What an intense and fascinating city !
Two or three days should be enough for any tourist to explore the beautiful and chaotic labyrinth of the Marrakech Medina!
It’s 5.30am when the Muezzin voice is diffused by powerful speakers all around the town to call all the muslim to the first pray of the day and waking us up even before the cockcrow, that will start singing just after the Muezzin making it impossible to fall asleep again!
An early wake up is for sure not a problem since there is so much to explore about the city and the Moroccan culture.
We start with a typical breakfast: tea and Moroccan crepe, a think bread round or square shape that is typically filled with cheese, honey, jam or even Nutella.Can leave Morocco without trying one: be careful is highly addictive!
Full of power here we are at the entrance of this labyrinth and heart of the city:
Small streets departing in any direction and sometimes going in turns around. Only two are the ways out: a map on the mobile with a good GPS or giving your trust to one of the dozens people stopping the undecided tourists with the typical phrase “the square? This way!” and offering them to show the way out.
I always trust more technology, but out of curiosity I decided to carefully follow one of them for once! The result? Being carried around for 20 minutes in doubtful circles and ending up exactly around the corner from where we started.. He even got offended when the tip was poor… I strongly suggest the map solution also because bad guys and thieves exist everywhere in the world! (watch your belongings at all time if you really need to bring them along).
For hours we get lost in the “labyrinth” choosing which turn to take based only on curiosity…
Colourful buildings of an unique style raising for few floors on side of narrow streets that sometimes opens up in small square and new market area, while other times narrowing into sort of tunnels under a building.
Without rest the sellers from shops approach us insistently with any kind of excuse while asking to visit their shops and offering any type of product.
The only way to politely escape is repeating continuously “no shukhran” (“no thanks” in arabic) with a big smile, but even more important: keep walking! The first sign of hesitation is a clear sign of an opportunity to break through 😉
From ornamental Tajine to wood and steel artefacts, home furniture, jewellery, olives and any kind of food, shoes and dresses, mechanics and gas station as well of barber shops are the shops giving directly on the streets. I start doubting of my look when all the barbers on the way offer to cut my hair and bear…
Be carefully on these tiny streets to motorbike, wagons pulled by horses and donkeys or pushed by people are coming from both directions while trying to avoid hitting the people in the streets.
French and Arabic are languages spoken everywhere and I expect some difficulties since my French is poor and my Arabic is limited to very few words (despite the 3 year living in Dubai). But the Medina is all a different World and on top of speaking a good English you can be approached with few phrases in Italian, Spanish, German and who knows how many languages more!
Central reference point in the Medina is the main square of Jeema el-Fna, a fascinating and mystic place.
Here you can find during the day snake charmers using their flutes, trucks selling fresh juices and people offering for few dirhams a photos with with a monkey linked with a chain. Giving them money and getting a shot is for sure fuelling this market and contributing to deprive these animals of their freedom.
Another man is historical of this square: the teeth seller. This old man with his small desk full of teeth and dentures that remained in my memory since my first travel to Marrakech at the age of 12. I look for him everywhere without success till I get his photo from a friend: amazing he still exists!
But it’s in the night that the square really gets active and a bit hectic when tens of food stands are built up everyday and a bunch of people start pulling you on all the side to eat at their stand!
In order to attract people the most pressing arrive to say even “it’s all the same shit”, but if you look well you can find one special local stand offering a unique menu of soup with bread for 3 Dirhams (30 cents of €) and a choice as dessert between fresh dates and the typical Maroccan “chabakia” (a mix of honey, sugar and I suppose bread!)
This is the name of the most typical dish in Morocco and also the name of the pot used to cook it. Various versions of Tajine from the vegetarian one to any kind of land meat or fish. Be careful that even the almond and prune one (being so far my favourite) is actually with a strong base of meat.
Moroccan soup with legumes is another very tasty tradition food, but if you are vegetarian ask twice since sometimes is enriched also with some chicken.
Meanwhile few meters away spontaneous shows in the square entertain tourists, but mostly Moroccan people: music, dancer, acrobat and even games to bet some money.
You will have to find your spot between the people watching in circle and be ready to give a small offer, especially if you want to take photos.
Not to miss at all in the Medina for a visit during the day is the Medrassa Ben Joussef! This traditional school for the high society is an authentic piece of art in all its architecture.
A must see outside of the Medina is the Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful and peaceful garden full of all the most exotic and strange plants on earth.
A visit to a local hammam with massage completes my exploration of the Moroccan culture (It’s definitely very different from the touristic one, and cheaper!). Still uncertain of what is expecting me I enter in this big warm room dressed only with my underwear. I start imitating a local guy while exchanging few words in a mix of French and English, till Hassam arrive. This skinny man not speaking a word of English brings along two big buckets of water, a shampoo and a black soap. He makes me lay down on the floor after “cleaning” it with a bit of water and start with his massage. First the back, then the front. After it it’s the time of the scrub of the whole body with a glove (also rinsed with hot water in order to clean it…). Front and back again. The last step, shampoo and wash of the whole body with a soap entangled in a net, just in case the scrub was not enough!
Few days and you will be saturated by the pressing requests in the Medina and looking for an escape…
I look for it in the South heading to Ouarzazate and to the peace and beauty of the desert before heading to the coast and ultimately on the mountains on near Marrakech!
The Photo Gallery: