We arrived at Marrakesh late at night and really quickly got in bed and just fell asleep. In the morning we had the chance to see how beautiful the hotel and the view was. If Chefchaouen was blue, Casablanca white, Marrakesh was brick red. Every building is red! I haven’t seen anything like it.
The hotel was Atlas Asni and it was OK, but the food wasn’t as nice as all the other hotels we stayed in during our trip. It wasn’t bad, just not my taste. Here we would spent two nights so I didn’t have to pack our luggage again in the morning. Instead, just had breakfast and gathered to explore this magnificent city.
Marrakesh is a major city of the Kingdom of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier.
It is possibly the second most important of Morocco’s four former imperial cities after Fez. The region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times, but the actual city was founded in 1062, by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin. In the 12th century, the Almoravids built many madrasas (Koranic schools) and mosques in Marrakesh that bear Andalusian influences. The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in red sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the “Red City” or “Ochre City”. Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa; Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest square in Africa.
After a period of decline, the city was surpassed by Fez, but in the early 16th century, Marrakesh again became the capital of the kingdom. The city regained its preeminence under wealthy Saadian sultans Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur, who embellished the city with sumptuous palaces such as the El Badi Palace and restored many ruined monuments. Beginning in the 17th century, the city became popular among Sufi pilgrims for Morocco’s seven patron saints, who are entombed here. In 1912 the French Protectorate in Morocco was established and T’hami El Glaoui became Pasha of Marrakesh and held this position nearly throughout the protectorate until the role was dissolved upon the independence of Morocco and the reestablishment of the monarchy in 1956. In 2009, Marrakesh mayor Fatima Zahra Mansouri became the second woman to be elected mayor in Morocco.
Like many Moroccan cities, Marrakesh comprises an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls (the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), bordered by modern neighbourhoods, the most prominent of which is Gueliz. Today it is one of the busiest cities in Africa and serves as a major economic center and tourist destination.
Our first stop was the Koutubia mosque, it was sunny and windy, but quite an improve since yesterday. Yacoub el Mansour built Marrakesh’s towering Moorish mosque on the site of the original 11th-century Almoravid mosque. Dating from the early 12th century, it became a model for the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville. The mosque takes its name from the Arabic word for book, koutoub,because there was once a large booksellers’ market nearby. The minaret is topped by three golden orbs, which, according to one local legend, were offered by the mother of the Saadian sultan Ahmed el Mansour Edhabi in penance for fasting days she missed during Ramadan. The mosque has a large plaza, walkways, and gardens, as well as floodlights to illuminate its curved windows, a band of ceramic inlay, pointed merlons (ornamental edgings), and various decorative arches.
Excavations confirm a Marrakshi legend: the original mosque, built by Almoravid architects, wasn’t properly aligned with Mecca, so the pious Almohads levelled it to build a realigned one.
Here we just took some photos as the mosque is forbidden for non-Muslims and headed to the biggest landmark and attraction in Marrakesh – the square Djemaa El Fna. I will tell you about it later, we spent only a few minutes here because went went to explore the little streets of the market.
The vast labyrinth of narrow streets and derbs at the center of the Medina is the souk—Marrakesh’s marketplace and a wonder of arts, crafts, and workshops. Every step brings you face-to-face with the colorful handicrafts and bazaars for which Marrakesh is famous. In the past, every craft had a special zone within the market—a souk within the souk. Today savvy vendors have pushed south to tap trading opportunities as early as possible, but the deeper in you venture, you will be rewarded by cheaper prices and by seeing authentic artisans–-metalworkers, the carpenters, the tailors, and the cobblers–-at work.
As you wander through the souk, take note of landmarks so that you can retrace your steps without too much trouble. Once the shops’ shutters close, they’re often unrecognizable. The farther north you go the more the lanes twist, turn, and entwine. Should you lose your way, retrace your steps to the busiest thoroughfare and then look for the brown painted signs (usually found at key intersections) indicating the direction of Place Jemaa el Fna. But mostly you’ll rely on people in the souk to point the way. If you ask a shopkeeper rather than a loitering local, you’ll be less likely to fall into the clutches of a “faux guide.”
The result of this wandering, beside enjoying the vivid scenery around us, was to visit a Berber apothecary. Here we saw a presentation of most of the products they sale, especially the famous argan oil. We didn’t buy anything, but most of our group did. I just made lovely photos 🙂
I was really inpatient to leave this place as our next stop was a dream of mine – Jardin Majorell. I saw it in a movie about Yves Saint Laurent and just couldn’t get it off my mind.
The Jardin Majorelle was created by the French painter Louis Majorelle, who lived in Marrakesh between 1922 and 1962. It then passed into the hands of another Marrakesh lover, the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. If you’ve just come from the desert, it’s a sight for sore eyes, with green bamboo thickets, lily ponds, and an electric-blue gazebo. There’s also a fascinating Berber Museum housed within the painter’s former studio, with a permanent exhibit of tribal jewelry, costumes, weapons, ceramics, and rustic household tools and implements. There is also a museum shop, and a delightful café. The Yves Saint Laurent Museum, which opened in late 2017, is next door. Try to visit the gardens in the early morning before the tour groups—you’ll hear the chirruping of sparrows rather than the chatter of humans. The price for the garden is 35 dirhams (3.50 euro) and 25 (2.50) for the museum.
After a quick lunch on foot our group gathered to go to the next stop – Bahia Palace, another jewel in Marrakesh’s crown.
