Tag Archives: Marrakech

On This Day – Marrakech at Night

Sometime between the end of the afternoon and the early evening the square had been transformed from a market place to an open air theatre with swarms of people and this is something that occurs every single day of the year. The snake charmers and the monkey men had packed up and gone home and had been replaced by a carnival of musicians, storytellers, transvestite dancers and other entertainers.

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On This Day – The Souks of Marrakech

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 8th October 2010 I was in the Moroccan City of Marrakech…

Here was a whole new experience with street after street of shops all overflowing with things for sale that we didn’t need but each with an owner who didn’t understand this and was determined to part us from the cash in our wallets. The place was murderously busy with a stream of people oozing past the shops like a flow of molten human lava and progress was so slow we could only shuffle awkwardly as though our shoe laces were tied together and it was quite impossible to walk with any kind of normal rhythm.

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Thursday Doors – The Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech

Majorelle 01

The blue is called Majorelle and is made from pigment found only in the Moroccan soil and he must have been especially fond of it because as well as the house the garden was full of large pots all painted predominantly in this colour and contrasting nicely with others in orange, yellow, red and green.

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday Doors, Marrakech in Morroco

Marrakech Door 06

There was only one way out of the warren of alleys so we had to follow the same route again back through the anarchic streets and to the hectic roundabout where the traffic situation had not improved and even the policeman had given up and left his post but his didn’t seem to matter at all because he wasn’t being very effective anyway.

We were a bit confused and the free tourist map wasn’t a big help but we were confident that we were making steady progress towards our first intended destination of the famous big square in the heart of the city, the Djemma el Fna.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

A Previous Visit to Morocco

Epcot World Showcase

The Disney Web Site introduces Morocco like this: “A realistic Koutoubia Minaret leads the way into this faraway land of traditional belly dancers, intricate Moroccan architecture and swirling mosaics made by native craftsmen. The Morocco Pavilion has 2 fascinating sections: the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city). Discover a bustling plaza with a variety of shops and be on the lookout for some familiar Arabian Disney friends throughout the day.”

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Travels in Spain, Doors and Windows of the Moroccan Tea Gardens

Moroccan Tea Garden 02Moroccan Tea Garden 04Moroccan Tea Garden 03Moroccan Tea Garden 15

Morocco, Top Travel Tips – The Majorelle Gardens

“A visit to Marrakech was a great shock to me. This city taught me colour”  – Yves Saint Laurent

The gardens were just around the corner now and it was hot in the sunshine as we stood in line for our tickets and then went inside through the gates.

The garden was designed and laid out in the 1920s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle who created marble pools, raised pathways, banana trees, groves of tall bamboo, coconut palms and bougainvillea but first of all we followed a path through species of cacti carefully collected from all over the world.

The path led to a lily pond that reminded me of Monet’s garden at Giverny in France and which stood in front of a house, a museum now but closed today during refurbishment, which is painted a unique shade of blue.

This seemed odd, it was in contrast to every other building in Marrakech and I wondered how the painter had managed to get around the crimson decree which specifies that everywhere must be red.  The blue is called Majorelle and is made from pigment found only in the Moroccan soil and he must have been especially fond of it because as well as the house the garden was full of large pots all painted predominantly in this colour and contrasting nicely with others in orange, yellow, red and green.

Majorelle, it turns out wasn’t an especially great artist and his garden, rather than his paintings, was his masterpiece.  It is composed and coloured like a work of art. As well as the pots, water is an important feature and there are water filled channels, lily ponds with reflections of the towering palm trees and bubbling fountains.

He was an avid plant collector but after he died in 1962 the house was left empty and the garden abandoned lay for nearly twenty years.   Eventually it was threatened with demolition which is a reminder that sometimes what we create in our life times is only temporary.  After a long period of neglect the garden was then taken over, saved and restored by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

As we wandered along the meandering paths the blue sky suddenly and without warning gave way to grey cloud and within seconds we were in the middle of a heavy rain shower and we had to take cover in a café where there was shelter under the leaves of the banana plants planted around the perimeter.

