I have visited Marrakech for 6 or 7 times and every time I go there for an overnight trip, I thought it was too dusty, too busy and too hot. This is the first time I actually stayed longer in the city, for 4 days, and I get to know more about the city than I ever did.
Marrakech is known as the “Ochre City”, with a population of over 1,000,000 inhabitants is the most important former imperial city in Morocco’s history. I am not kidding when I said all buildings in Marakkech has to be Ochre or Red in colour because it is! It is a municipal requirement. The city of Marrakesh is the capital of the mid-southwestern economic region of Marrakesh-Tensift-El Haouz, near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Like many Moroccan cities, the city of Marrakesh comprises both an old fortified city (the medina) and modern neighborhoods, the most prominent of which is Gueliz.
We took a coach from Agadir to Marrakech. A two and half hour drive, scenes of dry land and rugged terrains everywhere. The Argan tree grows from this part of the world, where Argan oil is extracted from kernels of the trees for medicinal, nutritional and cosmetic purposes. There are villages with high minaret of the mosque that dotted this otherwise barren plain.
We checked into a theme park called Aqua fun club. It is a theme park with all inclusive drinks and food, with Mediterranean, Oriental and Moroccan tagine and cuisines to choose from. We came here for the boys but it was a good relaxing holidays to lay back and do nothing but eat and rest for the next two days.
I am surprised at myself for not having the courage to slide down on one of those 60 degree water slides, considering I used to try out many death defying stunts when I was younger like white water rafting, jumping off from a 30 feet pole, mountain trekking etc. I suppose as I get older (being nervous and stress out), height starts to unnerve me. Do book your holidays through the website from UK and get a better deal for the whole family in Aqua fun club.
We then checked into El-Andalus hotel in the centre of Marrakech city and stayed here for 3 days. Although not 5-star hotel, I was impressed with the intricate carving on the ceiling and the wall. I mean I have seen rows of these Moorish carving in houses or restaurants but not as big a patch as I have seen here in this hotel. Places you can get a view of these intricate carving are mosques or ancient madrasahs (religious school) of Morocco. We had a room with a pool view. I think we got a good deal for £50 a day with breakfast and dinner.
We spent a lot of time walking in Marrakech, far from the Jamal Efna square, this is my first experience of seeing Marrakech on foot. With wide boulevard and pedestrian walk, there is no fear of being run over by motobikes or cars! That’s the central bank of Marrakech on the right.
The following picture is the full view of the Marrakech Theatre. It is situated next to the train station.
Besides the car and motorbikes, you will see many of these horse carriages that will take you a around the city for £20 – £30 per ride, depending on your bargaining skill! They operate close to 24 hours in the summer, these horse carriages usually line up in rows in the Jamal Efna Square or sporadically around the international hotels. Past midnight, I could still hear these horses’ hoofs galloping outside my hotel window. Quite an interesting experience to see the city this way.
We visited the Jamal Efna square almost every evening. Do be careful though, besides the pedestrians, the motorbikes are criss-crossing around the square. Approaching the square, you will see smokes and a sea of crowd milling around.
The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers and musicians. By night, food stalls open in the square turning it into a huge busy open-air restaurant.
Interestingly there are hundreds of stalls which serve the same food but never run out of patrons. For the historical curious: Jemal means “congregational mosque” in Arabic, probably referring to a destroyed Almoravid mosque. “Fanâʼ” or “finâ'” can mean “death” or “a courtyard, space in front of a building.” Thus, one meaning could be “The mosque or assembly of death,” or “The courtyard in front of the mosque”. So it is probably macabre reference to say that what has become a UNESCO world heritage site for its unique display of culture and feasts, was once an execution square.
After food, my other half and I like to come to one of these many tea stalls to have a small glass of the Moroccan herbal tea. It consists of a species of roots and ginseng with other herbal ingredients (which you can read in French) and serves to heat up your body and promote blood circulation. It is strong, gingery and fiery on the throat. I find it absolutely pleasing drinking this during the wintry days but since it is hot summer, I restrained from drinking the full glass, no matter how small it is!
I like the way the vendors always pile their wares especially fresh and dried produce high and prominent for show. Moroccans are very proud of their food and agricultural products. It is produced in abundance, sufficient for local and export needs. This stall sells dried dates, figs, prunes, apricots and many other dried fruits.
Conical showcase of various spices and herbs and bottles of dyes and stuff in the shop that I haven’t got a clue what is in there! We are here to buy bottles of argan oil.
The best part of Morocco is the suok. If you are an avid photographer and possess a good camera (or even if you don’t!) you will take pictures that exudes with so much colour and texture that they are almost guarantee of admiration! The more elaborate slippers are for the women, the men’s are stacked at the background.
There are assortments of leather bags, hats, purse, wallets and slippers on display in every shop.
I love looking at these beautiful lanterns. A small peddler is selling his ware on the floor. But if you want the real thing you have to look at the next picture…..
These authentic lanterns are made of copper. It is a craft which requires high artisanale skills. Skills are passed on from father to son for generations and these lanterns are all hand crafted. They look absolutely magical when they are all lit up!
This is Koutoubia Mosque, one of the most famous landmark of Marrakech. The Koutoubia mosque is built in the 12th century and it means the Mosque of the Booksellers. In the past 100 bookselling shops existed in the streets at the base of the minaret. The minaret was completed under the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199), which is 77 m in height including the spire. There is only 2 other similar prototypes to the Koutoubia mosque. One of them was used as the model for the Giralda of Seville in Spain (but has since converted to a church with add-on design on top of the minaret) and another for the Hassan Tower of Rabat in Morocco, which was destroyed by an earthquake and now left with half the minaret.
Marrakech is now a bustling, vibrant and cosmopolitan city with the snow-capped Atlas Mountain as a backdrop. It is a popular destination for the budget travellers and also the luxury tourists. Every year this city hosts international film, music and art festivals. Many foreigners live here and find inspirations in art, buying up riads and refurbish them and also enjoy the year-long sunshine and mild winters. The city is close to many reserve parks, Atlas mountains, deserts and gorges for weekend getaway locations. Last October 2011, we visited Ourika Valley at the foot of the Atlas and ate tagine lunch next to a stream. Memorable.
I feel this is the first trip that I get to know Marrakech a little better. The beauty of the city, besides the suok, lies in the gardens, riads, water fountains, dwellings with beautiful decors behind the plain looking moat walls. I can see myself spending my days doing nothing next to the garden under the palm and orange trees.
I think I can live here for awhile. What about you?