11 October 2013

Old Marrakech was warm, friendly and very pink

Our first day in Marrakech proved to be a busy one.

Our hotel was a little way from the city centre, about 1km, so we were taken on the coach to the fringes where our long walk started.

Inside the medina walls felt very different from the other medinas I had been too (Casablanca, Rabat and Tunis) in that it was very open. It felt much like any other town and it just happened to have an old wall around it.

The feeling of openness was encouraged by the various parks and gardens that we saw on our short ride.

Just inside the wall was some of very old Marrakech. This is Koutoubia Mosque. It is the largest mosque in Marrakech but its main point of interest is that it dates from the 12th century. This is on the edge of one of the parks and the approach to it walking through the park built the sense of anticipation and excitement.

Marrakech is pink.

Apparently it is some sort of diktat but whatever the reason it give the town a distinctive feel. Much like all the sand coloured buildings in Dubai do.

It looked busy and worn, like a vibrant old town should. There were people out shopping, shop keepers sitting half in and half out of their shops and a fleet of small vehicles providing them with goods to sell.

We were led along a couple of streets to a palace. The name escapes me, but that does not matter. The point is that in a town that looked a little worn in places there were places where beauty was allowed to flourish.

The design and features were similar to other buildings that I had seen decorated with intricate plaster and coloured ceramics so to ring the changes slightly I've chosen a picture of some patterned wood. This was also a feature of the other grand buildings that I had seen but it was often hidden on high ceilings in dark rooms and so did not photograph very well (I refuse to use flash as it destroys the colour).

Back outside it was getting hotter but it was still very pink. As always I found myself taking lots of pictures and my daily total reached almost 250. That's how good Marrakech was.

The next place we were taken was a small mausoleum.

The arrangement of the graves was according to set rules with only direct members of the family included in the mausoleum itself, that meant daughters but not wives, and outside were the rest of the family and also the most important servants. People like Bruce Wayne's Alfred.

The graves were essentially flat and some had a raised block with the height of the block indicating the importance of the person buried beneath.

There was also a cat and while I usually avoid animals as much as I avoid people I took a picture of this one because I liked the contrast of the square-patterned graves and the dishevelled white ball of the cat.

We were next treated to our first Intense Retail Experience (IRE) of the holiday. We coined the term IRE on our China holiday to describe the frequent attempt to sell us things often disguised as a visit to something cultural.

We were taken to a shops selling goods derived from local plants, e.g. cooking oils, face creams, tea and herbal remedies. A lively and effective salesman gave a good explanation of each item and was rewarded with some good sales afterwards.

Then it was back to the hotel for lunch. We were left to our own devices for this and I went to the pool bar in the even grander hotel that shared the site.

We regrouped later in the day to go back to the medina and we started with another IRE. This time is was carpets.

The show was less impressive in that we were not given much information about the different techniques or styles. Instead we had different rugs thrown before us at an extraordinary pace.

One couple had gone to Morocco with the intention of buying a rug and they were the only people to so so. Luckily it was a short stop and we were soon back on the street.

We were led to the main square in the old town that was getting livelier as the sun set on a hot day.

In addition to all the stalls that we had seen elsewhere in the medina there were also lots of entertainers (using that term in its widest sense) there to entice coins from the many visitors and tourists. There were jugglers, fire-eaters, henna tattooists, people in regional costume and people with monkeys. I had to be careful when taking photographs not to include an entertainer otherwise payment would have been demanded.

The square was ringed with bars on the upper level and we were advised by our guide to go up there to get a fuller view of the square.

The rules were you had to buy a drink on the way in and they did not do beer so I found myself on the terrace with a bottle of Fanta. A first for me.

Most of the people on the terrace with me seemed to be foreigners too but the square was mostly filled with locals doing what they had done for centuries.

The atmosphere was lively and expectant. After a quite afternoon in the hot sun the locals were getting ready for a long evening, we were told by one person that the main events would be happening around 10pm, but we had to move on.

Like the China holiday, we were taken to a large local restaurant that only had tourists in and clearly did not expect anybody else. As with most meals on the tour the vegetarian option was unimaginative but the meal was good enough and the local musicians were not too distracting. The belly-dancer was distracting, as she was meant to be, as she moved around the room pausing to do a little turn for each group. I have no idea how genuine it was but it did liven up a quiet evening that I would rather have spent in a bar/cafe in the square.

Even with the siesta in the hotel and a couple of retail sessions, we had done and seen a lot that day and Marrakech started to feel like a friend.

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