Marrakesh – the pink city and medina, the second day
Short Description. I went to the old medina, the so-called pink city with the area of Royal Palaces. Bahia Palace, Maison Tiskiwin, Dar Si Said, Badia Palace, Saadian Tombs, and ultimately, the Jewish quarter (mellah).
I wanted to take a taxi to the medina, but no taxi stopped at the bus stop where I was waiting. Eventually, a Moroccan stopped a taxi for me. I had to talk to the taxi driver harshly because he didn’t want to turn on the meter, but in the end, he did it. Moreover, the driver spoke only Arabic, so I had to show him on the map where to drop me. After I paid, he didn’t have change to give me the rest, and I had to pay as much as he wanted.
Between the old medina and the mellah, Place de Ferblantier was in the works, with bumpy and upturned sidewalks. Nearby, Bahia Palace (‘magnificent’) comprised gardens with exotic vegetation, interior courtyards with colorful mosaics and fountains. Lounges and pavilions richly decorated from floors and walls to ceilings and wood soffit of the roof. A former harem for wives and 24 concubines, private apartments, hammam, private mosque, and a potato garden (aguedal). Wood panels, stained glass windows, stuccoes, and mosaics were elaborately worked, carved, engraved, or painted.
In the same neighborhood, there was Maison Tiskiwin – an old house with a Moroccan-style inner courtyard refurbished as a museum dedicated to the caravans that once crossed the Sahara Desert from Marrakesh to Timbuktu (through Algeria, Nigeria, Mali). Each room evoked the main stops along the caravan route. The museum exhibited tents, carpets, jewelry, wooden statues, folk costumes, and cooking items.
At the dead-end of a street with colorful carpets hung on the walls, there was Dar Si Said – a traditional Moroccan riad refurbished as the Moroccan Art Museum. The museum displayed objects of the ethnographic heritage of Marrakesh. Original carved wooden doors, marble basins for ablutions, ceramics, weapons, embroidery, and carpets. In the courtyard of the riad, a fountain hidden among colorful mosaics was rippling in the shade of exotic trees.
Mighty fortifications surrounded the 16th-century ruins of Badia Palace (‘the incomparable’). Destroyed in the 17th-century, the royal complex included pavilions, guest houses, gardens with lush vegetation, large water pools, a summer residence, and even a cave. The reconstructed Khaysuran pavilion on the southern side of the complex housed the Museum of Photography and Visual Arts, where it exhibited a reconstruction of the former royal complex. Massive ruins illustrated the grandeur of the former palace and its geometric organization. From the top of the fortifications, you could see the pink-orange houses of the city (hence the name ‘pink city‘) alternating with exotic gardens on the backdrop of the High Atlas Mountains.
Behind the Badia Palace, a passage shortened the way to the Saadian Tombs through a carpet shop, a good excuse to attract customers to the store. Moulay el-Yazid Square was the center of the Kasbah neighborhood, surrounded by fortified mudbrick walls. There, the main mosque stood in the middle of this modernly designed square, and behind it, you could find the Saadian Tombs. Next to the mosque, a narrow tunnel led to the magnificent gardens hidding the mausoleum of the Saadian dynasty – the largest royal necropolis of the 14th century in Morocco. The main hall of the tombs featured a hall supported by 12 columns covered with gold, marble, mosaics, and colored stuccoes.
The Jewish quarter (mellah) featured the tallest mudbrick buildings in the pink city. Even though few Jews lived there, their houses still had typical wrought-iron balconies overlooking the street. Restoration works were carried out in the mellah, and the streets looked like a general construction site. However, merchants displayed their goods among the debris. Nearby, on a side street, the Lazama Synagogue had an interior courtyard with blue shutters, doors, and curtains, and decorative tiles inside the synagogue.
More ruined and dirty than the houses in the medina, houses in the mellah seemed primitive and shops very basic. In front of a door with number 48 written on it, a donkey tied to a small wagon on two wheels waited for its owner. In addition to that, a Jewish cemetery (miaara) had been developed on the outskirts of the mellah. The cemetery had cone-shaped white tombstones crammed in a limited space. Some tombs were simple, some had Hebrew inscriptions. Shrubs and grass grew in abundance and invaded the spaces between the graves.
In the evening, I again met Mohammed in Djemaa el-Fna Square, and we strolled among the food stalls. The following day, he had to leave with new clients to the desert, and on the way to the airport (where he picked them up in the evening), he dropped me at Naima’s house.
Marrakesh, the third day – Jardin Majorelle and hammam
Short Description. I visited the Majorelle Gardens, then we had lunch at Naima’s adoptive family. In the afternoon, I went with Imame to a neighborhood hammam, and overnight I stayed at Zineb’s family.
The luxurious Jardin Majorelle was created as a sanctuary and botanical laboratory, with exotic plants from all over the world. Palm trees, cacti, and bamboos of all kinds grew abundantly in the garden sprinkled with pools and waterways. A hard-blue color dominated the whole compound, including the Art Nouveau facades of the garden villa, as well as the water pools’ edges and the pergolas. There, Moroccan families came with their children for a stroll in the garden, while tourists hastily photographed everything. Also, the villa in the garden housed a Berber museum dedicated to this ancient ethnic group in North Africa.
Close to Jardin Majorelle, Naima’s house sat in a neighborhood with French-style villas of orange-pink color (the emblematic color of Marrakesh). The villas featured modern architecture typical for the beginning of the 20th century. Abundant vegetation outflew from their courtyards in the street. And numberless palm trees were proof that you were in Africa, while locals dressed in djellabas confirmed this truth.
