Marrakech


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Published: May 21st 2017
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After arriving at our hotel, drinking our mint tea and eating some Moroccan biscuits we headed out in search of dinner. We were a little unsure how well we'd be able to find our way around so chose somewhere close by. We grabbed a table on the rooftop and ordered kebabs and a tajine. The food was nice although we were a little shocked at how expensive it was given the serving size.

The following morning we set out to explore the area in and around the medina. We made our way through the medina streets towards Dar El Said Museum. Dar El Said Museum houses a collection of traditional jewellery, carpets, lamps and pottery in a palace. We weren't particularly impressed with any of the exhibits which weren't displayed all that nicely and were a bit underwhelmed with the building and gardens which weren't in the best condition (despite the huge number of staff sitting around). I did like the rooms upstairs with mosaics on the wall though.

After Dar El Said we continued walking through the streets, across Jemaa el-Fnaa (which was so quiet we didn't even realise it was the famous square until later on!) towards Koutoubia Mosque. We stopped off at a small market along the way selling spices, fruit, vegetables and meat before continuing until we reached Parc Lalla Hasna which is adjacent to the mosque.

The first Koutoubia mosque was constructed by the Almohads on the grounds of the old Almoravid palace after they captured the city of Marrakesh. The first mosque was completed in 1157, however it was demolished and rebuilt not long after when they discovered that it wasn't correctly aligned with Mecca. After the second mosque was completed in around 1190 they discovered it was now even further off the correct alignment with Mecca (now 10 degrees instead of 5 degrees).

Non-Muslims aren't allowed to enter many (any?) mosques in Morocco so we walked around the outside taking photos and avoiding the touts. After about 15 minutes we decided to make our way back towards Jemaa el-Fnaa and the souk.

Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square in Marrakech. It's not exactly clear when the square first came into existence, though there is apparently some mention of public executions being held there around 1050 AD. The square is UNESCO listed as, historically, it has been a place of gathering for performers, storytellers and musicians and is considered an important cultural place. It is thought that some of the same stories have been told in the square for hundreds of years.

I was a little dubious about going to Jemaa el-Fnaa as I had heard horror stories of people putting monkeys on tourists shoulders but after walking through it and not realising earlier on in the day I thought it would probably be safe to go back and look a little closer.

The square hadn't become a whole lot livelier by the time we returned; it seemed to just consist of people selling juice or souvenirs, women doing (bad) henna tattoos, snake 'charmers', a man with a monkey in a nappy and a man selling teeth. No one seemed keen to have photos taken of them and were actively trying to make it hard by holding up a piece of cardboard to block the photo; I'm not sure they realised they're in a public space in one of the main tourist locations in Marrakech...

From the square we continued on into the souk (bazaar section of the medina). The majority of stalls were selling leather goods or souvenirs with a few food stalls scattered in between. The streets of the medina (including the souk) in Marrakech are much wider than in Fes which means they allow scooters and motorbikes through much of it which seems a little dangerous...

We continued walking through the medina until a friendly local guy recommended that we head to the Berber market as the people from the surrounding villages were in town and would be packing up their stalls and heading back to the countryside the following day. He asked another guy if he was heading to the market and then told us we weren't to pay him anything, just to follow along and say thanks at the end. The guy decided to lead us to the tannery which wasn't quite what we were after; we felt we had seen (and smelt) enough tannery after Fes so we said thanks at the entrance and then set off back towards our hotel.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading our books and relaxing on the rooftop before heading out for dinner on a nearby rooftop. The food was delicious (lamb tajine for Scott, saffron chicken for me) and slightly less overpriced than the previous night.

The following day the medina and streets were much quieter as it was a Friday. As a lot of things were closed we decided to head to the photography museum. The museum, which is located in a beautiful old building in the medina, exhibits photos taken in Morocco between the 1870s and 1950s.

