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Published: February 10th 2020
We settled into a routine most mornings and caught the shuttle bus into the city. The first day in the city was a bit of a culture shock, but we knew now to avoid any contacts with the touts who waited near the bus stop at Freedom Square. Avoid eye contact and look purposeful. It was a steady walk up towards the main mosque and the huge Jemaa El Fnaa Square. The Hotel de Ville or Town Hall is on your left. We always booked the return at 12:30, which gave us enough time and allowed us to return before the suns rays caused the temperature to climb. In the earlier hours, there were much less people on the street and thus less hassle. The locals and indeed many tourists, were wrapped up in a variety of clothing ranging from ski jackets to scarves. It wasn't that cold. I doubt they would survive on Teesside. I wore my shorts.
We avoided the main souks of the Medina and skirted the area, heading towards the Bahia Palace. The Palace is more of a modern creation than you would anticipate. The construction started around the 1860s and it was intended to be
the greatest of its time. The name itself means "brilliance". The owner of the Palace was Grand Vizier Ba Ahmed Ben Moussa, a top official of the Sultan. It was taken over by his son, Bou Ahmed, in the 1890s. The arrival of the French colonial powers in 1900 saw the start of the demise of these types of indulgent buildings, although ironically the French Resident General took the place as his own residence. On the death of the last owner, all the valuables and furniture in the interior were removed. They didn't strip the ornate ceilings. Look upwards. We located the entrance quite easily and despite being before 10 am, visitors were arriving in their numbers. The entrance fee was 70 Dirhams. It seems there has been massive inflation in entrance fees in recent times. I read on some out of date web pages that the fee was a mere 10 Dirhams, but you will need to revise your budget. I guess the comparisons of this type of attraction will always come back to the Alhambra in Granada. The Bahia doesn't rank with the Alhambra. Bahia is sizeable, but much smaller in scale and covers about 2 acres. There
are technically 160 rooms. The primary drawback is the flood of visitors, which in many ways ruin the ambience of the visit. There simply is not enough space for them to disperse into. I am not totally sure what constitutes low season in Morocco, but I guess Marrakech is rammed at all times.The attempts to get some photographs uncluttered with random Chinese and Japanese bodies was a major challenge. The showpiece section is the main courtyard. The visit pretty much filled all our available time, but we had a spare 20 minutes before we caught the bus back to base.
I directed us off a few streets away from the bus pick up. "There is something I need to check out, a couple of streets away", I explained to the Other Half. She obviously knew it was a football ground by the look of excitement in my eyes. The area was surprisingly upmarket, so the protests ceased at this point. The area was almost European and very French. A few posh looking hotels and restaurants filled the streets. The old El Harti Stadium was the former home of Kawkab Marrakech Football Club until the move to the out of
town Stade de Marrakech. The main tenant might have been seduced away from El Harti in 2012, but the club still keeps a Headquarters here and their club badge was inscribed in the main gates. The door to the club offices was firmly shut, but the gate was open without even the need to try the handle. It transpired we we were not the first trying to get a look inside today. We marched straight in and located the groundsman / gatekeeper showing a Finnish visitor around in a half hearted fashion. The gates to actually get in amongst the seats were firmly locked and our man was either not in charge of the keys or just didn't fancy opening up. I caught a couple of photos through the gap in the fences. The surroundings were surprisingly pristine. Rows of brightly coloured red and blue seats lined the stand. A small roof covered part of the stand to provide a bit of shade from relenting sun. I don't think rain is their primary concern. The terracotta walls glistened in the midday sun. I leaned over to check out the artificial pitch. Mr Gatekeeper showed us the training pitch adjacent to
the main stand. It was grass. He then held his hand for a token of appreciation for his minimum effort. The Kawkab team might have departed, but the place still looked very tidy given that only a few minor league games are played here featuring the lower levels of Marrakech teams. It was a shame not to have caught a game there, but as even the top Divisions struggle to publicize their fixtures it would have taken a serious detective effort to find a match in Division 4!
