In which we spend a day in Marrakech, quite possibly a day too long.
I feel like many people come to Morocco with many stereotypical images of what it might look like. For the most part, in all the time we spent in Morocco, we found little in common with the exoticized stereotypes (that we did not hold), Marrakech felt like a place that has striven to conform to westernized fantasies, right down to the snake charmers. Exactly the sort of place I generally try to avoid. But we were interested in heading into the mountains, a journey for which Marrakech was a necessary stop. So, after a long day of travel, and after frustrating interactions with taxis, we arrived on foot at our lovely riad just after midnight. The next morning, after a lovely breakfast, we headed up to the riad’s beautiful roof deck to take in the city before hitting the streets.
Right away we were struck by the differences. Marrakech is no Fez. The medina is demonstrably larger than the one in Fez, for a start, but rather than the bustling foot traffic in Fez, Marrakech is awash with the cars and especially the motorcycles that wind through the narrow streets at unreasonable speeds, making it feel like you must be constantly at attention. I felt distinctly the entire day that I was tense and stressed out.
We wandered through endless, endless markets, full of the sort of low-end versions and cheap imitations of the handicrafts we had seen in Fez. And so, so many people. Once we were out to the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, we were happy to tuck ourselves into a café overlooking the hectic marketplace. After we had eaten, we headed back to the streets to wind towards the Bahia Palace, a small refuge in the chaotic city.
We had a little fun with the mirrors.
Although the 19th century palace was mostly emptied of furniture, the ceilings were spectactular.
From there, we found ourselves close to the Jewish Quarter, which was easily the highlight of Marrakech. The city (and country) at one point had quite a large Jewish population, but the population quickly declined after the founding of Israel. One small remnant of local Jewish history is the lovely cemetery.
As we walked among the graves, we heard the call of prayer ringing out from mosques along the outside perimeter of the cemetery, a beautiful moment of incongruence.
One more: the cemetery was really lovely.
By that point, it was already late afternoon, so we stepped into the Henna Café, a funky hippie cafe. We declined on the offer of henna, but we got pretty excited by the range of food options. Although Morocco had no shortage of fruit and vegetable variety, vegetarian cuisine in Morocco, I quickly discovered, tended to be the same mix of potatoes, carrots, and zucchini, and I was excited to see avocados and other seen but untasted delicacies. We paid our bill and returned to the Jemaa el-Fnaa by sunset, when it had transformed into a market of food stalls, snake charmers, street performers, tamed monkeys, fortune tellers, and other
As darkness set in, we headed into a small cafe with a little perch above a side market, where we watched the market gradually slow down for the evening.
We ended up having one more stop as we headed home: ever since we had seen some of the beautiful arrays of carpets, we were kind of toying with the idea of getting one. A little proclivity, and you’re basically toast, so by the end of the night, after a grueling hour of haggling, we came back with a little piece by which to remember Morocco: a Berber carpet.
Luckily, aside from a brief stopover on our way back to Marrakech, that was basically a wrap on our time in Marrakech. We were very, very glad to be moving on the next morning.