Hop On Hop Off and the Kasbah

bus

I don’t normally do this.  I like exploring a place on my own, by foot as much as possible.  But somehow in the flurry of things, I agreed to hop on this bus (price of which is outrageous by my standard – but what the heck!) and surveyed the city.

Tour-Historique

We got on near the Koutoubia Mosque, made a quick drive through around the entire city and got off where we got on.

koutoubia

A glimpse of where the hop on hop off bus took us.

club mediterreneanClub Mediterranean
Av.-Abd.-KhattabiAv. Abd. Khattabi — This major route connects Casablanca and the road to Agadir.
La-Gare-Ferroviere-ONCFLa Gare Ferroviere — ONCF Train Station
Avenue-PrinceAvenue Prince with the Atlas Mountains as backdrop.

Hivernage

With that overview, we thought that the southern part of the medina was a good area to spend the rest of the day.

Kasbah-Mosque

Approaching the Kasbah, a few steps away from the medina, one immediately sees the Kasbah Mosque, probably the 2nd best-known mosque in Marrakech (Koutoubia being the most famous).  kasbah-mosque-2

Built in 1190, the 12th century, historic mosque (known locally as Moulay Yasid Mosque) still features some of the Almohad architecture.  As with most mosques, non-Muslims are off-limits.

Attached to the mosque are the Saadian Tombs, one of the most prominent sites in Marrakech.

line-at-Saadian-Tombs

Set in a small ancient walled garden, the 16th century dynastic tombs of the Saadians are among the finest example of Islāmic art.

garden-saadian-tombs

Dotted around the shrubbery are the early mosaic graves of lost identities.  These tombs were discovered preserved, unchanged since the glory days of the Saadian rulers.

saadian-tomb

When discovered in the early 20th century, the entrance was blocked, which may be the reason it remained untouched for hundreds of years.

Untitled-1

A short walk through the Kasbah’s streets will bring you to the Badi Palace.

badi-palace

A sultan’s palace, the elaborate 350 rooms, 16th century residence had ornately decorated rooms in its day.

badi-palace-2

Walls and ceilings were encrusted with gold while the inner court had an enormous pool in the center and flanked by 4 sunken gardens.

badi-palace-door

Today it is a denuded ruin when thieves emptied the rooms of valuables after Meknes became the capital in the late 1600s.

badi-palace-entrance

And storks and pigeons had found a home to build their nests in its walls.

Untitled-2Still, these are rubbles worth exploring.

Experience Historic Marrakech

Alahu Akbar, god is great, come and pray,” an imam calls to the neighborhood over a loud-speaker, a familiar background noise by now.  In a different light, tradesmen standing outside his store enthusiastically calls for attention to sell with “Konichiwa,” “Ni Haw,” or a simple “Hello.”

wider-streets

The medina, albeit still a maze, is not as intimidating as the one in Fes.  Weaving through the wider (relative to Fes’) streets,

leather-goods

I breathe in an assortment of aromas, the whiff of floral scent of potpourri; the intense smell of mix spices; the fragrance of shredded wood; the distinct odor of leather.

souks

various-metalworks

I notice that, in contrast to Fes, the medina is packed with shops intended for tourists.  Though having earned the reputation of being ruthless shopkeepers, I saw them as affable to foreigners often calling out a “Where you from?” and returning an “Ah Philippine, welcome to Morocco!”

woodwork-spectacle

Adding to this are tout craftsmen who invite curious people like us to be entertained, at the very least – I picked up a few of his merchandise.   🙂

Atlas-mountains

Marrakech also known as the “Red City” is a major city of Morocco, north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.

red-walls

The city surrounded by blush colored walls, initially a fortress and a symbol of power, was constructed in the 12th century, the bricks used is a mixture of red mud and water from the Hazou plains.

The city is divided into two distinct parts – the medina and the new European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle.

guelizShops in Ville Nouvelle

This post will be all about the historic city, its market and its famous square.  Get lost in the narrow, labyrinth streets of this ancient rose-hued city and let it take you back in time.

Djemaa el-Fna

kotoubia

It is said that the minaret of Koutoubia mosque is the heart of Marrakech, but the soul of the city lies just 200 meters away, in the city’s market square and forum that has been in existence since its foundation.

jemaa-el-fna-from-terrace

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, it owes its fame to its size, its unique atmosphere, and for bringing history to life daily.

snake-charmers

A medieval circus of musicians, dancers, snake charmers, story tellers… share the square with the fruit and juice stands.

juice-stand

dried-fruit-standChaotic yet in tune with the din of drumbeats and enthusiastic hollers.

extort

chilling

The way to experience it is to be among it all but the best way, I found out, is to watch the hustle of activities and be entertained by Djemaa el-Fna’s daily performers from any of the peripheral cafes and restaurants’ upper terrace.

terrace-cafe

It will be a show you don’t want to miss.

