Marrakech – Part 1

The city of Marrakech is a real favorite of ours, as Karen and I have each been there three times – together the last two. In fact, the name “Marrakech” was the first subject she and I ever spoke about! Together with our dear friends Molly and Carl, we spent six nights in this delightful place on our recent Moroccan tour.

Koutoubia Mosque

Marrakech is the fourth largest city in Morocco. The city is situated west of the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times. The city was founded in 1070 by Emir Abu Bakr ibn Umar as the imperial capital of the kingdom. Beginning in the 17th century the city became popular among Sufi pilgrims for its seven patron saints who are entombed here.

Marrakech comprises an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls. The medina quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco, with some 18 souks selling wares from traditional Berber carpets to modern consumer electronics. Crafts employ a significant portion of the population, who primarily sell their products to tourists.

Our first day was primarily taken up with a medina tour conducted by Fatima, a lovely young tourist guide. We met at the Koutoubia Mosque, a familiar landmark in the city. The mosque features intricate tile work, salmon-hued walls, expansive archways and an impressive 253-foot tall minaret. It was built in the 12th century.

Our first stop was a visit to the Saadian tombs. This cemetery features more than 160 tombs filled with the remains of prominent Saadians, who were members of an Arab dynasty and descendants of the prophet Muhammed. The tombs date back to the 14th century and the decor from the 16th century includes cedar ceilings, colorful mosaics and Carrera marble headstones.

We then visited the Bahia Palace. This 19th century palace exemplifies the lavish lifestyle of the Moroccan elite. The property housed various Moroccan royals. The public areas are open and feature rounded entryways that lead to colorful mosaics and intricate latticework, as well as cool shady walkways that lead to vast, sunny courtyards and gardens.

We then enjoyed a delightful lunch at the LeJardin Restaurant.

After lunch, we diverted from museum-like visits to wandering and shopping in the souks. There are literally miles of narrow, winding “streets” (no cars, only people, donkeys and motorbikes) with shops, cafes, bakeries, hammams, spice stands, etc. to ogle at. The bakery was quite interesting. Each neighborhood typically has a local bakery which bakes bread supplied by the residents.

And nearby a man is heating fires to supply steam for the adjacent Hammam (Local baths) and cooking tanjias for a local restaurant – beef or lamb dish baked in a clay pot under ashes.

And then the souks and shops.

A major highlight in Marrakech is the main square known as Jemaa el Fna, filled during the day with food stands, vendors, orange juice stands, snake charmers, donkey carts and hundreds if not thousands of people milling around. Then at night the hot food stands come out, offering sheep’s head, tagines, tangias, fried seafood, snails and other Moroccan dishes.

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