30 Jan 10 reasons to lose yourself in Marrakesh
Known as the “Red City” for the color of its buildings, the mythical city of Marrakesh is so beautiful it could charm a snake.
Even if you’ve never been to Morocco, just hearing the name Marrakesh conjures up images of beautiful Arabic mosaics, luscious gardens and colorful rich spices. The aroma that enchants your senses is even more present once your imagination is engaged with all the tales of mystery and history that surround this ancient city.
My weekend in Marrakesh filled me with a delicious sense of wonder, and a newfound appreciation for tradition. I felt like I had stepped back in time a thousand years.
Here’s why I think you could lose yourself in Marrakesh.
1 The Medina
Marrakesh is divided into two districts: The medina is the old part of the city which houses the souks, while the modern city houses the commercial and residential quarters.
It has been the site of many major Hollywood movies, more recently Sex and the City and Mission Impossible.
2 The Souk
The allure of the souk is very enchanting. Souk traders selling traditional pottery, metalwork, leather goods, textiles, jewels, spices and various other typical things. You will see and smell so many things that your head will be spinning!
What’s also typical of the souk is that you have to bargain. As the locals have told me, when you bargain with the vendors you could reach to half the asking price for anything you want! So don’t feel bad about bargaining because it could avoid you falling into a tourist trap. I managed to buy a few souvenirs and some Berber style jewelry for a great price.
A touristy thing I did enjoy a lot was the horse carriage ride across the city, strolling leisurely in a beautiful green carriage away from the busy traffic, touring the two sides of the historical city.
3 Djemma El Fna
Marrakesh’s main square at the heart of the city is exactly what you would expect: crowded and filled with snake charmers, vendors, street magicians, fortune tellers, musicians and acrobats. Just be warned! Keep your belongings close, don’t get lost and stay protected from the sun.
What’s more, if you snap a picture of a snake charmer, monkey, or street dancer, they will expect you to pay them. You are even expected to pay a small price tag in case you ask someone for directions.
At night the whole square turns into a huge open-air dining area packed with street-food stalls lit by gas lanterns.
4 Ville Nouvelle
There are no sights to see here in the modern new part of Marrakesh, but it is filled with great bars and restaurants. With candle lit rooftops and elaborate dance shows, the entertainment in Marrakesh is multicultural and boasts the rich heritage of this melting pot.
However, I would say better to avoid the Ramadan period (most restaurants will be closed and it will be hard to find alcohol). Also better to avoid the very hot months of June-July-August when the temperature can peak over 30 degrees Celsius.
5 The food
While a traditional Moroccan meal would be composed of sweet mint tea (the national drink) and couscous (the national dish—often served with fish, other meat, or veggies), the restaurants in Marrakesh cater for all kinds of tourists. The food is amazing and boasts a variety of international cuisines to satisfy the most avid foodies.
A fun fact is that Moroccan people stop work every Friday to eat their famous couscous.
6 Jardin Marjorelle
Located in the Ville Nouvelle (new town), the garden called Jardin Marjorelle is a wonderful ornamental garden with cacti and lily ponds created in the 1920s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle. Wow. It took him 40 years to create this place, then it was sadly abandoned after his death. Then just in time to save it, the fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent bought the place and safeguarded its heritage.
7 Villa Oasis: Museum of Yves Saint Laurent
Algerian-born French designer Yves Saint Laurent bought the Jardin Marjorelle just before it was converted to a hotel. Not only did he save the property, but he also lived in Jardin Majorelle’s gorgeous Villa Oasis.
It is very clear to see why Saint Laurent fell in love with the place: the warm earthy colors, the mixed Andalusian and French architecture, the weather, and even the people of Marrakesh make this place quite unlike any other.
To this day, a Roman pillar memorial stands in the garden to pay homage to the late fashion icon who passed away in 2008.
8 Leila Alaoui photography exhibition
I was lucky enough to catch an exhibition of Leila Alaoui’s work, a Moroccan videographer and photographer who used her art for social activism. Giving a voice to refugees and war victims all around the world, this fantastic artist died in a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
You should definitely try to see her emotional and moving projects, and her portraits which are said to give “a voice to the voiceless”.
9 The hotels
Imagine one thousand and one nights, the most opulent palace, a staff of hundreds ready to satisfy your every desire, all this in the most exquisite and beautiful architecture your eyes have ever seen.
Such legendary places are two of the most charming and beautiful palaces in Marrakesh, the Hotel Namaskar and La Mamounia.
The luxury hotels were once historical locations in the heart of city, now transformed to receive and indulge customers from all over the world.
Even if you will not stay there, I recommend you visit these places because their architecture is mind blowing. The level of artistry and craftsmanship that go into the hand-made arches, tiles, and corridors is impressive.
What I particularly noticed throughout the city, was the intricate stonework and grounding arches that are very representative of Moorish architecture.
The whole esthetic of the landscape was very appealing to my creative side, and maybe I loved it even more because I am a very nostalgic person. I like how the country has evolved into modern times all the while preserving such an important part of their identity, their Arabic heritage. I strongly feel that this is a positive selling point compared to other North African cities that are slowly losing their identity.
After two days in this enchanting city, it has definitely earned a special place on my list of most memorable places in the world. I am sold on the whole Arabian nights fantasy, and will be going on a desert adventure. See you in the next blog!
(Read about my desert adventure here).