Marrakech, Morocco

I went to Marrakech, Morocco for 3 full days and 3 nights.  I saw and experienced so many things but I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.  I stayed in a lovely riad which is a large, traditional Moroccan home with a central courtyard.  The courtyard has a fountain or water feature like sort of like a pool in it and there are 2-3 floors of rooms surrounding it.  This one is called the Riad dar Sheba and is run by a very friendly, young French couple, which brings me to my next point.  The official language in Morocco is Arabic but French is widely spoken and taught in schools.  I was extremely thankful with my improved French because it came in handy.

Day one was a day of exploring. My riad was located in the medina, the walled old part of the city with a labyrinth of streets.  Street signs and logic don’t apply here.  I was worried about getting lost but the main landmark is the Koutoubia Mosque.  If I needed to gain my bearings, I looked for the tall minaret.  I walked to Jamaa el-Fnaa, a large open square and market.  My senses were inundated.  Horse drawn carriages, smells of oils and spices, sounds of snake charmer horns, drums, extreme dry heat, and the sticky sweetness of fresh pressed orange juice.  One thing I picked up on right away is how in tune the market entertainers and vendors are to the tourists.  Anyone seen with a camera is immediately approached and asked for money.  As I sat with my OJ, two women applying henna to hands and feet came to me.  One grabbed my hand and in seconds applied a design on one third of it.  Then she commanded, “now you have to pay me”.  She wanted 450 dirhams, about 41€. I said no way and after some back and forth, gave her 20 Dhs.  A check for me to be sharp and mindful. During my exploring, I came across La Mamounia, a 5-star hotel.  I read about their gardens so I walked in for a peek.  Let me tell you, this place is the most deluxe hotel I’ve ever seen.  Enormous rooms of plush chairs, tables, and lamps.  Long arcades of intricate tile work and wood doors and a large garden with a high wall of fuchsia bougainvillea.  I went back here on Day 3 and felt all fancy ordering a shrimp-avocado salad and Coke Zero.

Day two I hired a private guide to take me around to the biggest attractions.  We walked around Koutoubia Mosque.  I did not go inside as I am not Muslim.  We went to the Saadien Tombs first.  It is a large mausoleum dating back to 1578-1603.  Sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty are interred here, surrounded by ornate cedar and stucco work.  My guide told me that the cedar comes from the Atlas Mountain region.  There were several feral cats and kittens amongst the tombs.  Some cats were friendly as they are dependent on humans for food.

Next stop:  Bahia Palace.  My guide, Salim, said it was built in the late 19th century and pointed out the ornate painted cedar ceilings.  An influential guy named Abu Ahmed brought in craftsmen from Fez and took up residence here along with his 4 wives and 24 (!!) concubines.  After the palace, Salim took me through the winding streets of the medina.  He walked fast and I had to tell him to slow down so I could see things and take photos.  We walked through areas where artisans were tanning leather, dying wool, hammering metal pots and lanterns, making rugs, and pressing argan oil.  They were mostly crammed into small workplaces often in bare feet.  This is where Salim took me to his friends and the hard sales pitches began.  I bought a few things–a pair of sandals and a scarf.  I was more interested in the artisanry and process than coming back to France with rugs and glass tea sets.  Besides, I only brought a backpack with no carry-on luggage.

Next stop before lunch:  the Ali Ben Youssef Madersa.  Try saying that 5 times fast.  This was the highlight of the day.  So much so that I went back early the next day to see it again at my own pace and I ended up having the place to myself for a while, which was amazing.  This was a 16th century school for young men to study the Qu’ran.  There was a large courtyard surrounded by two levels of 130 small, austere rooms.  4 students slept in each room unless their families had money to pay for a 2-person room; same size.  Even with 2 people it would be crowded!  As many as 900 students attended the school in its prime.  It was hard to find on my own the next day but I asked for directions and a kind man walked me part of the way.  The school closed in 1960.

Are you still with me?  Next stop was lunch then Le Jardin Majorelle or, Majorelle Garden. Salim left me for an hour for lunch and during this time he did his ablution and prayed.  He was originally going to leave me at a place that served a 3-course lunch for 15€ but I didn’t need that much food.  I also wouldn’t spend that much on lunch in France so I asked for a simpler, traditional place.  I ordered a meat tagine and bottle of water for about 45 Dhs, 4€.  A tagine is the ceramic pot used to cook the food.  A blend of savory spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, with onions, carrots, and zucchini in a bit of broth, not much.  I’m not sure what meat it was, possibly goat.  It was a bit tough but the seasoning was good. The other highlight of the trip was Le Jardin Majorelle.  I was really looking forward to going here.  From it’s website:  “It took French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) forty years of passion and dedication to create this enchanting garden in the heart of the “Ochre City”.”  It was a nice break from the hot, dry city outside of the medina.  The bold cobalt blue used extensively in the architecture and garden is named after him–Majorelle Blue.  Yves St Laurent first visited the garden in 1966 and was enchanted.  When he later learned that the garden was to be sold and replaced with a hotel, he purchased it in 1980 along with his life and business partner, Pierre Bergé.  Together they nurtured the garden to respect the vision of M. Majorelle and took up residence in the villa.  St Laurent was inspired here and created his paintings and collages in a studio.  Now I’m inspired, too!  When he passed away in 2008 in Paris, his ashes were scattered in the garden and a memorial placed on the premises.

I was done with my guided tour before 3PM so for the rest of the day and the following day, I did more exploring, food sampling, and shopping.  I had planned to go to a Hammam spa to be exfoliated and massaged but since I was recovering from chickenpox this wasn’t a good idea.  I got a foot massage, which was great.  I never felt unsafe but quickly avoided making eye contact with vendors and men to avoid unwanted attention.  There is so much more to say and photos to share but this post will go on for a very long time.  It was a unique travel experience that I recommend to you!

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