Souks in the City
The romantic pink oasis city of Marrakech has, as Helen Flanagan discovered, an evocative and unforgettable allure.
Car drivers and cyclists curse loudly in French as they swerve and play dodge-ems with pedestrians around the Medina, the old walled section of the original border of the city of Marrakech, which was founded by the Almoravids in 1070.
It’s a short distance from Hotel Es Saadi to the architectural attractions, most of which are inside the Medina, however our friend and expert on all things Morocco Carol Prior, says best we stay cool and take a horse drawn carriage instead of walking in the heat.
A real eye-opener is the Majorelle Gardens, which were created by French artist Jacques Majorelle early last century, before acquisition and restoration by Yves Saint Laurent. There’s an overpowering abundance of vegetal forms representing five continents, vivid cobalt-blue buildings and the fragrances are an olfactory delight.
The 3-hectare reflecting reservoir at Menara Gardens seemed a strange place to visit at first, but 800 years ago this engineering marvel was built to carry precious water via terracotta pipes from the Atlas Mountains. Today, apart from being a tourist attraction and home to one of the world’s largest stages, it irrigates the surrounding olive groves.
The Koutoubia Mosque which was built in 1147, was demolished because it was not aligned to Mecca, then rebuilt in the 12th century with a square-based minaret that dominates the skyline.
The gracious Palace De La Bahia was built 115 years ago lavishing using marble, stucco and mosaics. Courtyards open onto formal areas including the sunken garden, central pool and the harem area built for the Grand Vizier’s four wives and 24 concubines. Hidden away are the Saadian Tombs.
Today Morocco remains a monarchy with King Mohammed VI who maintains 13 palaces – one in each of the country’s principal cities – and allows some democratic reform. The country is safe and friendly however if you feel hassled, the Moroccan Arabic phrase “La Shukram” meaning “no thank you’ comes in very handy, especially at the Place Djemmaa El-Fna the expansive square and the labyrinth of the souks.
Along the maze of alleyways where Moroccan wares are grouped by specific wares, it’s an adventure getting lost amongst enticements such as sweet treats, aromatic spices, colourful silk and skeins of wool, irresistible jewellery, kaftans, babouches (slippers) and other traditional clothing, tempting leather, silver, brass and pottery, running the gauntlet of gift-of-the-gab carpet salesmen plus having a tactile experience by slathering on rose cream and argan oil at the Herboriste La Baraka.
At dusk leaving the souks and negotiating the square is mind-boggling. It’s filled with hawkers with charcoal braziers selling spicy merguez sausages, kebabs, and goat’s head soup, plus transvestite acrobats, snake charmers, monkey grinders and men with tables of false teeth, all trying to extract a few dirhams in exchange for their photograph.
We hightailed it for a gin and tonic at the bar of the very grand La Mamounia Hotel, a favorite of the world’s elite since 1923, when Winston Churchill escaped the pressures of war by painting the Atlas mountains from his suite, and where today’s international business moguls, sports stars, and artists mingle within Jacques Garcia-designed interiors or under the shade of 700 year-old olive trees grown for a Moroccan prince
If it’s good enough for Winston Churchill it’s perfect for us.
At dusk leaving the souks and negotiating the square is mind-boggling
We hightailed it for a gin and tonic at the bar of the very grand La Mamounia Hotel, a favorite of the world’s elite since 1923
If you go:
Visit: www.bypriorarrangement.com Email Carol Prior: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mature Traveller can highly recommend travelling with Carol Prior’s By Prior Arrangement, having experienced her tours, accommodation and places visited in Morocco.
Email Carol Prior: email@example.com