- Candace Ahlfinger
Two Days in Marrakesh, Morocco
We arrived in Marrakech late in the day after our stay in the desert (still with Discovery Tours) and went straight to our hotel, the Atlas Medina & Spa, which is located amid other new hotels about 2 miles from the world-famous Marrakech souk. (We walked the distance several times and enjoyed it.)
The next day was a great city tour. We started at Majorelle Gardens. The unusual plants and beautiful colors made the garden a peaceful place to visit. The gardens were the result of 40 years of work by Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962), a French painter. Unfortunately, the gardens fell into disrepair after his death. They were finally rescued by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé who restored the gardens to their former glory and magnificent colors, especially the Majorelle blue.
After the gardens, we visited the Koutoubia, a 12th century mosque and minaret topped with four copper globes. The mosque was completed between 1118-1199 under a Berber Almohad Caliph. The mosque was the inspiration for the Giralda in Seville and the Hassan Tower in Rabat. This mosque was started before the first mosque (adjacent) was completed. Why were 2 mosques built at almost the same time and in the same location? The first one was found to be 5 degrees out of alignment with Mecca. (It turns out that the second mosque, the one still standing, was actually 10 degrees out of alignment!)
We also visited the souk, the largest in Morocco. We were careful to watch our path so we could find our way out since we had read so many warnings about becoming lost. In the souk and the Jemaa el-Fna Square, we wandered around snake charmers and vendors of almost anything imaginable amid the colorful cacophony of sights and sounds.
We had a group picture taken with Watermen. Traditionally, these men wore bells that they rang as they sold water from their goatskin bags. Now, with bottled water, they support themselves by taking pictures with tourists.
Next up was the Bahia Palace, which was built in the 1860s by Si Moussa, the Grand Vizier of the Sultan. His son inherited the palace and used it for himself, his four wives, and numerous concubines. The 360-room palace is now a museum with lush gardens.
Our last stop of the tour was the Saadi Dynasty tombs. Although the cemetery on which the tombs were built were probably in use since the 14th century, the Saadi mausoleums and tombs were used from 1549 to 1659 before they were sealed off and lost until 1917. Ahmed el-Mansour built two beautiful mausoleums. His, the Hall of Twelve Columns, was built using Italian Carrara marble and magnificently decorated vaulted ceilings. (The ceilings in Moroccan architecture are always beautiful with intricate details. During our entire trip we found ourselves looking up as much as possible to take in the amazing views.)
The next day we were off to the market to buy Moroccan wedding blankets for our daughter-in-law. We found these beautiful pieces of handiwork and bartered for a decent price. (Bartering is expected and essential in Morocco.) We were thankful that they could squeeze these huge blankets into relatively small bundles which we carried the rest of our trip. We had fun wandering around the market and only had one interesting incident when we exited the shopping labyrinth after dark to find that everything looked excitingly different! No worries, however, we quickly got our bearings and headed to our hotel. On our way we loved exploring the Menara Mall near the hotel and watching the fountain display that was set to music. We opted for pizza at Le Table du Marche, one of the outside restaurants at the mall. (They also had great smoothies that we had sampled earlier.)
Our last morning in Marrakech began with an educational and fun cooking class at the Lotus Chef. We learned more about the traditional mint tea service that we enjoyed everywhere in Morocco. (Have I mentioned that the scalding hot tea is served in small glass juice glasses which can get very hot so be careful when you first pick up your glass?!?) We made Zaalook Salad, chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives, zucchini salad, Moroccan bread, and milk pastilla. Most of the workers and teachers are women and all have a story to tell about the positive change the school made in their lives. We were able to enjoy the fruits of our labor for lunch (We did well!) before setting off for Essaouira, one of my favorite spots in Morocco.