I feel like it’s an ever occurring pattern in my posts and perhaps that says something about myself but, my god, I needed that sleep. Refreshed and ready to go we headed down to the hotel café to grab our included breakfast. When booking hotels, no matter for how many days, I always make sure that breakfast is included. It’s a make or break factor, the last thing you want to be doing on any holiday/travel is searching first thing in the morning for somewhere to eat and more often than not, you can use the breakfast buffet as a midday snack or even light lunch on the go. With a selection of bread/pastries, boiled eggs and jams this was the perfect carby start for our first day of adventuring.
Our hotel is perfectly located, just outside of Marrakech Medina in Ville Nouvelle, the new city centre, but still within walking distance of the main tourist hot spots. The half hour walk to the old town takes us past a number of newly built ‘Western hubs’ – complexes of high-end shops and hotels. Reaching the Medina outer wall our first sight was just ahead of us, ‘Koutoubia Mosque’ (also known as Kutubiyyin Mosque). With its minaret dominating high above its surroundings it’s clear to the eye that this is the largest Mosque in Marrakech and one of the oldest in the world.When the mosque was finished by Sultan Yacoub el-Mansour in the 12th century, 100 booksellers were clustered around its base – hence the name, kutubiyyin (booksellers). To the deep discontentment of Filip’s, the booksellers no longer cluster there, so luckily (for me) we were able to move on from the location still on the same day.
Walking further on from Koutoubia, we quickly moved deeper into the medina. Its buildings are at close proximity with each other creating a series of twists and turns in the pathways that divide them. Walking between the buildings it’s easy to get carried away in direction and ultimately very easy to have a sense of being lost. Walking past the twisting pink plastered buildings each corner would delight or horrify you with something different. Smell after smell, rotting meat, spices, sewage, freshly cooked dishes accompanied each sight of hanging meat (not the most pleasant to us vegetarians), spice stalls and local food venders. Locals call out to you from every direction, offering to sell goods or help you find your way; the medina is certainly a place where you to have your wits about you. Losing track of your surroundings or spending to long talking to a particular local could cause you unnecessary trouble. These locals are desperate for your custom and often can be heard almost begging for you to purchase from their stall.
Walking the medina a local man stopped us, he began asking us of our backgrounds and walked side by side as we continued to explore, it quickly became apparent however that it was him doing the exploring and not us. As we walked he would tell us of ‘dead ends’ and he led us towards other roadways all the time while speaking of his family, praising our Queen and speaking of his dislike for the ‘rude french’. As he led us I started to pick up that he was taking us on a wild goose take, I started to try to break away from the man on a number of occasions until eventually it became clear to him that I knew what he was doing. He had basically caused us to walk the entire outskirts of the medina missing all of the sights, fortunately for us our money was hidden away so as he asked for payment of his ‘services’ we got by with only giving a few coins much to his disappointment. On the bad side, we were no where near achieving our goal of finding Djemaa el Fna (the main square) as we found ourselves by the royal palace, completely south of the medina.
Now back within the busier streets we came across ‘Bahia Palace’ while making our way back north. It was built for Bou Ahmed, son of the Grand Vizier Sī Mūsā. He grew up with the crown prince Moulay al-Ḥasan who after his death in 1884 he took over government until his own death in 1900. Bahia Palace is a tranquil of walled peace, made up of 2 acres of gardens, courtyards and rooms this was the perfect escape we needed after our first experience in one of Morocco’s largest medinas. The beautifully built and decorated palace was a calm storm of architectural brilliance. Courtyards filled with orange trees, mosaic high ceilings and a warm wash of blues and yellows transported you through the many halls and rooms built within the palace for Bou Ahmed’s four wives and 24 concubines, who were lucky to live in this beautiful luxury.
Walking back into reality of the medina busy streets we wound our way through to Djemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech Main Square. The site of public executions around AD 1050 (hence its name, which means ‘assembly of the dead’) the square still today remains a hub of activity and according to many sources, the most attractive site in not only the city, but the whole country. Street theatre comes to life in every direction while locals yell and shout offers as they try to make their day’s takings from the many tourists that descend on the square around the clock daily. With the square being in the centre of the Medina it became apparent to us that it was a perfect base to begin and end any Medina exploration that we would do over the coming week in Marrakech. After taking a moment for some lunch and to take in some of the square’s markets we heading out of the medina weary and tired of the days walking. With our two day trip into the Sahara on the back of our minds, this was the perfect time to wander back to the hotel to rest up in preparation for our 7am pick up.