known as Bab Jdid (New Door/Gate), named for this archway


When I was growing up, one of my favorite monuments was the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. You take an elevator at the base of the structure, and then you’re in an observatory deck at the top of the arch where you can see the beautiful view around it. When I was just a kid, I had no significant reason for enjoying it; I just thought it was really cool (even today I love simply looking through arches, and I’ve seen so many beautiful ones in Morocco). Now as an adult, though, I have found much more meaning in this structure: from the perspective of Lewis and Clark, it represents the past and future of America, the pre and post-Louisiana Purchase world, and even the foundation for Manifest Destiny. Not all arches, gates, and doors are this meaningful, but they all are physical manifestations of the opportunity to transition between one realm and another. I’ve never been able to put this idea into words before my time in Fes, but now I can’t stop thinking about it. The door to a house is the border between the public and private realms; a gate in an airport is the waiting room between two distinct geographical areas; the entryway to a school is the border between the academic and non-academic world. I didn’t realize this until I saw Bab Boujloud, the main entry into Fes’s Old Medina and its marvelous souks (markets). Despite being the same part of the same city, there is such a dynamic difference between the outer and inner Old City that it’s almost unfathomable. Outside the gate, it just looks like a typical older city with some modern aspects, but once inside you’re almost literally breathing in a living relic. The city was founded more than 1,000 years ago; while the people have changed with the time, the buildings are largely the same and the preserved culture is palpable. The largest car-free urban area in the world, life is bursting from every alley (or maybe it just feels that way since they’re barely wide enough for a donkey pulling a cart to get through); the unique amalgamation of homes and businesses in the city is probably what makes the community truly thrive. These two distinct parts of Fes all have individual merit, culture, and identity, and it’s Bab Boujloud that serves as the important gateway between these two separate worlds. But more than that, the gate also symbolizes the sheer ability for these two worlds to co-exist and for the people there to move between them. Gateways and arches that people can see through are particularly beautiful and thought-provoking because you can actually experience two realms at the same time. Understanding the significance of Bab Boujloud, especially in consideration of the historical relationship between France and Morocco and how this gate symbolizes the cultural conflict to some extent, helped me realize why entryways are meaningful to me outside of pure aesthetic enjoyment (but they also do look beautiful without context, so I took lots of photos).

Bab Boujloud, also called the Blue Gate, beautiful & ornate, yet actually very new relative to the old city.

Fes was founded in 789, but this gate was only built in 1913 (there were earlier gates here).

Even though it’s known as the “Blue Gate”, the other side of Bab Boujloud is green.

An archway looking Bab Makina Square, which is a popular concert space in Fes

Bab Dar Lakbira, one of many pretty gates in Meknes, an imperial city an hour from Fes

Bab Mansour, another beautiful gate in Meknes. Part of the last

important construction project for Sultan Moulay Ismail

Bab Moulay Ismail, yet another gate from Meknes, during a striking sunset

A beautiful blue door from the city of Chefchaouen, where many buildings are painted white and blue

A gate of a guard post for Volubilis, a former Berber then Roman city. Its beauty lies in simplicity.

The Arch of Caracalla, a much more decorative arch of Roman Volubilis, constructed in 217 AD.

The Golden Gates of Fes, the beautiful entrance into the city’s royal palace

A series of arches looking into The University of al-Qarawiyyine, founded in 859, the world’s oldest existing continuously active university – often simply called the world’s oldest university

One of the doors to Ibn Danan Synagogue, an inactive synagogue in Fes preserved from the 17th century. This door has significant meaning for me, since it represents 1. The border between a Jewish sanctuary and the rest of Morocco which is mostly connected to Islam and 2. The line between Jewish life in Morocco before and after the creation of Israel (250,000 Jews in 1948 à 2,500 Jews 70 years later).


Morocco, largely due to the common use of the horseshoe arch style, is home to the most beautiful doors I’ve ever seen; the doors I’m used to seeing in urban and suburban America are often practical, sleek, and modern, but I would hardly consider any breathtaking by virtue of their appearance. However, despite all of Morocco’s ornate physical doors, the people of Morocco unfortunately have far less metaphorical doors at their disposal. As I mentioned at the beginning, doors (and windows, but especially doors) are often metaphors for opportunity, specifically economic/employment-based opportunity. However, in a country like Morocco where the doors are so beautiful, this metaphor for some reason does not hold up. For the sake of reference exclusively, I will compare economic numbers to those of America. Nationally, Morocco has a 10.5% unemployment rate; America’s official U3 unemployment rate is 4.0%, but Morocco’s rate is most likely more akin to America’s 7.8% U6 unemployment rate (this number includes underemployment and discouraged workers). However, a much greater disparity comes when comparing “youth” unemployment. For Morocco’s youth demographic (25-34), unemployment was 26% – and this number was nearly double (around 50%) in cities – in 2011, and general unemployment matches that of 2011 so this number must be comparable. In America, however, its youth demographic (16-24) has an unemployment rate of 8.4% while it 25-34 age demographic has a 3.9% unemployment rate. The most disturbing statistic is that greater education correlates to greater unemployment in Morocco, while the opposite is certainly true in America. This is not to say that education is actually looked upon negatively; rather, it probably just means that there are few jobs available in citizens’ chosen degree paths along with a general reluctance to take a job below one’s standard of education (there are plenty of sales and menial labor positions in cities that could be taken by degree holders but are taken by non-degree holders instead). As a result, there are high levels of Moroccan immigration to Europe (especially France and Spain) in search of greater economic prospects. People from many nations emigrate in hopes of a better economic future (that is how the United States began, after all) but the educational aspect is hopefully something far less common. Education is supposed to be the greatest source of human capital and social mobility – people that work hard to learn should at least earn something as a result of the time invested for the future. There are many concerns with the educational system as well, and many ways to improve it, but there is a major problem concerning how little merit seems to matter for employment in high-ranking positions in Morocco – especially in government. As basically summarized by a human development report of the Arab World in 2002, “People are given jobs because of what they know, but because of whom they know.” And in regard to government, this creates “an unmoving, unresponsive central authority and an incompetent public administration.” With Morocco specifically, this phenomenon was more true during the reign of the prior king, Hassan II. Mohammed VI, however, is more well-accepted by the Moroccan people, and the reforms put in place with the 2011 constitutional reform (as limited as they were) signaled a government that at the very least heard its citizens’ complaints and actually directly addressed some of them. The king and his ministers recognized the issue of unemployment in Morocco, especially amongst young and educated Moroccans, and added verbiage to the constitution indicating future parliamentary action to implement change. But nonetheless, even after the constitutional reforms, unemployment has not changed much over the past seven years and there are still minor protests in Rabat almost daily concerning jobs and education. So the question remains: if the educational system is apparently ineffective, what metaphorical doors do the people of Morocco still have that can lead them towards economic prosperity?


