Marrakech - a city of contrasts

Published: June 12th 2015
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Marrakech is a city of wrenching contrasts. Broad avenues and boulevards lie almost next areas of narrow alleys and souks. A square filled with buskers and charlatans and snake charmers and monkey grinders open onto an avenue to takes you within a couple of minute to an avenue with chic shops like Fendi, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. A city of modern large buildings and American-looking suburbs also has a 14th century madrassa. The streets are broader by far than those in Casablanca, and uncharacteristically have well marked lanes, and yet traffic seemed to be worse here than in the larger city. But the souk here in the medina is much better organized than in Fes or Meknes, with shops selling similar goods tending to be grouped near to one another. The alleyways are a little wider, although that theoretical advantage is negated by the fact that they have not restricted access to bicycles, motor scooters, and motorcycles, and therefore you constantly are in danger of being run over.

We visited the old Ben Youssef madrassa, which closed in 1960, but has been re-opened as an historical site. It was established in the 14th century and once housed 900 students. It now includes a small museum with sparse artifacts. The interior is beautifully done, as appears to be the case with all the madrassas. In the medina we saw one of the local bakeries we have seen throughout Morocco. People make up their own bread loaves and bring them to the baker where they are baked for a fee, and the patron then returns and picks up the finished product. We also visited the Majorelle garden, once lovingly maintained by the artist of that name, and subsequently by Yves Saint Laurent. It is basically a 12 acre botanical garden now, although it also does house a small museum of Berber artifacts.

The Jemaa el Fna is the old central square of Marrakech, and it is impossible to walk across it without being accosted by tours, animal handlers, starving artists, buskers, and others hoping to score a small contribution from your pocket to the greater glory of Marrakech. I paid a pittance to a snake handler so that I could photograph him and his snakes, and the next thing I knew he was trying to drape a cobra around my neck. Not being entirely comfortable with the skill of whomever had presumably defanged the snake, I declined the adornment. We went to a large antique store, but since I was not interested in shopping for antiques, I sat in the front of the store with Chuck in chairs constructed of ebony wood and camel bone.

We wound up the day with another wonderful dinner.

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