In the foothills of Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is one of Morocco’s dreamy imperial cities. Although it isn’t the country’s largest city, it’s without a doubt the most touristic one.
From Casablanca, it’s about 30 minutes away by plane and 3 hours away by train. In a warm afternoon, I and my father came to the city by plane. Having travelled to a few Arabian countries, we both knew that we had to bargain with taxi drivers for our way to the city centre. It’s crucially important to pick the right-sized(petit being small and grand being big) taxi and agree on the tariff before the ride, since the taxis don’t use taximeters.
In Marrakech, most of the historical sites are situated in the Medina. The neighbourhood hosts “riads” which are traditional Moroccan houses with interior courtyards and which mainly serve as 4 room hotels today. With little fountains in their interior courtyards/ gardens and Awam w Snin in the background, riads sure make us feel like we’re a character from the 1001 Nights. As if the scene wasn’t enough for The Arabian Nights, it’s supported by mint tea smell 24/7. -It’s possible to rent the entire riad when available, and apparently that’s something firms on holidays and big families do.-
Our riad prepares us a traditional Moroccan breakfast with beghrirs(yellow crepes) and their local bread with different kinds of jams. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have bigger expectations of the breakfast, but that’s typical me with the highest expectations at simply everything. After having a breakfast high in carbohydrates and some tea, we hit the road. Our first destination is the picturesque Medersa Ben Youssef which sets the standards pretty high. The two storey building is used to be an Islamic college. We walk inside the little classrooms and take a big breath hoping to inhale seven centuries of wisdom. Even though we are captivated by the meticulous motifs of the school, we have to move on to our second stop. Narrow streets brings us to the Museum of Marrakech. With its Andalusian architecture and multiple interior gardens with magnificent doors opening to huge rooms enlightened by fancy chandeliers, the museum a.k.a. Dar Menebhi Palace quickly amazes us. Wondering around the house let us experience both contemporary and traditional Moroccan art pieces. Then we head right across to Almoravid Koubba which can apparently only be seen from behind the fences. After taking a couple of pictures of the qoubba, we enter the poetic streets of Souks. The spice stalls and babouches hanging from the ceilings are a whirlwind of colour. -One thing I hated in this city is the fact that all the narrow streets are not only open to pedestrians but also to motors and bikes. Hence, it becomes impossible to walk or even breath. Visiting this town requires continuous alertness and maybe a face mask? –
Anyway, between the insisting vendors and furious bikers, we make our way to Jemaa-el-Fna Square which is the biggest square in Africa. In the mornings, the square hosts snake charmers, Moroccan women trying to convince tourist women to make henna tattoos, babouche sellers and fresh juice stalls. In the nights, it entertains its visitors with live Moroccan music, belly dancers, fortunetellers, arabic theatres and countless traditional food stalls. Having visited the enormous square the night before for dinner, we agree that it doesn’t look as pretty in the morning as it was in the evening. It’s surrounded by carriages a.k.a. calèches, in case you’re wondering how it smells there. Although in the mornings the smell of incense and in the evenings the smell of mixed food try to overcome the smell of horses…
Further down in the Medina, there is well-maintained Bahia Palace. Islamic and Moroccan style palace’s name stand for brilliance. I have always been into oriental patterns, so I don’t cease to get amazed. Then, we visit El Badi Palace which is older and thus more destroyed than the Bahia. With its underground tunnels for slaves and huge courtyards which were previously decorated with golds and marbles, it’s easy to imagine this building as one of the finest and showy structures of its (Saadian) times. After seeing the 12th-century minbar in a special room of the palace, we take a glance at the city from its terrace. Because there is no need for higher ones, Moroccan buildings tend to be short. This makes the terrace of 16th-century palace one of the highest spots of the Medina and even the city. Around the palace’s corner, there is famous Saadian Tombs. The graves and the buildings that host them are decorated in oriental style with precious materials varying from marble to wood.
Having walked many kilometres and seen numerous monuments already from the first day, we decide to walk back to our riad to rest a little before the dinner. On our way back, we still stop at another must-see called Koutoubia which is the largest mosque of the city. As we get closer to the building, just like other minarets of the city, we begin to think its red stone and brick tower can be mistaken as a clock tower. Koutoubia is a must-see from the outside, because the authorities don’t allow non-muslims to enter the mosque. As we approach the mosque’s door, probably because we are the least Turkish looking people, Moroccan people approach us to prevent us from entering. After showing our passports and greeting each other, we take a look at its inside which is not that much of a big deal after all.
