Marrakech, Morocco, October 7 - 9, 2007
Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
85Trip End Jan 05, 2008
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Where I stayed
Marrakech was a major stop on the so-called "hippie trail" in 1960s and 1970s and is now seemingly overrun with tourists, short-term visitors on cheap Easy Jet flights from Britain and mobs on package tours as well as the usual array of backpacker types
Perhaps, though, it would be more appropriate to call Djemaa El Fna, Marrakech's central square and where it all happens, an experience rather than a sight. Although by day a large open space with a smattering of merchant stalls selling basic tourist tack, at night Djemaa El Fna really comes alive, the haunt of street performers, jugglers, story tellers, fire eaters, snake charmers, medicine men, henna tattoo artists, traditional musical ensembles, transvestite dance troupes, and water sellers in funny costumes. By day the square caters to the needs of tourists venturing into and out of the maze of nearby souks and in the early evening fills with tables and outdoor restaurants. Later at night, though, the square becomes the preserve of hordes of local Moroccans out for a night of cheap entertainment.
I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed with the food selections on the square
Marrakech is at its best a place to take in the exotic Oriental atmosphere of winding streets and souks selling an astonishing array of beautiful handicrafts ranging from carpets to marquetry boxes, from brassware to jewelry, from ceramics to spices, and from leather to ironware. Behind the lines of shops selling similar classes of goods in each part of the souk are workshops filled with the busy artisans, almost always men, who make them.
After a couple reconnaissance swoops through the souks I spied a unique item I was starting to think I might not be able to live without - a nearly table-sized round brass plate inlaid with white camel bone and blue, red, and green composite stones in a very Islamic pattern. Yet after much of the usual haggling on my several visits to the shop over three days the merchant and I were still unable to an agreement on price that was within my budget for souvenirs, so I'll just have to call it the treasure that got away.
Marrakech's is more than just atmosphere and experience, though, and has some real sights, including the Koutoubia Mosque, the historic central mosque with the tallest minaret in the Maghreb countries, the Saadien Tombs (a special cemetery for the descendents of the prophet Mohamed and the Saadien princes), and an Almoravid era shrine named Koubba Ba'adyin. My favorite, though, was the Ale Ben Youssef Medersa, a restored 16th century Koranic school that was the largest in North Africa, site of probably the most beautiful Islamic architecture in Marrakech. After seeing the sells the students lived in I won't complain about the size of the room I live in when I stay at my parents' house.