Mysterious medinas, magnificent mosques, palaces and squalor, snake charmers and water men. Marrakech is a magical place that blends incredible sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. It’s sensory overload for western monkeys like Kongo. You have to go there.
The monkey spent two days in Marrakech. It should have been longer. Actually the monkey succumbed to a bad cold (still recovering) on the second day so he needed a do-over but he saw quite a bit on the day he was healthy.
Marrakech is one of the imperial cities of Morocco and was founded sometime in the 10th century. It’s the most visited city in Morocco and has an exotic reputation that is a mixture of Mardi Gras, Hollywood, and Lawrence of Arabia. Beautiful Islamic architecture is everywhere you look and lush gardens envelop you as you walk about. Winston Churchill, who hung out here a lot in the 1930s and 40s declared it “the last paradise on earth.” We all know that Sir Winston embellished at times but he probably wasn’t far off opining on Marrakech.
The Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in Marrakech, is surrounded by gardens and water features. Built in the 12th century it has an interesting twist: They had to rebuild the mosque when they found out that it wasn’t perfectly aligned to allow the faithful to pray in the direction of Mecca. They toyed with the idea of just adjusting where you stood inside but they didn’t like that fix so they actually rebuilt the entire thing. The original foundations still exist next to the present building and serves as an overflow area for worshipers. (See photo below).
Water sellers still roam the streets. Historically, these guys would sell water to thirsty travelers who had just crossed the High Atlas Mountains and desert plain leading to Marrakech. They carry goat skin bags decorated with coins from around the world and dip out water for a small fee.
Kongo actually saw locals taking drinks from these guys and it’s supposed to be good luck to have a sip but the monkey passed on the opportunity to sip water that probably tasted more like goat than anything else.
The Bahia Palace was built by the Grand Vizier of Marrakech in the 19th Century to house his four wives and 24 concubines. There are beautiful gardens throughout the palace.
Walking through the streets and alleyways of the Marrakech medina takes you into another world. While these passageways were marginally wider than those of the Fez medina they were pretty narrow and you had to be alert for motorcycles and carts squeezing by you.
Mrs. Kongo had been waiting for the medina. All during the trip whenever someone talked about shopping our guide, Said, always said, “Wait for Marrakech …” and went on to emphasize that this was a “cultural” tour not a “shopping” tour. That may all be well and good but when Said said, “Okay, is 30 minutes enough time for shopping?” Mrs. Kongo’s jaw dropped and she blurted out, “WHAT?!!!” Little did Said realize that for Mrs. Kongo every cultural tour is really a shopping tour disguised as culture. Eventually an hour time slot was negotiated. Kongo just looked at Said, shrugged his shoulders, and said: “Happy wife, happy life.” Mrs. Kongo went shopping.
Negotiating a full hour, Mrs. Kongo headed bravely into the medina with Kongo following behind to carry bags. Actually, Kongo wanted to do a bit of shopping himself. He collects Arabic coffee pots and has them from all over the Middle East and wanted one from Morocco. He finally negotiated an “antique” vessel with berber inscriptions that fits in nicely with his collection. But with three granddaughters, two daughter-in-laws, two sons, and miscellaneous friends, Mrs. Kongo shifted into her power shopping mode.
Of course we had to buy another bag to bring all the stuff home. This isn’t the first trip where extra baggage worked its way back to California.
Just outside the medina is the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Here you can find chained (seriously?) Barbary apes, snake charmers, juice stands, vendors, and just about anything else you were looking for somewhere else and couldn’t find.
The next day there was a cooking class in the morning. Kongo participated for a brief period then opted to return to bed with a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.
Our hotel in Marrakech was the eclectic La Maison Arabe located inside the Medina. It’s got a slinky jazz bar, a spa, pool, and wonderful little nooks and crannies to curl up in.
Marrakech is the most popular destination in Morocco. It’s easy to see why.
Travel safe. Have fun!