If the Bahia Palace is the Palace of "Brilliance", the El Badi Palace is the Palace of "Wonder". The Bahia is a newbie, but this was commissioned by the Sultan Ahmad al- Nansur around 1578. The Palace' onstruction was funded by a substantial ransom paid by the Portuguese after the Battle of the Three Kings. It seems that the Portuguese coughed up a significant sum, as the Palace took fifteen years to build,. The final product was sorted around 1593 and was a lavish display of the best craftmanship and materials of the period. The Palace's interior apparently was full of gold, onyx and marble. The scale of El Badi is
El Harti Stadium, Marrakech
.... former home of Kawkab Marrakech FC
much bigger than Bahia and over 350 rooms. Whether the dungeons still in situ counted in the room count is not known. The main draw on view is the central courtyard with pool. The perimeter reflected nicely in the water. The walls themselves are home to a "muster" of storks. The dominant pair have a serious nest constructed on the side of a pillar. They are the master builders of the Marrakech stork community. The viewing platform above the administrative office shows a possible problem for the city going forward. A pollution haze lurks over the rooftops in the distance - a scene more akin to southern California. After the demise of the Sultans, the El Badi has been stripped of the decorations and contents. However, the Palace does contain the original 12th century minibar - basically the pulpit where the Imam leads the prayers from - that once originally resided in the Koutoubia Mosque. The minibar sits in one of the rooms off the courtyard, where an attendant rigorously enforces the no photographs rule.
We walked back through the Souk once last time. The entrances at this southern end are a lot more relaxed than we encountered on
our first day. I say relaxed, but bear in mind that most still only see you as an income. As soon as you raise a camera, there is an immediate request for money or a massive howl of disapproval. The good news was that some stalls and shops actually display a price. It might not be a price you want to pay, but at least it is a price. Bargaining doesn't come naturally for most of us. We see the price and decide to buy or not accordingly. The Other Half succumbed to a low quality mini tagine pot, as a decorative reminder of her visit. At 10 Dirhams, bargaining was necessary.
We found ourselves back in Jemaa El Fnaa Square one last time. The place makes me decidedly uncomfortable and it is with doubt a good plan to keep your wits about you. Whilst in the Atlas Mountains, we discovered that a Mission Impossible film had used a pass for one of the car chase scenes. It had got me thinking about any other films using Marrakech as a backdrop. It turns out that the Hitchcock classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much, used this very Square as
a location in 1956. I find myself mentioning Jimmy Stewart for the second time in three blogs. The film could pass me by, but contains a famous soundtrack. The football classic, Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be, was part of that soundtrack - as performed by Doris Day. I have just read a review that suggested the Square was enchanting, which is not a description I would have run with. The snake charmers draw a crowd, desperate to relieve you of your money for photographs Scores of old women sit with pattern books of henna designs ready to decorate any tourist hand or body. We feigned disinterest, skirting the hustlers with their monkeys. I don't quite get why people want to pay someone for putting a chain round the neck of a poor ape. The owners are bad tempered and I guess you can't blame the monkeys, who are dragged around in pursuit of tourist quarry. Victim lured, the monkey climbs on their head for a photo pose. I took a few random distance snaps, before I was noted and berated for cash. Deaf as a post, I wandered speedily away. A series of fruit stalls sell all
kinds of merchandise and at least they seem to ply their trade with humour.
Friday 31st January 2020 was a momentous day in the eyes of many in the UK. Brexit Day. They got "their country" back, whatever that means. Celebrations were seen on the streets of London with much flag waving. On the day of the original vote, we went to bed whilst on a trip in the Czech Republic as Europeans and woke up as citizens of a potential narrow minded nation. It was ironic then 3 1/2 years later, we were once again abroad on the crucial day.
At the start of our Marrakech trip, I had been reading a book "How To Grow Old". I finally got to the Chapter 6, "How To Go On Holiday" and I agreed with the author that tastes change as you advance in years. The idea of city break at 25 might be getting wasted in a foreign land, whereas now going to a few museums and then thinking about a drink is more on the money. I had survived my all inclusive experience 19 years on from the last and it was pretty good. There was enough
to do to keep me occupied, I wasn't trapped because the regular shuttle into the city was on hand from early morning to late evening. I think somehow the cruise idea is going to have to wait a few more years. I still can't see me abandoning the pursuit of European football just yet mind. I say this, whilst studying the fixtures coming up in the Greek Super League. Will it live up to the name?
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