marrakesh, morocco

December 14, 2010 - Marrakesh, Morocco

well its taken me a while, but i'm finally writing about morocco!

we stayed in marrakesh for 4 nights, and both loved it. its a CRAZY place! jackie had organised transport from the airport to a hotel for us, as part of a competition she was doing at work. we hadn't booked our hostel at that time, so she had them drop us off at a hotel closet to the Djeema el-Fna square, the centre of the old medina. so we got out of customs (pretty much non-existant!) and a guy in a shirt and tie met us, and took us to his big van. we got to the hotel, and it took about 5 minutes for them to understand we weren't staying there but were walking to Djeema el-Fna square, and they were like ' you can't walk! its too far away!'  in the end, the hotel had about 10 different ones of the same name around marrakech, and the one i saw on google maps was NOT the one they took us to! they then drove us to the square, and didn't charge us extra or anything. lovely guys : )

our hostel, or riad as they are known in morocco, had a courtyard open to the sky (but they had put plastic over it so you could still sit there when it was raining) and had a plunge pool in the middle. there were sofas and tables/chairs all around the pool/garden, where we ate breakfast. (mint tea, bread, jam, cheese, pancakes that reminded me of crumpets...) they LOVE bread in morocco, its seriously everywhere. and mint tea. our room was great - no bunk beds!


the marrakesh medina is surrounded by 16km of pink mud-brick walls, 5m high, built about 1062AD. within the walls, you can find the medina. our first day we spent visiting a few palaces, of which our first stop was the saadian tombs. great place, but first i want to tell you what we saw on the way! we had beautiful weather the whole time we were in marrakesh, and the sun was bright and hot. the streets here are crazy, i think the only rule on the roads is to make sure you are driving on the right side! there are old rickety buses, old cars, taxis, pretend taxis, push bikes, vans, scooters, donkeys, laden donkeys, over laden donkeys, horses, horse and carriages, people walking, people crossing the road (or trying!) its a spectacle just watching the roads! you have to just start crossing and hope everyone will stop, at the same time being ready to stop yourself so you dont get run over by a taxi or scooter.

we went the wrong way (i was navigating, but getting lost is half the fun in moroccan medinas!) and saw all sorts trying to find our way back - sad looking donkeys standing by the side of the road, connected to a empty wagon (i wanted to take them all home and put them in a field full of green grass, they looked so sad)  im not sure how much a donkey can actually feasibly carry, but some of them had packages or whatever you would call it strapped to their back, bigger than they were! the traditional dress in morocco is the jellaba, an ankle length robe with a pointy hood and silk buttons down the front. both men and both wear it, though women's jellabas can be the most beautiful garments, or the most gaudy you've ever seen! babouches, moroccan slippers, are nomrally worn with the jellabas. (and socks!)

a lot of the young people wear logo/brand name clothes (most of which are fake) and mix jeans with a shorter jellaba or similar. their clothes are modest, and they do not show much skin (and it is polite to respect this when visiting, though half of the western girls you see walking around are in short shorts or mini skirts) so we saw a lot of people in full-length jellabas on our first day, but soon got used to it. the shops here are so colourful, selling bright jellabas to the tourists, slippers, leather bags, scarves, t-shirts, pottery, copper/brass, jewelery... everything you can imagine. as we were heading out of the central medina, we saw more shops targeted at the locals, rather than the tourists, selling mattresses, bags, tyres, toiletries, bread, nuts and spices, and then there was a little markets set up in a street, with all of the wares sitting on old crates or on tarps on the ground - vegies, herbs, fish (a bit worrying in the hot sun!) meat, more nuts and spices... there are a lot of butcher shops, selling MASSIVE chucks of meat, heads, hooves, hindquarters... they dont have supermarkets in the medina but little shops that sell toiletries and chips, biscuits, bottled water, fresh bread (of course!) and all sorts of other things the average moroccan might need.

