The experience of being in Marrakesh feels much more than a train ride distant from Casablanca. The arrival at the train station was easy – the station is beautiful and apparently brand new with graceful shade structures and a grand entrance hall. Since I arrived after dark I stayed and had dinner at a restaurant located on the rooftop and watched the moon come up over the new town (Ville Nouvelle) as I ate. I’d meant to take the bus to my hostel but it never seemed to come so I started walking along its route and ended up going the whole way, strolling along a wide and well lit boulevard and wondering at the modern character of the city. All that changed a few “blocks” from my hostel when I passed under an archway through a thick mudbrick wall and into the Medina.
The Medina is the heart of the old city which has been a Berber trading post since the neolithic period. The red city walls were built by Ali ibn Yusef in 1122 (although I suspect they have been entirely replaced many times since then as I’ve seen repair and rebuilding in progress at several locations around them. Inside the walls, the wide french boulevards vanish and navigation becomes difficult or impossible along the tangled labyrinth of twisting alleyways. The city has gone up and down in national importance, eventually being replaced other cities as centers of trade. Its main draw now is tourism – it gained fame in the 60s and 70s as many artists and museums and their hippie followers flocked to the city (I’m humming Marrakesh express right now). One can still smell the occasional whiff of Mary J coming from the odd hostel (mine).
The center of the Medina is the Place el Fna, a very unsquare “square” which is relatively open during the day and after dark fills to the brim with pop up restaurants, music and magic shows and hoards of tourists and locals on hand to see the show. All around it are seemingly endless twisting alleys and paths lined with market stalls selling sandals, soap, punched metal lamps, carved wooden furniture, spices, fabric etc. Its sometimes hard to walk along without being constantly accosted by vendors hoping for a sale and the slightest hint of looking lost will bring friendly locals to your side offering to walk you to your destination (for a price). I find it all overwhelming as well as stimulating and have relied on my headphones (sometime without anything even playing) as an excuse to ignore the loudest heckling There are also respites to be found in the cities museums – restored grand houses and schools – which are elaborately decorated with tile work and carved wood and mercifully free of importunate crowds.
I’ve been in pattern heaven; there are nearly infinite details to attract the eye covering tiled floors and walls, carved ceilings and hand crafted walls, as well as endless crafts for sale. Enjoy the view!