Marrakesh: the pink city – souqs and luxury (II) – Morocco

17 May

Marrakesh, the pink city at the foot of the Atlas Mountains

This is the continuation of my first diary about the pink city of Marrakesh, Morocco. My first post can be found at the following link Marrakesh: the pink city – souqs and luxury (I).

Marrakesh, the second day

Short Description. I went to the old medina. The area with royal palaces (Bahia Palace, Maison Tiskiwin, Dar Si Said, Badia Palace, Saadian Tombs) and the Jewish quarter (mellah).

Long Description

I wanted to take a taxi to the medina, but no taxi stopped at the bus stop where I was waiting. A Moroccan stopped a taxi for me, eventually. I had to harshly talk to the driver because he didn’t want to put the meter but eventually, he turned it on. The driver spoke only Arabic, though, so I had to show him on the map where to drop me. After I paid, he didn’t have a change to give me rest. In the end, 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. 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.

Marrakesh - the Bahia Palace

Marrakesh – the Bahia Palace

Nearby, 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 and exhibited tents, carpets, jewelry, wooden statues, folk costumes, and cooking items.

Marrakesh - African objects at Maison Tiskiwin

Marrakesh – African objects at Maison Tiskiwin

At the dead-end of a street with many colored carpets displayed 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 some exotic trees.

Marrakesh - Dar Si Said

Marrakesh – Dar Si Said

Mighty fortifications surrounded the XVI-th-century ruins of the Badia Palace (‘the incomparable’). Destroyed in the XVIIth-century, the royal complex had: 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. The massive ruins illustrated the grandeur of the former palace and its geometric organization. From the top of the fortifications, the pink-orange houses of the city (hence the name ‘pink city‘) alternated with exotic gardens on the backdrop of the High Atlas Mountains.

Marrakesh - the ruins of the Badia Palace

Marrakesh – the ruins of the Badia Palace

Behind the Badia Palace, a passage shortened the way to the Saadian Tombs through a carpet shop, an excuse to attract customers to the store. Moulay el Yazid Square was the center of the Kasbah neighborhood, surrounded by fortification mud-brick walls. The main mosque stood in the middle of this modernly designed square and behind it, one could find the Saadian Tombs. Next to the mosque, a narrow tunnel led to the magnificent gardens that hid the mausoleum of the Saadian dynasty, the largest royal necropolis of the XIVth century in Morocco. The main hall of the tombs featured a hall supported by 12 columns completely covered with gold, marble, mosaics, and colored stuccoes.

The kasbah of Marrakesh - the Saadian Tombs

The kasbah of Marrakesh – the Saadian Tombs

In the Jewish quarter (mellah), the tallest mud-brick buildings in Marrakesh were built. Even though few Jews lived there, their houses could be distinguished by wrought-iron balconies overlooking the street. Restoration works were carried out in the mellah and the streets looked like a general construction site. Merchants displayed their goods among the debris. The Lazama Synagogue sat on a side street and had an interior courtyard with blue shutters, doors, and curtains, and decorative tiles inside the synagogue.

Marrakesh - the Jewish Quarter (the mellah)

Marrakesh – the Jewish Quarter (the mellah)

More ruined and dirty than in the medina, the houses in the mellah seemed primitive and the 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. On the outskirts of the mellah, a Jewish cemetery (miaara) developed in time. 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 

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.

Long Description

The luxurious Jardin Majorelle garden 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 strong, hard blue color dominated the whole garden compound, including the Art Nouveau facades of the garden villa, as well as water pools’ edges and the pergolas. Moroccan families came with their children for a stroll in the garden, tourists photographed hastily. The villa in the garden housed a Berber museum dedicated to this ancient group of North Africa.

Ville Nouvelle  in Marrakesh - Jardin Majorelle

Ville Nouvelle in Marrakesh – Jardin Majorelle

Close to Jardin Majorelle, Naima’s house sat in a neighborhood packed-out with French-style villas of orange-pink color (the emblematic color present throughout Marrakesh). The villas featured modern architecture typical for the beginning of the XXth century. Abundant vegetation outflew from their courtyards in the street. Numberless palm trees were proof that we 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. She invited me for lunch at her adoptive family, then I went with her sister Imame to a hammam. We traveled throughout Marrakesh with a bus and descended in Menara III, a neighborhood with sordid and desolate blocks of flats 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, the rest of the brothers have moved from home. Imame was quite a tomboy, Qautar was more feminine, and they both giggled with Naima. The girls prepared lamb ribs with potatoes and salad, paired with the customary Coca-Cola and orange juice.

Marrakesh - lunch with Naima's family

Marrakesh – lunch with Naima’s family

In the afternoon, Naima accompanied me and Imame to the hammam. She didn’t enter with us inside because she didn’t like going to a hammam. We carried with us a large bucket filled with all kinds of items used at the hammam (plastic rug, two small buckets, small chair, different kinds of shampoos and soaps). Imame had just been to the hammam a few days before, but Naima forced her to accompany me.

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, we 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 offer the same – somewhat unusual service for me, in return. 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. Imame quickly washed and in less than two hours, Naima found herself with us at home.

Marrakesh - all you need to have when you go to a hammam

Marrakesh – all you need to have when you go to a hammam

Naima and Imame decided to go to the Menara Gardens, a large public space organized around 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. Naima showed me a couple holding hands and told me that if the girl wore a hijab (so she was practcing 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 – where Zineb (another girl from Couchsurfing) was waiting to put me up. 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 and there was dust everywhere. I entered with Zineb into a building with dirty-gray walls.

Zineb’s family apartment was clean though, but it had no furniture at all. The living room had only a large carpet on the floor and a few cushions leaning onto the wall. They sat down and slept on the floor. The walls of the hall and kitchen featured faience decorated with flowers and large diamonds. 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

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.

Long Description

Zineb’s mother baked round loaves of bread in the oven and for breakfast, I had fresh bread with honey. Then she prepared a tajine with a lot of onion, cooked in the special ceramic vessel placed on a small stove with embers placed in the hall. Before we left to the medina, Zineb took me to the desolate rooftop of her buildings, packed with satellite antennas, from where we could see the vast panorama of the outlying lugubrious suburbs of Marrakesh. Fortunately, one could see the ridges of the High Atlas Mountains on the horizon.

The outskirts of Marrakesh - Massira II neighborhood

The outskirts of Marrakesh – Massira II neighborhood

Zineb beckoned a shared taxi that took us to the medina. The bustle of the medina was still there, but the colors, the goods, and the smells were different. Zineb didn’t quite know what else to show me and she said there were just old houses in the medina, nothing special. Before we parted, she invited me to 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 60Dh) and after that, I barely could walk. I went to the Maison de la Photographie, a funduq set up as a gallery with thousands of old photographs of 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. 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 shake, burger, and cake. Naima didn’t let me pay anything though 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 my first diary about Marrakesh, Morocco. My first post can be found at the following link The pink city of Marrakesh (part I). And here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x21).

Have you been to Marrakesh or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked in Morocco or what you would like to see there.

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