The show doesn’t peak until sundown when the square has a different life.  Rows of street stalls under giant white tents are set up each night not only for the tourists but are, in fact, local food jaunts, as well.

night-stalls

Food is prepared hot and fresh along the countless stalls serving authentic favorites one must have when in Morocco.  Head out one night and eat like the locals do and be serenaded with the sounds of live Moroccan music.  Troupes of Andalusian or Gnaoua musicians perform as part of a dinner show around the square.

bocadios-sandwich

If the confusion seems to be overwhelming, look for small eateries serving these sandwiches they call bocadios.

bocadios

Amazing stuff found in the corners of the medina away from the disarray – it helps though if you can speak Moroccan or French.

meringue

And just outside, a lady sells wonderful Moroccan sweets.  Perfect for dessert.

belly-dancing

Or escape to an evening of belly dancing, for a different kind of entertainment.

mint-tea-pouringThe proper way to pour Moroccan mint tea, as performed by our very gracious waiter.

Wander and get lost around the endless maze of souks

Marrakech has the largest traditional market in Morocco and it is so easy to spend your dirham at the seemingly endless maze of souks inside the medina.

souk-entrance

A network of souks begins on the north edge of Djemaa el-Fna and ends at the Ben Youssef Madrasa, comprising of alleyways of local shops full of character.

lighting-store

choice-boutiques

The further in you venture, the more fascinating they become from souks touting everything to the (more) sedate choice boutiques.

carpets

Find Berber carpets, pick up wood carvings, try on djellabas and babouches,

herbolist

or merely listen to herbalists sell you miracle cures for the aging, wander and get lost, then get help from a bunch of boys playing in the street… all these are part of the fun when exploring Marrakech’s medieval souks and winding streets.

Do all these because if you have not gotten lost, if teenagers have not offered to help you find your way out, if they didn’t hassle you for a tip, if you have not been greeted and lured by jovial merchants in five different languages, you have not experienced Marrakech.

Useful Info:

(Belly Dancing Show)
Restaurant Dar Essalam
170 Riad Zitoun Kedim
For Reservations: 212 (0) 5 24 44 35 20
 
Les Terrasses de l’Alhambra
3 Place Jemaa El Fna, Medina
212 (0) 5 24 23 75 70

Meet Adam

Gracious-HostCredits: Quickpage created by Reeta Treat using “4Ever” collaborative kit created for JessicaSprague.com

A stocky young man with glasses, wearing a baseball cap, leather jacket and track pants, Adam is not the typical Moroccan you see walking around the medina.  He talks with an American twang.  It is because although born in Morocco, he and his siblings grew up in Canada, Adam explains as he leads us to a beautiful riad he calls home.  He runs the riad that he renovated with his parents when they decided to go back home to Morocco.

bedroom

Riad Slawi is cozy with 4 rooms (5 actually if you count Adam’s room on the ground floor) tastefully designed in classic Moroccan fashion.

courtyard

Typical of riads, it has a (well-lit) courtyard where we were served traditional, homemade breakfasts.

breakfast

But what I love best about the house is this stylish yet cozy sitting lounge where I would read and write in my journal on down time.

sitting-lounge

Hands down my favorite home in Morocco.

Famished from travelling all day, we asked Adam where we could get some local street food. He walked us back to the entrance of the medina and brought us to a hole in a wall where we had some awesome kebab.

hole-in-a-wall-eatery

Surrounded by local folks, we sat on stools vacated by a group of teens and heartily ate the grilled beef, lamb and chicken Adam ordered for us.

kebab

This is what I call an awesome welcome to Marrakech.

The guidebooks and people we meet along the way were not remiss in cautioning us of touts, hustlers, scammers, etc.

Adam

Adam, however, more than cleared its reputation.  He graciously offered to buy train tickets to Tangiers for us, even booked us a hotel near the train station, He allowed us to  leave our bags with him while we spent 2 days in Essaouira, and arranged to have us picked up at the bus station when we returned.  His kind certainly makes up for all the Saids of Morocco.  Such a gracious host and a real darling, I must say.

Useful Info

Riad Slawi
92 Derb Almed el Borj
Sidi Ben Slimane, Kaa Sou
+212 524 37 7967