It took about twenty minutes for the heavy rain to slow down and before we could leave the shelter and then as the rain eased off we returned to the gardens which somehow managed to look even better now with the shiny wet pavements catching shimmering reflections of the brightly coloured pots.

There was a shop of course where I was chastised for taking a picture of an attractive corner and the assistant stood over me and insisted I delete it from the camera.  I fooled her by not following the procedure all the way through but she was satisfied that it was gone and she let me go without calling the photography police.

The path took us around the blue house with its bright yellow windows and strategically placed pots, through tall pergolas where exotic climbing plants raced each other to the top of the poles, past ponds full of goldfish and terrapins and through the bamboo swaying in the breeze as though in a hypnotic trance.  A second wave of rain passed over and we had to shelter next to the memorial to Yves Saint Laurent but it passed over quite quickly and we were able to continue the visit as rain drops splashed us as they dripped from the overhanging leaves.

On balance we would have preferred to have visited the garden without the rain but I suppose the plants all enjoyed the drenching.

    

When we had completed the walk around the garden and Kim was finally satisfied with her collection of pictures of the pots we left and started to walk back the way we had came.  We hadn’t got very far however when it started to rain again and this time it was really unpleasant.  It came in at an angle that got underneath our umbrellas, it had turned quite cool and the sky was grey and horrible in all directions.

We still had a few hours left before the flight home and we didn’t want to walk around all day in this but then as Kim moaned and Margaret complained about the plan to walk to the railway station Mike and I could see some better weather in the north so at a busy crossroads we found a café where we sat and sheltered and thankfully watched the weather, and the girl’s moods, improve as the pavements quickly dried as the sky turned blue and the temperature began to rise.

Morocco, Top Travel Tips – The Atlas Mountains

I continue my series of Top Tips when visiting Morocco and today head for the Atlas Mountains…

We drove on and the road started to follow the river now which wasn’t deep but it was wide and fast flowing.  The silver water dashed between gullies like flashing blades and rushed over rocks like leaping salmon and further on the river dropped in between steep banks and the only way to cross was by using rope bridges with sun bleached wooden slats that didn’t look awfully permanent.

Hassan stopped the car again and our next stop on the itinerary was to visit a traditional Berber house.  The Berbers are a unique ethnic group who live in North Africa, the oldest settlers in the region and quite different from the Arabs of Marrakech and the rest of Morocco.

It wasn’t a real house of course, it was a sort of living museum and women in traditional costume were preparing food in a small corner of a disorderly arrangement of ramshackle rooms that Hassan showed us through one-by-one and explained the traditional domestic arrangements as we went.

Opposite the house there was a small building where a women’s cooperative was producing Argan oil.  Argan oil is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties but is one of the rarest oils in the world due the small and very specific growing areas because it is produced from the kernels of the Argan tree which are only found in Morocco.

In the past Berber women would extract the undigested pits of the Argan nut from goat excrement on the ground (probably without gloves) because the animals are very fond of the fruit and will even climb the trees to reach it but that isn’t terribly hygienic of course and I think they have stopped doing it that way now.

Argan Oil Goats

Mike was sceptical about whether this was authentic or simply a set-up for the tourists but inside the building women were sitting on the floor with rough rectangular stones between their knees cracking pits with rounded rocks and after a while it was clear that Mike was most probably correct and somewhere there would be a modern factory producing the oil in a much more efficient way.

Hassan drove on and still we were climbing and following the river on our left and the boundary of the Parc National de Toubkal to our right, which includes the highest mountain in Morocco, Jbel Toubkal.  After a while he stopped the car and for no apparent reason invited us to take a walk across a precarious looking rope bridge to the other side of the river.  We understood why when a toothless Berber man in a check kaftan and bright blue skull cap appeared from the side of the road and it seemed to be his self appointed job to usher people over to the other side, have his photograph taken with terrified tourists and charge a few dirham for the privilege.

I say terrified because to cross this swaying, rotting foot bridge required Indiana Jones type nerves of steel.  Some of the planks of wood were missing and the steel cable that held it all together was rusty and corroded.  With two or three people on it at the same time it rocked and lurched precariously from side to side and below us was a drop of about twenty metres to the fast flowing river strewn with sharp rocks and jagged boulders which, if it didn’t kill you outright, would have guaranteed an unpleasant landing and maybe a night or two in a hospital bed if the whole thing had come crashing down.

