A May 2002 trip
to Marrakech by MichaelJM
Quote: We were taking a holiday in Agadir when we had the chance to have a short stay in Marrakesh. The road to Marrakesh beckoned, and we had a break packed full of experiences.
Attraction | "The sights of Djemaa el-Fna"
And then, as if by magic, as the sun began to set, the square began to fill. We saw groups forming around local storytellers. Unfortunately, we could not understand the tales, but the crowds stood transfixed as the performers spoke with feeling and intensity. One teller held a chameleon for added interest.
Snake charmers dragged writhing reptiles out of baskets and began their performances, rapidly sending assistants to prey on any pausing tourist. The colourfully dressed water carriers did seem to have a dual role; first to provide drinkable water to anyone who would pay, and second, to pose, for a few dirham for holiday snaps, but they weren’t the only photogenic individuals on the square! There were guys leading monkeys on chains who would happily let them sit on your shoulders for a payment or intimidate you with them if you resisted the photo call. Snakes were draped round your shoulder and I heard more cries of, "Hey my friend, are you from . . . ?" than I could count.
There were singers (or should I say wailers!), dancers, and a troupe of acrobats performing happily for a few centimes. Belly dancers seemed at home as they waddled around the square; the temporary henna tattooists were out in force, as were the fortune-tellers and the small market traders offering cheap trinkets or second hand English novels.
On top of the intense food smells, the noise level was intense. There were musicians by the score, and they competed with the cries of the traders and the excitement of the growing number of tourists.
After a time, we adjourned for a coffee on the nearby rooftop restaurant. We managed to get a seat overlooking the square, where the whole atmosphere of
Djemaa el-Fna could be realised. We could virtually see food being cooked as the smoke from the griddles filled the square. There was hardly a trestle table unoccupied as the food stalls business thrived and the whole of the floor space was rammed with people.
This is truly an experience that all your senses can savour, and it really is hard to express in words the excitement that you will feel in the "square of the dead."
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 21, 2004
Djemaa el Fna/Jamma el-Fnaa
Attraction | "Souks"
Despite all of that, it is still somehow an environment that demands you recognise the positives. It is an area where commerce thrives and the industrious succeed; where business deals are struck; where the locals socialise over a cup of tea; where individuals pray to their god; and where children are trained as apprentices in the family business. You get a real sense of social cohesiveness, and despite the dark and dusty alleys, it is neither a threatening nor a sinister environment. We saw locals playing checkers, guys shaving, and youngsters skipping down the alleys.
As you progress through the aisles, sometimes they are so narrow that you can touch both sides from the centre. It will be obvious that specialist areas have been allocated for the different crafts, and we occasionally wondered where the market was for so many copper light holders. We saw every product imaginable, ranging from decorated and carved wooden figures, finely polished wooden boxes, enamelled metal work, delicately engraved silverware, fretted copper, to brightly coloured textiles. We toyed with the idea of buying some of the highly decorated plates and treating ourselves to an elaborately designed tajine. We resisted the large choice of leather items, but were very tempted to buy an exquisitely tooled leather pouf. There were large selections of herbs and spices, many I’d ever even heard of.
Within this area, you’ll be able to call in at an apothecary and be spoken to about the wonders of natural medication. They’ll try to sell you cures for all ailments, obesity, and maintaining the body’s equilibrium. As a cold sore sufferer, I bought an ointment to relieve pain and speed up recovery–wish I’d been less cynical and bought more, as this application really works.
At the bottom end of Souq as-Smarrine is the tourist area selling rug, blankets, tourist trinkets, and souvenirs.
Wherever you are in the Souk, fight the fear that you’ll get lost–all alleys will eventually lead back to the main road and you’ll have a great time exploring. Never give the asking price and enjoy your haggling–I’m convinced that they do!
As soon as we entered, we were struck by the tranquillity. The narrow, cool, and dark corridors were full of hushed visitors who, despite the fact that this is no longer a holy teaching establishment, seemed to be showing a high degree of reverence. And then we exited into the light, bright internal courtyard, with the sound of running water as it gushed into a vibrantly tiled pool at the centre. This space is full of beautiful mosaics and ornate plasterwork. The ceiling towered above us, and it’s not difficult to imagine this place when it was full of students, with their excited and yet studious discussions, filling this courtyard with a cacophony of sounds.
Above us, we saw the first-floor arched windows inset into the beautifully carved plasterwork. This was where the students slept. A climb up a narrow staircase, and we were viewing the student bedrooms. I use the term advisedly because the dark, austere rooms were little more than primitive cells and it was evident that the students were only expected to pray or sleep in these rooms. Their arched entrances were just tall enough to allow me to enter without crouching, and once again, there was evidence of intricate carvings on the wooden trellising, the plaster arches, and the walls. What an eye for detail.
Overall, the student accommodation overlooks seven separate courtyards, all linked by a series of dingy, narrow corridors and steep staircases.