The photos were fantastic and it was interesting to see how much things have changed in Morocco since then (seems they used to be less adverse to having photos taken!). Our favourite part was a series of three videos which were recorded by a French man in the 1970s during his trips through the Atlas mountains. They showed the traditional dances, gatherings and lifestyle of the Berber people at the time and were very interesting.

After looking at all the photos we sat on the rooftop at their restaurant and had a drink before heading back towards our hotel. After a quick lunch we set out in search of a supermarket outside the medina to purchase some argan oil to take home (google told us this would be the most reliable place to get good quality argan oil at a reasonable price). We walked out of the medina and through the newer areas of Marrakech until we reached the ramparts (old city walls). After about another 5 minutes walking we reached the supermarket. We grabbed some argan oil products and ice cream and then made our way back to our hotel.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading our books before heading out to dinner at the same restaurant as the previous night. Scott had another lamb tajine and I had a chicken pastilla. The food was delicious again.

After dinner we decided to head back to Jemaa el-Fnaa to see whether the atmosphere (and attitudes) improved at night. Most stalls were still the same as the previous day however there were now restaurants filling an area which had just been open space during the day. The guys hawking the restaurants were absolutely awful; they were aggressive and started swearing when they realised we wouldn't be eating at their restaurant. They also aggressively blocked us from taking photos by standing directly in front of our camera yelling at us... We decided that it was one of the most awful places we've visited whilst overseas (if not the worst) so turned around and headed back to our hotel.

The following morning we set out through the Medina to El Badi Palace. El Badi Palace was completed in 1598 following 25 years of construction. The palace fell into ruins after the collapse of the Saadian dynasty. Apparently the palace was very grand and was constructed using some of the most expensive materials and techniques at the time. However now all the remains are the walls, the internal courtyards, the underground passageways and rooms (which were used by slaves / servants or as a prison) so it was a little hard to imagine how grand it used to be.

From El Badi palace we headed to Bahia Palace which was constructed at the end of the 19th century for the grand vizier of the Sultan. The palace was lovely; the rooms were decorated with lovely mosaics, the gardens were beautiful and it felt like it would have been a nice peaceful escape from the Marrakech madness and noise.

From Bahia Palace we headed back to our hotel to relax for a bit before venturing out again to visit Ben Youssef Madrasa (religious school). The Madrasa was founded in the 14th century by the Marinids however the current building was completed in 1565 during the Saadian period. At its peak it was thought to have been the largest religious school in North Africa hosting around 900 students, however it was closed in around 1960 and reopened in 1982 as a museum.

The Madrasa was really beautiful, however it looked like it was in need of a bit of restoration. It was interesting to see the student rooms; some of them had lovely views over the courtyard but some didn't have a window at all. We wandered around for about 45 minutes before heading to the Almoravid Koubba.

The Almoravid Koubba, which was constructed in the 12th century, is the only remaining piece of Almoravid architecture in Marrakech. It was rediscovered in 1948 when some of the outer buildings of the Ben Youssef Madrasa were demolished. It wasn't all that exciting to look at given it's just a lone fairly small building but the history was interesting. After taking a few photos through the fence we went back to our hotel to pack.

That night we had booked into a fancier restaurant for dinner. We took our seats on the rooftop (which was pretty windy!) and ordered a tajine each (chicken for me, lamb for Scott). The food was nice though we were both quite happy it'd be our last tajine for a while!

The following morning we woke up early to catch a taxi to the airport for our flight to Paris. We asked our hotel the previous day how long it would take and were a little surprised when they said about an hour for the 4-5km trip. However when we had to wake up the hotel staff to ask them how to find the taxi we had booked we realised why, they thought we meant 6pm not 6am! The staff member (who was woken up by us about 2 minutes earlier) walked us out of the medina and arranged a taxi off the street for us. We arrived at the airport extra early as there was no traffic (too early to check in) but figured that was much better than running late!


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22nd May 2017
Marrakech medina

Marrakech
The market place is chaotic fun.

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