Crossing the river was an interesting experience but I think we were all glad to get back to the other side and continue the journey for the last few kilometres to the village of Setti-Fatma where the road into the mountains ended and the final stage was to be on foot.  I imagine Setti-Fatma was once a desperate and inhospitable sort of place but the locals have turned it into a bit of a tourist trap with cafés and shops for the visitors who find themselves caught at this natural mountain valley terminus.

Hassan quickly found a guide for us for fifty dirham each was going to take us further up the valley to visit the waterfalls, which were promised as the highlight of the day.  We crossed the river over one of the rickety apple-wood rope bridges and then began a gentle ascent at first as we set off for the top.  We were at one thousand six hundred metres (that’s about half as high again as Mount Snowdon in Wales) and we were going to climb another two hundred to get to our destination.

At the beginning there was no real indication about how tough this was going to be and the path meandered gently through shops and cafés but after a while the track narrowed and started to get steeper and suddenly instead of just strolling to the top, as we imagined we were going to, actual climbing was required instead. What made it even more difficult was that people coming down had to use the same narrow track as those going up so there was quite a lot of congestion to cope with and a quicker group behind us was showing irritation with our slow progress as their pushy guide tried to find inappropriate short cuts so that they could get ahead of us.

It took about thirty minutes to get to the end of the walk and to the inevitable café at the top where we stopped for an expensive bottle of water next to the waterfall that was plunging through the rocks and vegetation.

Going down was if anything more difficult than going up and fairly soon our legs began to ache as we slipped and slithered down the uneven path.  Gradually the path levelled out and we passed through the shops again.  Shops which incidentally sold pottery and I cannot imagine for one minute why anyone would want to buy pottery while climbing up the side of a mountain.  Back at the road we said goodbye to the guide and thanked him for getting us back in one piece and then he led us to a tagine restaurant by the side of the river which was probably owned by a member of his family.

In the garden of the restaurant we sat at a table by the water and had a simple lunch of meat skewers and local sausages all swilled down with a nice glass of beer and then I realised that I was hallucinating because it was just a nice glass of ordinary mineral water!

Morocco, Top Travel Tips – The Royal Palaces

Continuing my short series on Top Tips for Morocco. number two is the Royal Palaces…

Wandering aimlessly around the maze of streets in Marrakech we were looking for the Saadian Tombs which the guidebook said shouldn’t be missed but could be difficult to find.

First of all we discovered that it was completely right on the second point and after we had walked around the outside of the Kasbah Mosque we missed the entrance and took an unnecessary detour into some back streets and lanes which took us nowhere in particular.

After all the walking we were feeling hungry now so while we consulted the guide book maps we found a café with pavement tables and had a bottle of water (a bottle of water!) and a chicken kebab snack that was cooked on a grill on the pavement which tasted good even though it was complimented by exhaust fumes and the smell of horse manure from a carriage parked up close by.

The helpful waiter showed us on the map where we would find the tombs so after we had finished eating we paid up, left an appropriate tip and moved on.

Marrakech Sadian tombs

The reason that we missed the site was that the entrance is squeezed in between the back of the Mosque and a narrow row of kiosks and having found it we paid our ten dirham entrance fee and walked through a very narrow alley in between two tall buildings where there was barely room to pass the visitors that were coming out.

It turns out that the Saadian Tombs were sealed up in the sixteenth century by a jealous ruler, Moulay Ismail, who resented the wealth of his predecessor, Ahmed al Mansour, and who set about dismantling anything he had built or acquired.  So successfully was it hidden away that it wasn’t rediscovered until the 1920’s when an inquisitive French administrator overcome with curiosity opened up the entrance and found this treasure hidden away from public view half in ruins and completely forgotten.  It would be nice to think that there may still be treasures like this just hidden away somewhere but I suppose with modern mapping techniques like Google Earth this is most unlikely.

There has been a lot of restoration at the site and the two main mausoleums have been returned to their original state when they were built five hundred years ago to contain Mansour’s own tomb.  The graves of over a hundred Saadian princes and royal household members are scattered around the garden and the courtyard most with gravestones brilliantly tiled and elaborately inscribed.

