Imagine all your senses being stimulated at once, the smell of spices & food, the taste of ‘whiskey marocain’ (mint tea), the sight of vivid colours in the souks & smoke plumes emanating from the food stalls, the warmth of the sun on your skin, the stickiness of the humidity, the cobbled streets teeming with people, the rousing call to prayer, the sounds of the snake charmers’ instruments, drums beating, mopeds speeding past, people selling their wares. This is Marrakesh. It’s loud, it’s big; it’s an exuberant friend – the life and soul of the party. Don’t be fooled by its liveliness, it also has quiet moments; in the beautiful riads, the ruined palaces, the less frequented streets away from the tourist spots.
We spent 4 days there at the end of June, staying a stone’s throw from Djemaa el Fna, the city’s amazing square. Famous for its snake charmers, acrobats and storytellers, the square is bustling with people from dawn till well beyond dusk. Stalls selling fresh orange juice, dried fruit, nuts and water are there for the duration. Come the evening, the lantern-lit food stalls set up adding to the already electric atmosphere. The decibels increase: music floods your senses from all quarters & stall holders tout for your business relentlessly. Being at the heart of this organised mayhem makes it an overwhelming yet incredible experience.
Places to see:
Ben Youssef Medersa: My favourite place in Marrakesh was the Ben Youssef Medersa, a koranic school attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque. Exuding a sense of peace and stillness, the large central courtyard is a sight to behold with its intricate carved cedarwood lintels, stucco work and zellij tilework. Mesmerised by such elaborate artistry, I felt transported to a different time. Dormitory quarters are found upstairs and are an insight into how students lived. It’s almost impossible to imagine that at one time over 800 students were housed there.
El Badi Palace: Now a ruin, El Badi Palace was originally commissioned by the Saadian sultan Ahmed el Mansour in the 14th century. Although stripped bare from anything valuable, you can’t help but feel that this was once a place of luxury and magnificence. It is vast and an oasis of calm away from the busy streets of the city.
Koutoubia Mosque & Minaret: Standing at an impressive 70m high, it is found close to the Djemaa el Fna square.
Majorelle Gardens: This carefully laid out botanical garden with groves of bamboo, palm trees, a cactus garden and lily-covered ponds was created by painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s and later owned by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. A delightfully tranquil place, the bright blue pavilion contrasts beautifully with the verdant plants inhabiting this little piece of paradise.
There are many more places to see in Marrakesh and the bus tour is one of the best ways to see the city. You can get off at any of the stops to explore further. And, because the ticket lasts 24 hours, you don’t have to do it all in one day.
Coming soon: Marrakesh, where to eat, sleep & shop…