First podcast is in English, the second is in Italian.
We’ve been back from Marrakesh for a week now. Since this would have turned into a small novel if l decided to just write about it, l added an accompanying podcast so as to squeeze in as much information as possible. New for the blog is Federico’s take on Marrakesh in Italian, so if you want to listen to Italian, or just hear what he sounds like, here’s your chance. The journey started out a little rough when l realized upon getting to the airport that l had forgotten my luggage at home :-(. A trip to the souk fixed that upon arrival though. Marrakesh deserves your visit. Here are the reasons why l think more and more people are discovering a part of Africa that has long been a playground for the extremely rich and very famous people like The Beatles in their prime, The Rolling Stones, and Winston Churchill.
History of Marrakesh:
Turbulent history- Marrakech went through so many power struggles and captures in it’s over a thousand-year history. It still managed to rise from the literal ashes and stands as a true testament in the face of adversity. It was ruled at various times by the Almoravids, the Marinids and the Saadians. It ultimately became a French Protectorate and home to stars like Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. Marrakesh became independent in 1956.
The new city (Ville Nouvell), now called Gueliz was formed by the French diplomats, and planner Henri Post was commissioned to design it in 1914 on the outskirts of the Medina walls. Marrakesh became a “hippie Mecca” in the 60’s and a lot of the rock stars and fashion designers made homes there. Moroccans launched a grand plan to rid themselves of the long-haired westerners and their drug culture, clearing them out by the mid 70’s. French expats then moved in and began renovating the old town. It became a UNESCO heritage in 1982. Gueliz is where you would find all the modern conveniences of life, like banks, ATM, mall, theater etc. I prefer the old town.
Connection to South Spain (Andalusia) and Seville in particular. The Koutoubian mosque minaret is actually a twin of the one at the Giralda. Same thing for the one at the Hassan Tower in Rabat. Since the Giralda was used as a model for so many other church towers, like Moscow’s Red Square ones for instance, you could say it’s influence is indeed far-flung.
Arabic is the official language, with French being the second language. It makes sense therefore that most of the tourists are French people. A lot speak English as well, especially the younger ones, so don’t let that stop you.
Where we stayed:
Our fantastic Riyadh Farhan experience, right in the middle of the Medina. Don’t even think of staying anywhere else :-)
Find fantastically priced Hotels in Marrakech
What to see in Marrakech: Not to miss places
The Djemaa el Fna Square
The main square in the Medina. Huge and lively. This is where you find the snake charmers and some scary looking monkeys and their handlers. Do not take pictures of them though, unless you are willing to shell out €1-2 per picture. No, thank you!
Why is there a monument to Yves Saint Laurent you ask? Because he donated it to his adopted city. He was a famous designer and this was his primary house that he shared with his partner for many years. This is a bit far from the old Medina, so you would need to take a cab. It’s worth seeing though. The beauty of the garden and the house itself is quite lovely. He had good taste and he was beloved by the people.
Agdal Gardens Marrakesh:
Loads of Palm trees jostling for space with super humongous estates, and camels too! You can do a camel ride here for cheaper than most other places. It’s a gigantic Botanical Garden.
Reservoir with water from the Atlas mountains. Wonderful history behind it. Our guide was really nice and very knowledgeable too. It’s a big hangout for families on the weekends we’re told. This is a 12th century Botanical Garden. Orchids and Olive groves and beautiful.
Grand final resting place of the Saadian rulers, and dates back to 1578. The tombs were discovered in 1917. There is a gigantic mausoleum inside holding the remains of like 60 members of the Saadi Dynasty. Absolutely grand and amazing, befitting of royalty.
Ben Youssef Madrasa school of Koran:
A grand old school for teaching the Koran. The rooms are so tiny and it’s hard to imagine a person actually being able to live and sleep in there. It is the biggest Madrasa in Morocco. The inscription at the entrance reads ‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’. It was used for teaching for over 400 years and it’s definitely worth seeing.
Old deserted secondary palace, signs of its grandeur exist in the interior at least. Built in the late 19th century, it was meant to be stunner, the mother lode of palaces, but it never came to be. Bahia means Brilliance. It’s kind of sad that it doesn’t get any use, but it’s worth seeing for the stunning detailed work and you can imagine how grand it must have felt back in the glory days.
My Hammam experience in Marrakesh: (not on podcast)
I chose to have a private Hammam scrub at the Les Cinq Sens in the Djemaa el Fna Square. It is a female only beauty center. The Hammam is the Moroccan version of the Turkish bath. I had this lady who was so thorough, so good. You are first put into a room, given a locker to store your stuff and told to strip, leaving only your panties if you want. I was then taken into this huge steam room. She filled up a huge vat with warm water and lathered me with some sort of licorice soap. I was left to steam, (the room smelled of Eucalyptus) for about 15 minutes.
Next, I was taken to another room and told to lie face down. She put on a glove and went to work. She scrubbed every single part of my body, every nook and cranny, right down to a shampoo. There was no hiding anything from that gloved hand :-). You look at all the dead cells and dirt that are scrubbed of you, and you’re just like wow! because you can’t believe it. I had never felt cleaner, even though l was left with a few tiny bumps on my body. My skin felt baby smooth, and l loved it. Finally, l was wrapped in a huge comfy bathrobe and led to a bed where l promptly fell asleep for a few minutes after sipping on some mint tea. I added on a tonic massage to my scrub, so another girl came to get me when she was ready. The massage was so good, and yes, l nodded off too. It was a great afternoon. My husband wandered around the square while l enjoyed myself. You definitely want to do this. My bill was €32, worth every penny. There are public Hammams which are much cheaper. They are usually €1 to enter and get the scrub, then you tip your scrubber about €5 bringing your total to €6 as opposed to my €12 for the private one. I prefer private :-)
Haggling in the Souk
What not to wear: Try and respect the country and cover up :-)
What we ate: Food in Marrakech
Food cooked in a tagine
Market stall food:
Don’t forget that this is a Muslim country. You should not expect to find alcohol in most places. Your hotel might have it, ours did, but it was €4 for a 250 ml can :-( and a glass of wine was l think €6..yikes!
We brought back with us a couple of tagines to cook with, and l can not wait to cook some meat in them, little veggies, and loads of meat (the opposite of Marrakesh). We also splurged on some really good quality saffron. We have already made saffron and shrimp risotto with it. Fantastic!
Total cost of the trip:
Flights, accommodation and shopping total came to roughly $700
Was it worth it? Yep! absolutely.
Questions you might have are answered?
Safety? Marrakesh is a very safe place. I think it has to do with the fact that there is little alcohol available. It reminds me of Istanbul in that aspect. Lovely!
Visa? Most people will not require one to visit for up to 90 days.
Getting lost in the Medina? Oh..it’s going to happen a lot!!! How to find your way back to the hotel or Riad with the help of the locals.
What do you think of Marrakesh? Have you ever been? Did you like it? and would you recommend it to others? If not, does this sound like a place you would like to visit?