Marrakech 2013

21st February 2015 - Marrakech Souks

Up at 3am to drive to Stansted for a 6:15am flight to Marrakech with RyanAir. All very smooth; hotel arranged an airport pick-up which took me down narrow streets through on-coming people, push bikes and motor bikes. Dropped me off at a small square where we were met by someone from the guesthouse to walk for 10 minutes down even narrower streets to where I'm staying, Riad Khadija Spa. A Riad is a traditional Marrakech house with rooms around a courtyard. Many of have been converted into family style guest houses. Where I'm staying has just 5 rooms.

I headed out to explore and get lost in the Souks (markets) of Marrakech. I was generally aiming for the Djemaa El-Fna the big main square which is 10 or 15 minutes walk from the riad. I wondered around and around in the souks for two hours without finding it. It was great walking around the souks, so much colour. Lots of clothing, lots of leather products, ceramics and ornate metal lamps.

Eventually I found the main square and as you can see from the photo it really shouldn't have take me two hours to find. Djemaa El-Fna is big. Djemaa El-Fna is busy. Lots of traders, many selling Argan Oil which apparently comes only from Morocco and is currently in fashion both as a dipping oil and for putting on the skin.

But the traders are only secondary to the other entertainment. The sounds of the oboe and the drum carrying in the air, some from snake charmers some from entertainers. The snake charmers aren't really that impressive, quite small and disinterested looking snakes lounging around, hardly the cobra rising from the basket you expect. Otherwise there are colourfully dressed water sellers and guys in traditional dress and spinning the tassel on their hats around. The saddest thing are the guys with monkeys on chains. All of these people are looking for money for you taking photos.

On top of all this are the carts selling orange juice. There must be at least one hundred of them. 4 dirham a glass (30p). There must be a lot oranges in Morocco and a lot of people drinking orange juice. I had some, very fresh, not the sweetest I've ever had and all the better for that. As with all the shops in the souk selling the same stock, I'm not sure how they can all stay in business.

I ate in the riad tonight partly due to the early start and partly because I'd heard that some of the best food you can get in Marrakech is the home cooked food in the riads. Bread and dips, chicken tajine and fresh fruit and pancakes, lovely.

22nd February 2015 - Marrakech Palaces etc.

After an overcast day yesterday today the sun shone as the forecast promised. Today I toured the tourist sites of Marrakech, Top 10 Guide in hand. First up Palais Badii. Built in the 16th century by Sultan Ahmed El Mansour using ransom money from the Portuguese.

In the late 17th century after the city fell to some band of marauders or other the palace was stripped and has been a shell ever since. It's a nice peaceful area in a noisy city and it's not just the tourists who think so. The palace walls are the home to dozens of storks who have set up nest high up on the walls.

One tower has been firmed up so that tourists can climb up to get a view over the palace. As you can see the palace contains basins full of water and sunken orange groves.

From the palace I walked down to the Kasbah. A Kasbah is defined as "a place for the local leader to live and a defense when a city was under attack." That sounds pretty much like the picture below.

The reason I walked the couple of hundred yards down to the Kasbah was to see the Tombeaux Sandiens. The 66 royal tombs of the Saadian dynasty. It's quite small but contains some intricate Alhambran style architecture including the Hall of Twelve Columns below.

Next up the Medersa Ben Youssef. Non-Muslims aren't allowed into any of the Mosques in Marrakech which seems a bit racist, I'd love to see the tiy the Guardian would go into if churches and cathedrals in the UK refused to let in Muslims. Anyway the guide books recommends non-Muslims head down to the Medersa Ben Youssef to get their fill of impressive architecture. Again built in the 16th century by the Saadians. The Medersa was a theological college which continued to accept students into the 1960s. 130 tiny rooms surround the inner courtyard. Ornate arches, carvings, tiling quite impressive.

In the evening I headed down to the Djemaa El-Fna which turns into a huge street food market at night. Tajines, kebabs, seas food and some stalls like the one below selling sheep's heads. I decided to stick to the kebabs. Massive plate full of meat for about £7 including bread, chips and a drink.

23rd February 2015 - Lazy day in Marrakech

A lazy final day im Marrakech enjoying the sun, but first up a bit of shopping at the Complexe Artisanal. I hate haggling with the guys on the stalls so the Complexe Artisanal is the place for me. This is a government sponsored area where all the shops are fixed price. Apparently the prices are a little higher than you can get in the souks but it's a darn sight less hassle. Shopping done in half the time and without feeling I've been ripped off on every purchase.

From here a bit of a wander around the back streets of Marrakech. I never made it up to the new town but the od town (Medina) is actually a lot quieter than I expected. Horses and carts, men pulling karts, some cars some bikes but not very busy. There is still plenty going on and plenty of people watching to do.

From the city you can see all the way out to the snow capped Atlas Mountains which run east of the city. A lovely view to accompany my lunch.

The Medina is very low rise. Maybe 3 or 4 stories maximum. The tallest building is the Koutoubia Mosque. As with all the other mosques in Marrakech it has a square minaret in the Moorish style and surrounded by a garden with orange groves, palms, topiary hedges and fountains. I'm sure it's lovely inside too but of course I never got to see it.

Last up an orange juice and a mint tea in the Cafe Paris. It has a terrace on the roof which gives a great view over the main square and out over the Atlas Mountains. A lovely spot to finish off a lovely weekend.