when we eventually found the tombs, (people try and direct you and show you so they can ask for money - completely normal in marrakesh or fez!) it was nice and peaceful inside. the guy who had them built around 1600, Saadian Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour ed-Dahbi, spared no expense. he imported Italian Carrara marble and gilded honeycomb muqarnas (plasterwork) archways with pure gold to make the chamber of the 12 pillars a glorious final resting place. he died in 1603, and only a few decades later Alawite Sultan Moulay Ismail walled up the Saadian tombs to keep his predecessors out of sight and mind. the tombs were neglected by all  until aerial photography exposed them in 1917. pretty cool : )

our next stop was the Badi Palace, built in the 16th century by Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour. as he was paving the palace with gold, turquoise and crystal, his jester wisecracked "It'll make a beautiful ruin!". he was right-75 years later it was looted. today, it's hard to imagine the glory of el-Badi ('the Incomparable') as its so bare inside. the main attraction is the Koutoubia minbar (prayer pulpit), "with cedarwood steps intricately carved and inlaid with marquetry and minute  gold and silver calligraphy by 12th century Cordoban artisans and a m'aalem named Aziz - the Metropolitan Museum of Art restoration surfaces his signature under the inlay". we weren't meant to take photos of the minbar BUT i'm only there once so i snuck a few in :p

we walked though the streets to the Bahia Palace, which took Moroccans top artisans 14 years to build. also known as la Bahia ('the Beautiful'), "it boasts floor-to-ceiling decoration begun by Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s and further embellished in 1894-1900 by slave-turned-vizier Abu 'Bou' Ahmed. the painted, gilded, inlaid woodwork ceilings still have the intended effect of subduing crowds"  the palace sits on 8 hectares and has 150 rooms. only a portion of these are open to the public (which is fine, otherwise you could spend days there trying to get out! its like a maze haha) the King Mohammed VI still uses this palace to entertain royal guests (from dignitaries to rapper Sean 'Diddy' Combs! pretty cool King!) the plasterwork was similar to what we saw in Granada at the Alhambra, and would've taken soooooooooo long, there is so much work gone into it.

for dinner, we ate at one of the make-shift restaurants in the Djeema el-Fna square ('big square' as we called it!) Unesco declared the square a 'Masterpiece of World Heritage'  in 2001 - some of the things you see here haven't changed in centuries. snake charmers with their oboes (do they drug those snakes? they are entranced by the music!); water sellers in crazy red outfits with fringed hats clanging brass cups together; stalls and stalls selling fresh orange juice, the sellers motioning to you and yelling to you as you pass by; waiters asking if you would like a meal; Gnaoua musicians betaing their drums and dancing around, spining the tassles on their hats while posing for photos with tourists; men walking around with monkeys attached to leads, lifting them up and putting them on your shoulder in the hope you will stop for a photo (and give him some dirham in return of course!); astrologers, healers, henna tattooists; old men surrounded by a large group of locals (mainly men, you dont seem the women much unless they are shopping for food) listening to urban legends and ancient tales; dentists selling jars of teeth; what a crazy place! thats just the square!

at about 5pm on the dot, 100 restaurants start to set up right in the middle of the action. they display their food on piles and piles of fresh herbs, and the waiters shove their menus in your face as you walk by, saying things like 'you look starvin' marvin'!' , 'tastes like chicken!', 'one-one-seven takes you to heaven!'  (all of the dif. restaurants have numbers instead of names, which makes it easy to remember, especially when they come up with little lines like that!) we ate at number 25, where we had olives in sauces in start, scott had a chicken tagine and i had vegetable couscous (bth served with bread of course!)  it was lovely food, and an excellent place to people watch. you could see and hear the waiters trying to entice more people to eat, speaking in about 15 different languages, and saying all sorts of things. we could also see the chefs, watching them make skewer after skewer of meat, and marinating in in sauce; fixing ub the displays with fresh chips; pulling off the herbs from under the display to use in seasoning; and posing for photos with tourists, because the displays look amazing!

we went back to the hostel and up to the terrace, enjoying the peace and quiet after such a crazy day full of all sorts of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. the children stayed up til about 3am beating their drums, which i assumed happened every night but i think it was just that night. they were all running around carrying drums like they had only just discovered them!

1 Comment

January 19, 2011
And I bet you would have loved to join those children with the drums.
Sounds like an amazing place to go to.....
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