This 19th-century palace, once home to a harem, is a marvelous display of painted wood, ceramics, and symmetrical gardens. Built by Sultan Moulay el Hassan I’s notorious Grand Vizier Bou Ahmed, the palace was ransacked on Bou Ahmed’s death, but you can still experience its layout and get a sense of its former beauty.
The salons of both the petit riad and grand riad host intricate marquetry and zouak (painted wood) ceilings while the vast grand courtyard, trimmed in jaunty blue and yellow, leads to the Room of Honour, with a spectacular cedar ceiling. The harem offers up yet more dazzling interiors with original woven-silk panels, stained glass windows and rose-bouquet painted ceilings.
The floor-to-ceiling decoration here was begun by Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s and embellished from 1894 to 1900 by slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed. In 1908 the palace’s beguiling charms attracted warlord Pasha Glaoui, who claimed it as a suitable venue to entertain French guests. They, in turn, were so impressed that they booted out their host in 1911, installing the protectorate’s resident-general in his place.
Though today only a portion of the palace’s eight hectares and 150 rooms is open to the public, there’s still plenty of ornamental frippery on show. While admiring the tranquil grand courtyard with its floor laid in white Carrara marble, remember this is where people waited in the sun for hours to beg for Bou Ahmed’s mercy. Bou Ahmed’s four wives and 24 concubines all lived in the lavish interiors of the harem’s small salons.
The entry fee is just 10 dirhams (1 euro)
Really astonished by the beauty of this place we were ready for our free time! The whole group was left at the Djemaa El Fna square to do as we please. In our case just wandering around.
The carnivalesque open square right at the center of the Medina is Marrakesh’s heartbeat and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This centuries-old square was once a meeting point for regional farmers and tradesmen, storytellers and healers; today it’s surrounded by bazaars, mosques, and terraced cafés with perfect balcony views over the action. Transvestite dancers bat their eyelashes; cobras sway to the tones of snake charmers; henna women make their swirling marks on your hands; fortune-tellers reveal mottled futures; apothecaries offer bright powder potions and spices; bush dentists with Berber molars piled high on tables sell used dentures and extracted teeth; and, best of all, men tell stories to each other the old way, on a magic carpet around a gas lamp.
We saw many of these people, but didn’t have photos as I already told you – they want money and we are really bad and uncomfortable at bargaining.
All day (and night) long you can get fresh orange or grapefruit juice from the green gypsy carts that line up round the square, for about 4 DH a glass. Be sure to pick a cart where they offer the juice in plastic cups, not in glass, because the hygiene is really low and you can expect to receive a greasy and dirty glass.
You can also pose for a photograph with one of the roving water sellers (you’ll be expected to pay at least 10 DH for the privilege), whose eye-popping costumes carry leather water pouches and polished-brass drinking bowls–-we don’t recommend drinking from the offered cup of water. Or snack on sweet dates, apricots, bananas, almonds, sugar-coated peanuts, and walnuts from the dried fruit–and–nut stalls in the northwest corner. Meat and vegetable grills cook into the night, when Marrakshis come out to eat, meet, and be entertained. It might be a fun bazaar today, but once upon a time the Djemâa’s purpose was more gruesome; it accommodated public viewings of the severed heads of sinners, criminals, and Christians. Djemâa actually means “meeting place” and el Fna means “the end” or “death,” so as a whole it means something along the lines of “assembly of death” or “meeting place at the end of the world.” Beware of pickpockets!
The most famous part of the square are the animals there and especially the cobras. This was the only photo we were willing to pay and even after we had an agreement with the man he tried to cheat us. So be very, very careful.
I wouldn’t give money to the people with the monkeys in any case. They keep the poor animals in horrible cages and force them to take pictures with people while they are on a chain! It was disgusting, I didn’t want to even look at them ! I urge you to do the same and, maybe, this horrid capture will end someday…
My husband bought pomegranate juice, which is a traditional drink here and wanted to walk around some more, but we got really tired and decided to rest in some of the cafes with terraces. I had pancakes in my mind all day, so we found one. Unfortunately, the pancakes were out so I had a lovely cheesecake. Again, don’t expect high levels of hygiene despite the high rating in tripadvisor 🙂 The view was also pretty nice.
The weather was getting bad so we decided to go back to the hotel, rest there and see if we have time to take a walk after that. We had seen earlier a really beautiful park near the Koutibia mosque and wanted to see it before we get back. It is called the Cyber park and was quite nice.
It would be fair to say that Cyber Park is the best-maintained garden area in all of Marrakesh. From the moment you step through the gate, you are immediately surrounded by a world of peace and serenity; a world where the air is filled with the delicate scent of a million flowers and the sweet sound of birds singing in the trees.
Cyber Park is very popular among the locals of Marrakesh when they want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and especially in the late afternoon when they want to enjoy a relaxing stroll in the heart of nature.
Cyber Park, which to the locals is known as Arsat Moulay Abdeslam Cyber Park, is a vast botanical garden that was initially created during the 18th century on the orders of Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah who in turn gave it to his son Prince Moulay Abdeslam as a wedding gift.
At the time of its creation it was just as magnificent as it is today, but as the years passed slowly by, this huge expanse of garden began deteriorate.
The trip to the hotel was supposed to last around 20 minutes but we had an unpleasant surprise – it started raining. At first light and not very troubling until few hundred meters before the hotel it poured. So the idea of a walk quickly faded and we had an early night.
The next day we had another early morning as we were headed to Casablanca. So goodbye from the lovely Marrakesh and don’t stop travelling 😉