Even though we’re a little sceptical about the street food, we still want to have dinner at one of the food stalls from Jemaa-el-Fna. So we ask to the riad manager for any recommendations or warnings. He says they are all pretty much the same and cannot recommend any specific ones. Nevertheless, he gives us two great tips. First, since Marrakesh isn’t by sea side, fishes tend to be not so fresh. Second, since couscous normally requires about 3 hours cooking which stalls cannot carry out, couscous can make our stomachs sick. On the balance, we are a little nervous but still head to the square. After picking a stall at which not only tourists but also locals eat, we eat sis kebabs at a great deal-and we’re still good the day after!
The second day at our riad starts with msemmens instead of beghrirs, and I really appreciate that since it was already on my must-eat list. Before coming here, of course I checked the weather forecasts. But I failed to take chilly mornings and nights of desert climate into account. After I wear my light coat over my very light hoodie hoping to get warm, we head to Majorelle Garden. The garden takes its name from a French orientalist painter called Jacques Majorelle. The architect he hires to build an Art Deco style building names a shade of blue after him and paints the building in the middle of the garden in that shade. Following Majorelle’s death, the garden falls into abandon. About 20 years later Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent acquire the place. They take care of the garden and create a Berber Museum from Art Deco building. After YSL’s death, a memorial gets built. To this day, I’ve been in countless gardens and I’ve got to say that this one doesn’t make to my Top10 list. If it weren’t for the French fashion designer, I don’t think this many people would come here to see yellow and orange vases in front of Majorelle blue building surrounded by cactuses from around the globe. We leave this highly touristic place to visit 16 November Square hosting international brands at Marrakech Plaza as well as Post Office. It’s almost noon and we’re almost hot, so we stop for a cold smoothie. Then we head to Liberty Square and turn to Convention Centre which leads us to Menara Garden. Menara hosts a large pool in front of a two storey building surrounded by an olive garden. By now, I know that in Marrakech one must visit all historical places but not all gardens. After having walked about 8 kms, we go to our riad to rest a little before dinner. Our terrace is perfect for sunbathing and a napping when sun is up. So just before sunset, I take a little advantage of it.
For dinner, we trust the recommendation of our riad’s employee and go to Dar Zellij. It’s a fine-dining restaurant in the Medina. To please all five senses, they create an all-rounded ambiance of which I enjoy every moment. While listening to live Andalusia music in the rose smelling big interior courtyard, guests are offered five course meals in this exceptional restaurant. From the typical harira(soup) to lamb tajines, from couscous with chicken to crispy pastilla and finally Moroccan sweets accompanied by traditional mint tea; everything in this restaurant feels unique. If you ever visit Marrakech, don’t leave without having a Dar Zellij experience.
Our last day, as usual we kick it off with a traditional breakfast at our riad. Since we have pretty much seen everything on out must-go list, we decide shop for souvenirs and improvise. We walk around the souks for yellow babouche keychains, fridge magnets, postcards and mint teas. There are also lots of oriental carpets and cashmeres at a not so great deal, but I can get all the carpets I want in Istanbul and I already got many cashmere scarves at my previous vacations to Mauritius. I’ve got to say insisting vendors make our job quite difficult, but we don’t give up so easy… We decide to head south to see two and most famous of the 19 gates of Marrakech: Bab Agnaou and Bab Ksiba. Both are floral and religious ornamented gates that are still being used to this day. After a really long walk from the gates to the Agdal Garden by the Royal Palace, we finish all the must-see’s of the city. With its 3 kilo fish filled pool circled by trees, Agdal Garden isn’t much different than Menara Garden. On our way back to the Jemaa-el-Fna, we can’t resist the smell and redness of the strawberries, so we pick 1 kg and eat as we head north. In the square, I have a cup of mint tea and my dad has a late lunch while we both rest our feet. In the evening, we decide to eat our last dinner by the square. Cafe Restaurant Argana offers the full view of the square with a menu full of delicious traditional food, so we pick a table with the view. There is only one thing left on my must-eat list, and just like other traditional Moroccan dishes this one is also a clay-pot cooked meat: tangia marrakshia. I enjoy my spiced and lemon smelling tangia marrakshia while overlooking the chaotic square and listening to arabic songs. After dinner, we decide to take a last walk around the stalls and I don’t miss out the opportunity to have some gazelle horns, almond briouats and chebakias to go from Argana.
Having pleased all our senses with magnificent monuments, Moroccan cuisine and mint tea; we think it’s time to see another city!