A week in Marrakech

We went on a trip to Marrakech in spring 2016. Even in march the temperatures were very high at mid day and afternoon. But they were also very low in the evening. Whatever ‘desert’ climate is supposed to be like, we felt it fully.

We decided to stay in a riad – it’s a moroccan traditional house with an interior courtyard. As the life in islam is inner oriented the walls of the riad are high and there are few exterior windows. Rather the windows, intricate wooden pannelling are nourished by the light from the interior courtyard. For a good sunbathing just walk to the roof of the riad.

Here are some pictures from our riad:

Staying in a riad in Marrakech means that we stayed in the old city center, the medina. The streets were extremely narrow and you will get lost on them. Even with a specific map of the medina that we had bought for the occasion we still experienced the frustrations of living in a maze.

We stayed for about a week so this gave us time to experince a few attractions:

– Djema El Fnaa

the main square of the medina, Djemaa el-Fna is a Unesco World Heritage touristic attraction to visit. Don’t let the name of the place scare you, the former ‘Assembly of the dead’ has moved past it’s original execution days. Now the crows that gather at Djemaa are there for snake charming, hena tattoos, freshly squeezed fruit juices and real italian leather. In Marrakesh all roads lead to Djemaa as the souks sprawl out and combine with the medina around this big public square.

– Souks and Founducks

I’ll add a map of the maze here:

Whatever you dreamed when reading Arrabian Nights, whatever you imaged after you saw Aladdin you will only fully feel it when getting into a negociation with a souk seller. There are so many things to buy in Marrakesh that you should bring less clothes or buy a suitcase while there and fill it up. From carpets to babouches (slippers), from incense to berber jewlery, from beautiful light fixtures to pretty wooden inlaid mirrors all of your dreams will become true. But be careful, the sellers are there to swindle you. You should at any price you hear for the item you are triving to buy divide in half and work from there.

Did you know the word for leather work in french is ‘marroquinerie’? That is how synonymous the town’s name became with the industry.

– Medersa Ben Youssef

A medersa is a quranic school. As many other palaces, gardens, riads and museums of the town it is of Hispano-Moresque architecture. This architectural style was developped following the invasion of the iberian peninsula by the arabic dynasties from the 8th century onwards. It’s not only present in Spain it also shows in the architecture of the different monuments of Marrakesh.

In islam there can be no representations of the human form. That is why arabesques were created.

The medersa is a 14th century school. Above the entrance an inscription reads ‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’

In the middle of the courtyard there is a reflecting pool, used by the students to wash their blackboards. The arcaded cloister is covered in zellij (mosaic tiles) topped by intricate honeycomb stucco work. The courtyard ends in a hall containing a mihrab (prayer niche).

You’ll get lost in the many rooms of this medersa. So many students must have passed through these walls.

– Majorelle Gardens

Leave the medina behind. There is much more to discover in this city.

The Marjorelle Gardens are a sight to behold. The lovely gardens are microscopically organised and taken care for by an army of gardners. You can admire huge bougainvillea trees – the ‘paper flower’ is a well known mediteranean fixture. Or just count all the cactuses, you’ll be there till tomorrow.

The beautiful garden also hosts a beautiful museum dedicated to Berber clothing and artwork. You can’t miss it it’s covered in cobalt blue. This garden and adjacent villa were owned by landscape painter Jacques Majorelle. The garden is a reflction of his articstic inspiration with many strong color superpositions that make the whole ensemble pop.

Afther the painter’s death Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, saved the gardens in the 1960s. This should come as no surpise as Yves Saint Laurent was famous for this ‘safary’ inspired revolutionnary clothing:

When Yves died in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the Majorelle.

– the Marrakech museum

The museum is in a former palace. The inner courtyard with water features is a sight to behold: it has carved cedar woord, colourful tiles, stained-glass windows, ornamental pillars, a huge chandelier, painted doorways.

The museum also coveres archeology, ethnography, history and art.

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– Bahia palace

The palace is outside of the medina but only a few minutes on foot from Djemaa el Fna. A very beautiful place I have actually used the picture from one of the gardens as the defining picture for this article. The palace has eight hectares and 150 rooms. Only a portion of those are available to the public. The creator of this splendor needed so many rooms to house the four wives and 24 concubines that had to be kept apart from one another.

There are many good reasons to head to Marrakech. A very relevant one is the price: with a western salary food, accomodation, souvenirs and going out in general is cheap.

Only pricier places will have alcohol because it is not generally allowed in Morocco.

Breakfast was included in the room price for our riad, seen below:

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Here are some of the places we went for lunch/dinner:

Atay Cafe food perched on top of a traditional house in the Medina I recommend the chicken seen below

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Henna Cafe great place to eat and get some henna done; avoid the women proposing it on street corners and in markets, you don’t know what bad reactions you could have to the ink; some food from Henna Cafe below

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We also decided on a trip to the Sahara. I’ll add details about our trip to Zagora and the desert later.


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