It was only a small site and it didn’t take long to complete the visit even though we had to compete with several large tour groups to see everything there was to see.

The site that we were heading for next was the Badii Palace and for such a big place the entrance was once again tucked into a narrow lane which we only found after asking several times for directions.  Asking direction in Marrakech always carries the potential issue of being offered an unwanted chaperone and guide and a refusal often leads to misinformation so this turned out to be a lengthy process.

The Palace is in ruins now but reputedly took armies of labourers and craftsmen twenty-five years to build and when it was completed it was said to be amongst the most magnificent palaces ever constructed with walls and ceilings encrusted with gold and precious jewels and in the middle a massive pool with an island flanked by four sunken gardens.

Sadly the magnificent building survived for barely a hundred years before the Saadian dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the Alouites and the conquering Sultan, Moulay Ismail, came along and stripped the place bare at just about the same time as he was sealing up the Saadian Tombs.

Moulay Ismaïl was by all accounts an interesting character and  a man of extreme excesses.  It is said that he personally killed over twenty-five thousand men but to make up for this he is alleged to have fathered eight hundred and eighty-nine children. This is widely considered the record number of offspring for any man throughout history that can actually be verified.  It is estimated that to father that number of children (allowing for failed attempts of course) he would have had to have sex with an average of 1.2 women every day for sixty years which is something that I can only imagine was a real chore!

When he wasn’t slaughtering or shagging he was building himself a new capital city at Meknès in the north of Morocco and it took twelve years to dismantle the Badii Palace and remove the treasures and relocate them and all that is left now are the stripped red mud bricks.

We wanted to see the replacement Palace and that took us to the city of Meknès.  Being unexpectedly allowed into this place we walked through a series of courts and chambers decorated in bright yellow tiles and spiralling stucco work. Behind the courts is the sanctuary that holds the remains of Moulay Ismail and his family members and after we had taken off our shoes at the door we were invited into the mausoleum but not the Mosque.

After the mausoleum visit we went next to the Heri es Souani, the site of Moulay Ismail’s stables. We paid the reasonable entrance fee and were allocated a guide.  He asked if we understood French or English, we told him English and he looked at us with a face that said ‘That’s a shame because I do this tour in French’ and he set off regardless on his Gallic commentary to our appropriately blank faces.

He took us through a remarkable system of high-vaulted chambers with a series of storerooms and granaries.   In the time of Moulay Ismail, these were used to hold provisions in a case of a drought or a siege and behind these chambers were the stables for seven-thousand horses.  That’s an awful lot of horses and an awful lot of equine shit to shovel so there were living quarters over the top for the hundreds of grooms and labourers that would have been required to support an operation such as this.

At the completion of the tour the guide said goodbye but rather like a barnacle attached to a rock stayed close by.  We set to walk off but then suddenly he seemed to remember that he could speak a bit of English after all, he coughed an attract attention sort of cough, held out his hand and asked if we had forgotten something.  We had of course and we rifled our pockets for some loose change to give the man his deserved tip.

Anyway, don’t just take my word for it, I recommend that you pop across to visit this post for another accompanied tour – nareszcieurlop.wordpress.com

Heri es Souani Meknes Morocco

Morocco, Top Travel Tips – The Souks

Fez Colours

“I believe that Marrakech ought to be earned as a destination. The journey is the preparation for the experience. Reaching it too fast derides it, makes it a little less easy to understand.”  ― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: ‘A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams’

And so our quick visit to Morocco was suddenly over all too quickly.  I had previously said that I wouldn’t go back again but the truth is I enjoyed it.

Flushed with enthusiasm I have decided to put together some top tips for visiting this beguiling and welcoming North African country:

First – Be sure to visit the Souks

This extract is from a previous post about a visit to the city of Meknes…

The journey from Moulay Idriss to the UNESCO World Heritage city Meknes took about thirty minutes and when we arrived in the city Abdul stopped first at a lay-by on the edge of the city with a panorama of the city.  The word panorama makes it sound picturesque or interesting but I have to say that from here it didn’t look terribly exciting at all, just very similar to Fez with a jumble of off-white concrete box buildings and a forest of satellite dishes and TV aerials.

