Marrakech – mere mention of the name conjures up images of the exotic!
We arrived on the public bus from Essaouira around 6pm, taxied to our hotel for refreshing showers, then headed out just after 8pm for the 40-minute walk to Djemaa el Fna, the huge square that forms the very heart of this great city. The square is a busy place during the day but it’s at night that it truly comes alive, pulsating to the beat of musicians and acrobats; full of snakecharmers and men with monkeys urging tourists to pay for photos; with women who will henna your hand with a pretty design for just 20 dirhams; containing orange juice sellers and food stall holders, enticing you to drink and eat their freshly cooked local produce. Scrumptious!
That dinner and another, at the hotel the following night, marked the end of the organised part of our Intrepid travel ‘Best of Morocco’ tour but I had booked an extra 3 nights to explore this exotic city. So, what attractions did I visit in Marrakech?
My sightseeing started with a visit to Le Jardin Majorelle. Frenchman Jacques Majorelle began to landscape this garden in 1924 and opened it to the public in 1947. After his death in 1962, Yves St Laurent and Pierre Berge acquired and restored the property to ensure its continuing existence. It’s a shady haven in the 40 degree heat and, as well as enjoying the magnificent plantings, I found the use of bright colours on pots and walls very picturesque. As well as a small but exquisite
there is a memorial to Yves St Laurent within the grounds, plus, if you fancy a little retail therapy, boutique shops selling his artwork and garments. Berber Museum
The following day, we explored two former royal residences, the first of which was the
whose name means magnificent. And it certainly was! Constructed between 1894
and 1900, it includes a selection of beautifully decorated rooms surrounding
courtyards planted with lush gardens. The decoration includes zelliji (mosaic
tile work) and finely sculpted and painted plaster and wood, as you can see
from these images. Bahia Palace
It wasn’t much further on to the Bardi Palace, which, though now mostly a ruin, was still fascinating. The palace was constructed in the 16th century by the Saadian dynasty, by Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour Saadi, to celebrate his victory over the Portuguese army in 1578 in the ‘
of the Three Kings’. The tall earthen walls, on top of which storks have built
huge nests, enclose a large central pool surrounded by four sunken gardens
planted with orange trees. Battle
Later that day, I had some time to myself so walked around the Koutoubia Mosque, close to the main square. I didn’t go inside but could still admire its beautiful Islamic architecture – the curved windows and arches, the ceramic inlay. Built in the reign of Yaqub al-Mansur, who reigned from 1184 to 1199, the mosque has an impressive 77-metre-high minaret. The mosque looks very picturesque when floodlit at night and, as it was Ramadan, it was flooded with Muslims every time the call to prayer rang out over the central city.
The next day my fellow tour members had all departed so I had a day to explore Marrakech on my own. Rather than walk from place to place in the 40 degree heat, I bought a ticket for the Hop-on Hop-off tourist bus. First stop was the Menara, a 12th-century 100-hectare park, or rather a gigantic olive grove. Though redesigned in the 19th century, the Pavilion dates from the time of the Saadians, and contains the beautiful tile work and painted ceilings I had come to love in Moroccan architecture. It fronts on to a large water reservoir, which serves to irrigate the gardens and would provide nice reflections of the Pavilion, if it was better tended – the pond and water were looking rather dirty when I visited though did still create an illusion of coolness in the overwhelming heat.
|Camels parked in La Palmerie, for tourists to sit on and have their photos taken|
As well as touring around the central city attractions, one of the tourist buses does a circuit of La Palmerie, a huge area of date palms covering about 12,000 hectares, not far outside the city. Legend has it that, after eating dates brought back from the
the soldiers of the 11th century Almohad Sultan Youssef ben-Tachfine spat out
the stones around their encampment, the stones germinated and thus began La
Palmerie. Nowadays, the area contains the expensive houses of diplomats and
princesses, all set within patrolled and secure gated communities. Not my idea
of a pleasant place to live.
|Did I mention the bazaars and the shopping?|
That night was my last in
Morocco – the next day I
was off to Manchester, to begin 5 weeks visiting
friends in various parts of .
had been on my list of places to visit for many many years so my expectations
when I arrived had been high. I’m happy to say I was not disappointed – the
Intrepid Travel tour was excellent, we had visited some amazing places and
enjoyed some wonderful activities and experiences, and the people of Morocco were
friendly and welcoming. I would love to return for a much longer time, to work
and live in this magnificent country. Morocco