We are soon on our way to Marrakech. You can almost hear everyone humming the Crosby, Still & Nash song to themselves …
An unremarkable landscape yields to a medina, with a mass of rooftop satellite dishes offering a stark contrast to both the sand colored walls and the brilliant blue sky. We pass through a downtown that feels like Casablanca, before reaching the old town. Driving in any Moroccan medina is a true art form, but again Mohamed shows his skill in spite of another GPS failure.
I am happy to be traveling sans luggage this trip as the rest of my party carts mounds of luggage through a small souk to the Riad Adriana. We enter a courtyard, where we sip tea and nibble sweets, seated around a center fountain filled with rose petals.
Having just checked out of the Palais des Roses, we find ourselves in a true palace of roses … there are rose petals scattered -everywhere- in our rooms…
We have only the briefest time to enjoy this opulance before visiting the nearby Majorelle Gardens. surround a villa that was built in the 1920’s for Jacques Majorelle (a French Orientalist painter). Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge lived in the villa here, now a museum. (Click here for some history.)
I found the gardens to be somewhat garish, but I left a kiss on the Yves Saint Laurent memorial, and then entered the Musee Berbere which he and Pierre founded in order to help preserve Berber culture here.
Of all the places to not allow photographs …. !!!!!!!
Our next stop is the Jemaa el Fna, or Central Square. Marrakech is considered one of Morocco’s four Imperial cities, founded in 1062. It became a center of culture and learning, with Andalusian style mosques and palaces.
The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech, built on the site of the original mosque which was destroyed in 1147. It’s minaret was the model for the Hassan Tower in Rabat, and stands 230 feet high and would serve as our landmark during our visits to the Jemaa el Fna.
We walk to the back of one of the souks, where the oldest caravansary stands, or at least the remains of it, since it now appears to be a dumping ground for junk and trash. Next is a bakery, with the oven so deep inside the building that the baker uses 6-8 foot paddles to move the loaves around in the wood fired oven.
Being non-Muslims, we cannot enter the Koutoubia Mosque, but we do visit the Medersa Ben Youssef, the largest school for Koranic study in Morocco when it was built in the 14th century. It’s most outstanding features are its carved cedar and plaster ceilings and glass dome.
We circle through the old souk, past a woodworker operating a bow lathe, and dyers, and leatherworkers. We end our day with dinner at the Restaurant Riad Omar, overlooking the square and affording a wonderful sunset view of the Koutoubia Mosque from their outdoor terrace.
The Jemaa el Fna is the 1000 year old heart of Marrakech, filled with snake charmers, storytellers, monkeys on chains plying for coins; merchant stalls of every description and just about as many food choices. Marrakech is described as a true contradiction – African and Arab, Eastern and Western, religious and secular, chic and rough-and-tumble. When I return to this spot tomorrow, I would encounter a riot of color and sound and a kaleidoscope of cultures in an atmosphere that would remind me of Venetian Carnivale after dark.
But that would be tomorrow night, after a day in the High Atlas Mountains.