Fortunately we didn’t stay long and Abdul drove us into the centre of the city and took us directly to the central square of the Medina, which, although much smaller reminded me straight away of Marrakech.

Abdul parked the taxi right outside the gates of the Royal Palace and I was concerned about that, but I needn’t have been because Abdul seemed to know a lot of people, probably even the guards and there was no problem.  He certainly knew the owner of the restaurant the ‘Terrasses Pavillion des Idrissides’ and before we knew very much about it we had been led to a terrace table overlooking the square by a couple of eager waiters.  We examined the menu carefully before making our selections and then we enjoyed a simple meal at a very agreeable price.

The main square was moderately busy but didn’t feel crowded and we walked past the snake charmers and the men with Barbary Apes all trying to sell photographs, fortune tellers and soothsayers and my favourite the tooth puller who would have provided dental surgery at a fraction of the cost of the National Health Service if we had been brave enough to allow him.

Meknes Souk Morocco

There were rows of market stalls selling fresh and dried fruits and others competing to sell a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and all around the square were cafés and restaurants with high level balconies where people were sitting and just enjoying the random entertainment.

“By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls, There’s a hidden door she leads you to, These days, she says, I feel my life just like a river running through…” 

Rather like Al Stewart in the ‘Year of the Cat’ we slipped into the souk and walked past carpet shops, elaborate lampshade stores, slipper shops, silver and pottery workshops, shops selling leather, silks, ceramics, spices and pastries and our senses were under constant assault from the colourful sights, the rich aromas and the chatter and noise of the traders.  Occasionally a donkey and cart would send people scattering as new supplies were delivered and the shop owners were probably glad of this because the only place to go to get out of the way was inside the shop doorways where someone was waiting to pounce.

Fez Carpets

Threading our way through the heaving twisting lanes we elbowed our way through the crowds and nodded politely as we rejected invitations from all sides, trying all the time not to make eye contact and declining inducement to go inside the shops and look all the time trying hard to remember the way that we had walked so that we could get out again without getting lost.

We seemed to be the only tourists here so we weren’t too adventurous and soon we were back on the sunny street which led to another souk, this time the food market which, maybe because it was Saturday, was exceptionally busy.

There was large butchery section here and there was an overpowering smell of blood, offal and sawdust.  Whole goats hung from metal hooks, there were bulls’ heads in various stages of being dismembered and sheep heads carelessly discarded and lying on the floor for anyone who wasn’t paying attention to trip over.  Along one of the internal lanes there were cages and cages of live chickens just waiting to be selected, purchased and killed.

The process was swift but brutal – the selection made and the price paid the butcher deftly cut the bird’s throat and shoved it unceremoniously into a plastic bucket, head first so that the blood would drain away.  The poor thing struggled for a short while but when it was dead and drained it was dunked first in boiling water and then freezing water and then plucked on a primitive but effective plucking machine.  Micky, a butcher himself, and Kim stopped to watch the macabre process but Christine, an animal lover, and Sue, a bit squeamish, walked on without stopping.  I went with Sue and Christine.

Essaouira Spices

As we turned a corner there were herbalist shops with spices arranged in colourful pyramids and baskets of dried flower heads and quack remedies.  Kim went inside to look at the jars of colourful potions and perfumes and to enquire about the spices and the prices each time making a promise to return later.  I imagine that this is a promise that shopkeepers in Meknes hear hundreds of times every day and probably don’t take them too seriously but after a few minutes we did return to one of them and this probably took the owner by complete surprise.

We bought a few bags of spices and I began to worry about taking these little multi-coloured bags of suspicious looking powder through customs especially bearing in mind that Morocco has a reputation of being a big producer of illegal drugs.

Our heads full of the sights and sounds of the busy souk we pushed our way out through a main entrance and made our way again across the main square which was beginning to fill up and I imagined that it was going to be a big night in Meknes later.  We wouldn’t see this of course because now we had to find Abdul who had promised to take us to see the other important sites in the city.  We found him chatting to the restaurant owner – presumably negotiating his commission!

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