I mentioned earlier that I only used American economic statistics for the sake of reference, because I know my audience will be almost entirely American; I wanted people to know how the numbers compared to the ones they were used to, but people need to consider those numbers with context. America and Morocco are incomparable economically; agriculture takes up only 2% of America’s workers, but it’s 37% of Morocco’s national workforce. Not only that, but Morocco is about one-tenth of the USA’s population, has a much smaller role in the global market, women are generally less likely to be employed across almost every field, and people’s general way of life is very different; numbers don’t tell the whole story, and they certainly should never lead people to believe in one society’s “superiority” over another. I recognize my nationality and the fact that it has granted me a different perspective of Morocco and the people who live in it, so I refrain from judging its society as a whole. However, I have spoken to numerous Moroccans who do have judgments about their society and want to make Morocco a better place from their perspective, and I intend to recognize the efforts of Morocco’s citizenry for actively participating in the political sphere and intending to make Morocco the place they want it to be.


I can only be a witness to this force of change, but hopefully one day Morocco’s metaphorical doors to economic prosperity will be just as beautiful and plentiful as its physical doors, gates, and arches.


“Employment in Agriculture (% of Total Employment) (modeled ILO Estimate).” GDP Growth (annual %) | Data. Accessed July 22, 2018.

“Self-doomed to Failure.” July 04, 2002. Accessed July 22, 2018.

Silverstein, Paul. “Weighing Morocco’s New Constitution | Middle East Research and Information Project.” July 05, 2011. Accessed July 22, 2018. (both American and Moroccan numbers not in above sources)

9 comments to Doors, Gates, and Arches: A Look into Opportunity – Alex Frumkin

  • Dave Hume

    Thoughtful piece, Alex. Keep up the good work (and the good photography)!

  • George

    Your initial thoughts on the figurative significance of doors and arches was an interesting foundational idea to uphold the rest of your work. I also now understand what you mean about being unable to separate yourself from the notion that every door defines a new area of life—as obvious as that seems. Now, it feels that every time I move anywhere within my own apartment, there’s some sort of metaphysical forces at work.

  • Sam

    Wow, super fascinating insight into the metaphorical and physical significance that doors play in separating communities and thought–never thought of that before! And it is unfortunate that for Moroccans, there is a lack of economic opportunity in a country, and that the higher the education level, the less jobs are available. Thanks for an incredible research paper that shed some light into the socioeconomic environment of Morocco.

  • This is pretty neat. I have to be honest though, as a Rwandese who has seen Western media only use so and so numbers to judge my country and undermine its progress, the comparison between Morocco and the US just seemed a bit too familiar until I read your conclusion. The numbers truly can’t tell the whole story as you so well pointed out. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to talk to Moroccans and didn’t think that your American point of view had to be right!(We definitely need more of this with foreigners reporting on local issues). Your writing flows well and through it, I felt like I was actually experiencing what you saw in Morocco. Bravo!

  • Darien Herndon

    I found this blog very insightful! I loved the way you used a metaphor to compare the architecture to economic opportunity (the sunset picture was my favorite). Although the architecture is stunning, the economic status of many people in Morocco is unsettling. The fact that higher education has a tendency to lead to higher unemployment is also heartbreaking and I understand why the young woman from your previous blog is looking to pursue her education and career in another country.

  • Wesley

    Love the comparisons you made. The architecture in Morocco is stunning. You really dove into the heart of an economical issue and put an interesting spin on it. Do you think there is hope for Morocco to eventually evolve and create a greater capacity for gainful employment to its educated citizens in their respective fields. Or will it remain a stepping stone for it’s citizens?

  • Andrey

    Very interesting, I like the fact that you are able to connect different observations so well together. Your connection with architecture and the socioeconomic status of Morocco is pretty interesting.

  • Kayla

    I never would have thought to consider the education system and it’s correlation to employment in Morocco. You’re exposing people to new ideas that they would have otherwise not realized. This is so incredibly insightful 🙂

  • Michael

    Very interesting approach, you tied an architectural observation to a socioeconomic one surprisingly well. It seems that Morocco’s history, architecture, and culture provide more value (in the eyes of Westerner tourists at least) than its economy or people do. I wonder what that must be like, probably quite demoralizing

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