Africa

Let Me Take You To…Marrakech

The Koutoubia Mosque
photo courtesy of www.mackoo.com
Place Djemaa El Fna

Photo courtesy of www.marrakech-ville.com

Marrakech; a bustling and vibrant city with so much to see and do that it can appear overwhelming, particularly if the sun is beating down on you and you’re hot and tired. Fortunately, you can choose to rest your weary (and more than likely blistered feet) for an hour or two by taking a horse and carriage ride around the city’s main streets, enabling you to sit in the shade and take in the sights and sounds from a rather more majestic position.

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On the journey your coachman will take you past the biggest traditional Berber market (or souk, suuq) in Morocco and to the nearby Place Djemaa el Fna, one of the busiest squares in Africa and possibly the world. Both the souk and the square are unmissable even if you’re only spending a night in the city, and although some will find both to be too hectic and noisy (not to mention smelly with a nostril-tingling blend of horse manure, spices and smoke), it really is worth braving the crowds to experience it firsthand. The Souk sells all manner of things, many of which you can watch being handcrafted, and you’re bound to discover something that you simply can’t walk away without buying. As for the square, during the day there are snake charmers, healers, story-tellers, women offering henna tattoos and various other Moroccan folk selling souvenirs or offering their services (including a man with a rather gruesome collection of false teeth for sale!).

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But it’s when darkness falls that the square really comes alive and the visitor is offered a breathtaking selection of freshly cooked traditional fare from dozens of brightly lit food stalls, the edible delights of which have been sampled by many seasoned celebrity chefs around the world. Lose yourself in the smoky, hypnotic atmosphere of the Square and you will find yourself feeling as if you’re truly in a different world.

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Snake Charmer at the Square

photo courtesy of www.imagesofanthropology.com

Visitors to Morocco may be expecting to see a country bound by strict Muslim laws, in which case Marrakech can come as quite a surprise. Of course the Muslim faith is paramount here, just as it is throughout the entire country, but the city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere allows for its religion to be harmonious with the needs of not only visitors to the city, but its modern residents too; like the huge and ever-growing youth population, many of whom expect to be able to buy and experience the same as their European counterparts.

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Serving as a constant reminder of the Muslim faith are the numerous mosques dotted around the city, but the oldest and in my opinion, most beautiful, is the Koutoubia Mosque, situated near the souk and the square and whose construction began in 1150. The 70m high minaret dominates the skyline and is a good beacon to use when attempting to get your bearings if exploring the city on foot, although should you happen to find yourself a little lost, simply jump in a taxi and for a very small fee your driver will transport you in a suitably hair-raising manner to your destination! Many taxi drivers and shopkeepers will speak a little English, and it is unusual to find hotel staff that aren’t reasonably fluent, but if you can speak French, this will stand you in even better stead. After Arabic and the local dialects, it’s the next most commonly spoken language.

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The Koutoubia Mosque

photo courtesy of www.mackoo.com

Visitors spending more than one night in Marrakech will doubtless tell you of their need to escape the hectic city streets, if only for an hour or two. Aside from returning to your hotel or guesthouse (many of which are situated in the busiest of areas but are mystifyingly tranquil upon entering), the city is home to a number of beautiful and well tended gardens, offering you the perfect place to recharge your travel-worn batteries. The Majorelle Gardens, now owned by Yves Saint Laurent and situated in the cities Ville Nouvelle or ‘new town’, is home to many beautiful plants, flowers and fountains and has an interesting museum too. Other green areas offering solace are the Aguedel Gardens and the popular Imperial Menara Gardens, with 200 acres of serenity and calm at your disposal. All gardens are accessible for a small fee.

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Overall, Marrakech offers the visitor a fascinating window into the beliefs and traditions of a country governed by faith and superstition, and there is simply no better place than this to sample the wholesome cuisine and hospitality for which the Moroccan people are reknowned.

Kate Blanchard
Kate is an English woman currently living in rural Morocco with her husband, Ben, and their mischievous mongrel, Douglas. They moved out there three years ago after Ben was offered employment as the manager of a large fruit farm, and although life can often be challenging for them both with cultural differences and language barriers, they see this as more of a reason to stay, than a reason to admit defeat and leave. Kate tries to find humour wherever possible in life, and finds herself blessed (or as her husband would say, ‘cursed’) with an irrepressible desire to see the beauty and the positivity in what others may see to be ugly and negative. Most of all though, she has a zest for travel and exploration and finds it incredibly satisfying to share her stories of adventure with others, even if it does nothing more than transport the reader to a distant land for a few minutes.

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