Naima didn’t go to work that day because they celebrated the Muslim New Year in Morocco. Therefore, she invited me for lunch at her adoptive family, and then we planned to go with her sister, Imame, to a hammam. We took a bus and descended in Menara III, a neighborhood with sordid and desolate buildings on the outskirts of the city. Naima’s family lived in a flat furnished in traditional Moroccan style – with silk-upholstery sofas arranged on three sides of the living room. Only Imame and Qautar (Naima’s sisters) lived with their adoptive mother. All of the other brothers had moved from home as they grew. Imame was quite a tomboy, Qautar was more feminine, and they both giggled with Naima. For lunch, the girls prepared lamb ribs with potatoes and salad, paired with Coca-Cola and orange juice.
In the afternoon, Naima accompanied me and Imame to the hammam. Even though Imame had just been to the hammam a few days before, Naima forced her to accompany me. We carried with us a large bucket filled with all kinds of items used at the hammam. A plastic rug, two small buckets, a small chair, different shampoos, and soaps. Naima didn’t enter with us because she didn’t like going to a hammam.
The hammam was composed of three increasingly hot successive chambers. Most women were naked or wore underwear. They washed one another, waxed, or simply relaxed. We found a bit of room only in the hottest chamber, where I heroically resisted until Imame brought water from the tap in the big bucket. We unrolled the plastic rug on the floor and put the plastic chair on the rug (on which I sat). Then, we took water from the big freshly-filled bucket with the two small buckets, and this way, we washed.
Imame offered to wash my back, but I didn’t dare to return the favor. It seemed an unusual service for me. Initially, we had planned to stay longer at the hammam. However, I couldn’t resist the intense heat, and I backed down when I saw the dirty water, mixed with freshly shaved pubic hair, flowing from other women beneath our feet. Therefore, Imame quickly washed, and in less than two hours, Naima found herself with us at home.
Naima and Imame decided to go to the Menara Gardens, a large park with a large pool with brownish water (without fish) and some trees lined on its margins. Moroccan families came for picnics, couples for a stroll, young people for having fun – without alcohol, though. At a certain moment, Naima showed me a young couple holding hands. Then she told me that if the girl wore a hijab (so she was practicing the Islam religion), she shouldn’t go public with her boyfriend.
In front of the Menara Gardens, Naima put me in a shared taxi that drove me to the outskirts of Marrakesh, in the Massira II neighborhood. There, Zineb (another girl from Couchsurfing) was waiting to put me up. Unfortunately, the driver charged me more after he took me right in front of Zineb’s home. The streets of the neighborhood didn’t have asphalt. There was dust everywhere.
The building where Zineb lived had dirty-gray walls. However, Zineb’s family apartment was clean and without furniture at all. The walls of the hall and kitchen had faience decorated with flowers and large diamonds. As Moroccans usually sat down and slept on the floor, the living room had only a large carpet and a few cushions leaning onto the wall.
Zineb was a student. She liked to go to university because then she got rid of her mother, who drastically controlled her. She had never left Morocco and asked me a thousand questions. In the evening, she served me a simple harira soup and arranged a place for me to sleep on a mattress in the living room.
Marrakesh, the fourth (last) day – a bit of medina
Short Description. I went with Zineb to the old medina, then visited the Maison de la Photographie. In the evening, I went out with Naima in the Ville Nouvelle at a modern restaurant-cafe.
Zineb’s mother baked round loaves of bread in the oven. When she finished making the bread, she served me fresh bread with honey for breakfast. Then, she prepared a tajine with lots of onion, cooked in a special ceramic vessel placed on a small stove with embers. Before we left to the medina, Zineb took me to the desolate rooftop of her house, packed with satellite antennas. From there, we could see the vast panorama of the outlying lugubrious suburbs of Marrakesh. Fortunately, we could see the ridges of the High Atlas Mountains on the horizon.
Zineb beckoned a shared taxi that took us to the medina. The bustling medina seemed the same, but the colors, goods, and smells were different. Zineb didn’t quite know what to show me in the medina. Therefore, she said there were only old houses in the medina, nothing special. Before we parted, she invited me to have lunch with her mother and a family friend, but I turned her down. She seemed a little upset that I only stayed for one night at her place instead of three nights as I initially requested.
I served a daily menu at a snack bar in the street. Tajine, salad, a loaf of bread, semoule, Moroccan tea with mint leaves – everything for only 60 Dirhams. After that, I went to the Maison de la Photographie – a funduq set up as a gallery with thousands of old photographs from Morocco during 1870-1950. On the rooftop, a large terrace with pink flowers overlooked the rhythmic silhouettes of the minarets on the backdrop of neglected and abandoned roofs. Late in the afternoon, I managed to get the right bus home, and thanks to the GPS, I got off at the correct bus stop.
In the evening, I went out with Naima to a very modern restaurant-cafe in the Ville Nouvelle. We pampered ourselves with fruit shakes, burgers, and cake. However, Naima didn’t let me pay anything, and after we left, she donated half of her burger to a beggar on the street.
The pink city of Marrakesh (II) is the continuation of the first travelogue about Marrakesh, Morocco. The first post can be found at the following link The pink city of Marrakesh (part I). And here are all the Travelogues from Morocco (x21).
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