With great solemnity, the prayer hall was shown with its intricately carved, cedar wood ceiling and walls displaying carefully carved Koranic calligraphy. I don’t think we saw any spaces in this building that hadn’t been subjected to some kind of carving, painting, tiling, or mosaic application. I’m sure many had real religious meaning, but our guide was "unable to explain the meaning of the artwork to us," so we were just left to marvel at the intricate nature of the designs. Throughout the building, the recurring theme of arches and crescents predominated, with the sound of water fountains "echoing" through the buildings.
Clearly, the building has been subjected to major renovation; indeed, it was still taking place at the time of our visit, but the building is a great example of Islamic architecture. Despite the fact that there were "men at work" at the time of our visit, all the tasks seemed to be carried out in a muted sound. The building whispers, "Respect me," and all of the visitors seem to hear that message.
My lasting memory of this place of learning will be the feeling that, despite its central position, it felt remote and cut off from the rest of Marrakesh. Was this by design? I think so!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 27, 2004
Medersa Ben Youssef
Place Ben Youssef
(044) 39 09 11
As we approached the gardens I was unimpressed, it looks so ordinary from the outside, but we were here, so I would check out the place. Inside was a totally different story. A large variety of cacti strategically placed in front of tall palms set the scene. Could it be like one of many other gardens that we’ve seen?
We first walk through a covered walkway draped with vines and other climbing plants and then we see the cobalt blue painted mansion, Marjorelle’s original home. This is at the centre of the garden, which is so well designed that many of the "main attractions" are hidden from view until you are virtually on top of them. The plot is only about half the original size and it is a little hard to imagine what additional compositions Majorelle had built into the garden in the early days.
One obvious theme is the use of bright colours, which blend into the luscious colours provide by nature. We walked down red paved areas, which led us to fountain gushing pools with bright blue surrounds; relaxed in seated gazebos in the company of bright blue and yellow planters; and then set off down a lane bordered by a striking bamboo fence leading us to a magnificent stone-columned feature. In this blue painted edifice we gazed at the ornate corner columns and were transfixed with a long straight stretch of water that seemed to lead to infinity. How did he do that?
We almost stumbled into a goldfish-infested lily pond–once again encased in a brilliant blue surround with the background of big bamboos and capacious cacti.
As we sat on one of the many strategically placed benches, birds twittered in the bulk of the banana trees and flittered from branch to branch, and we were able to enjoy the serenity of this space. We were visiting in the early morning–the sun was up, it wasn’t too hot, and the garden wasn’t overrun with visitors. It was the ideal time to enjoy this garden.
There’s a museum of Islamic arts within the garden housing a collection of artifacts, including Saint Laurent's personal collection of African carpets, pottery, and furniture. Worth a look if you’ve time, but we didn’t find it mind-blowingly interesting.
This garden is really the artist’s canvas–Majorelle was not a distinguished artist, but he excelled in his garden, using many imported plants to harmonise with the indigenous flowers of Morocco, incorporating the pottery of the area, and blending in large concrete gazebos alongside terracotta planters and gushing fountains.
Ave Yacoub el-Mansour
(00212) 044 30 18 52
The first thing that will strike you as you enter the small, but well-kept grounds to the tombs is the absolute calm. It is hard to place yourself in the bustling city because here the only noise is that of the tourists, both human and bird. You will also see cats prowling the grounds, as this is a haven for Marrakech’s wild cats. Don’t worry, they’re small!
There are three distinct burial areas. One is a sole tomb. I’d like to assume that this contains the remains of al-Mansour, as it would be befitting that the mausoleum’s designer should have pride of place. The second area has been dedicated to the women of the family–initially it appears as an adjunct to the first tomb, but on reflection, it is in a prominent place in the garden. This open-sided building is incredibly ornate, with brightly tiled walls and highly polished marble tiled floor. The appearance of being open to the elements under a high, protective roof provides a real sense of freedom with the boundaries defined, but a real connection with the outdoor garden space.
In contrast to this light, bright space is the dark and restricted area that was reserved for the male successors of al-Mansour and the children. The more open space was reserved, by and large, for the royal children, and it is somewhat chilling to see the small headstones signifying the child deaths in this powerful Saadian dynasty. Typically the building is decorated with intricate stuccowork above a bright mosaic. The superb geometric decorative work extends to the brightly floor and encloses the stark marble pyramid type structure that mark the graves.
At either end and to the rear of this room are darker spaces accessed by the classical, highly decorated tall archways. The tiled theme seemed to run through to these darker niches, confirming that the designer was anticipating the future needs of his dynasty!
All the guidebook references seem to imply that there has been little restoration applied to this building, and it is referred to as the "best surviving example of Moorish craftsmen from Al-Andalus." It certainly is impressive and perhaps the fact that it was sealed for two centuries has assisted its survival. It is indeed a great tribute that will command your admiration and reverence.
Next To Kasbah Mosque, Off Rue De La Kasbah