Marrakech was the first stop of our Moroccan tour, the gate that gave us access to this extraordinary country.
We left the Italian winter behind to find ourselves surrounded by the sun, because at the foot of the High Atlas even in January, in the cloudless days, there are 20 degrees.
The taxi leaves us in Jemaa El Fna square, which in 2008 was included in the UNESCO World Heritage for its daily show of human voices, sounds, tastes and stories.
There, you’re projected into a world populated by monkeys and vultures trainers, snake charmers, water sellers, musicians, fortune tellers, dancers, performers. The oral tradition here is still carried on by storytellers, who tell their stories surrounded by an attentive audience: show unfortunately reserved for those who know the local language, although recently classes to teach young people the art of storytelling have started for the benefit of tourists, in English.
The sound in background is that of the flute for dancing cobras, or of drums that keep the rhythm of dances and games. Here few people will be available to be photographed, and almost no one will do it for free: the price, in some cases, will not be reasonable.
At dusk, this open-air theater is transformed into an orange juices and traditional cuisine market, a place revered by many as a symbol of the local culture.
From here, to go into the Medina (another UNESCO site), you have to walk, maybe with porters’ support carrying tourists’ luggage on their cart to destination.
The impact with Medina is made of scooters whizzing by, honks, vendors and passers-by who call you in every possible language to propose a purchase, be your guide, invite you to a restaurant. To be able to explore the city quietly you must not respond to the million calls and be guided by narrow and intricate streets, often nameless. Maps are useful to give you a general orientation, but then souks ingurgitate you, districts guide you.
The markets still preserve the ancient authenticity: just out of the main passages where the products are displayed and sold, streets are full of workshops, laboratories and carts coming from the countryside. Donkeys, horses and mules are still an important mean of transport, far preferable than motor-equipped ones: they are part of the local true charm you’d never want corrupted by Westernization and modernity. But one of the most precious treasures of Marrakech is hidden beyond all those red walls surrounding houses and riads.
Once a place of strong artistic contaminations coming mainly from the Andalusian Spain, this city has benefited also from Arabic and African influences, and the result is kept in secret palaces and courts that flourish beyond anonymous walls that look all the same. Besides the beautiful doors that often mark the boundary between two worlds in stark contrast, there are mosaics and fountains, pools and fruit trees, statues and vases, colors and unforgettable architectures: the more you have the chance to cross thresholds, the more you are able to explore different and astonishing worlds.
This is what you should not miss in Marrakech:
Jemaa El Fna, the heart of it all, maybe by taking a mint tea on the terrace of one of the bars that overlook the square, enjoying the spectacle of the colorful crowd that animates it.
The spice souk, our favorite, where perfumes and colors will stun you. Here we bought Berber tea, eucalyptus, amber and white musk, spices and Aker Fassi (Berber natural lipstick). The adjacent Spice Square is the place where once caravans laden with goods and slaves use to stop coming from the Sahara.
The Madresa Ali ben Youssef, an important Koranic school with a beautiful courtyard and a terrace bar from where you can see the roofs of the neighborhood of which it’s part.
Koutoubia Mosque, that with its 70 meters is the symbol of the city and the tallest building, unsurpassable by law. If the weather is good, take a walk through its large gardens.
The "Mellah" district, the old "ghetto": Jews lived there between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it is perhaps the district that best preserves the original character of the place. Here you will find the Royal Palace (where pictures are forbidden), Saadian Tombs and the Bahia Palace
The Bahia Palace, finished building in 1900 for the will of Ahmed Ibn Moussa (grand vizier) who used its 160 rooms as official residence for his concubines. The eight acres garden also worth seeing.
The tanneries, a neighborhood rather degraded that can be recognized from a distance by the smell that pollutes the air. Here the attitude of people who offer themselves as local guides is a bit more aggressive than in other districts: negotiate the price before starting the visit (even if he tells you he will do it for free, it’s unlikely to be true) and clarify that you only pay for what has been agreed with him (and nothing to his other friends that he could make you meet along the way: sellers, managers, workers, etc.). Ask him in exchange for a bunch of mint to put under your nose, which will help you to partially cover the smell of putrefaction. If possible, visit the tanneries where and when workers are coloring animal skins: the show is definitely more impressive. We've happened to visit them during the stage when skins are covered with pigeon droppings, and we could only see the horrible conditions in which workers operate, immersed in unhealthy sewage.
The Majorelle Garden, created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle to give room to his passion for plants (especially cactus but also coconut, banana, bamboo and palms) coming from all over the world.
If you like museums and want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the streets, you can choose from the following: Marrakech Museum (located in front of the Ali Ben Youssef Mosque), the Moroccan Art Museum (Dar Si Said Museum, north of Bahia Palace) and the House of Photography (a house-museum dedicated to Moroccan photography, especially that of the pre-colonial Morocco).
In Marrakech we stayed in two beautiful Riads: Le Rihani and Palais Sebban, recommended to lovers of fairy tales and design. If you like, read the dedicated articles to figure out which is right for you.
If you are interested to know our complete Moroccan tour, click HERE.
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