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Tangier and enroute
We arrived in Tangiers on the ferry from Algeciras. The crossing took about an hour. In Tangiers we boarded the first of two trains to Marrakech. Above is the train (almost still brand new) station in Tangiers.
After traveling all day we arrived in Marrakech. When you go to Marrakech you have to decide if you want to stay in a hotel in the new town, or in a riad in the medina, the old town within the walls. We opted for the medina, as this was the part of town we wanted to explore. Most of the riads are old houses that have been converted into bed and breakfasts. They feature courtyards and fountains and plenty of the great Moroccan architecture. We had a little riad to ourselves, right next to the main riad which held the other 6-8 rooms.
The Little Riad
An imposing view of our riad! In the medina, most of the "streets" look like this: four feet wide, mud walls three stories high, no windows and extending for more than 50 meters in a straight line! None of these appear to have names, which doesn't matter, as they are not labeled and no map shows all of them anyway! You learn your way around using landmarks - we remembered, "the fifth right after La Place, then zig zag home"
Transportation in the Medina
Yannis was going to do a photo collection on the various forms of transportation in Marrakech...maybe we'll just include it here.
Djemaa el Fna or La Place
La Place is the main square in the medina. This is where people of all sorts congregate day and night. During the day, this is where you come to see the bizarre:
the water carriers... the snake charmers... the monkey trainers. (This lady was bitten by that monkey!)
Or perhaps to conduct a little business.
By night, the La Place is converted into an outdoor party. Portable restaurants are set up where, during the day, there was nothing but open space! Each is grilling something tasty, the smoke obscuring the scene.. The daytime crowd seems to be largely tourists and those catering to them. The evening crowd is locals. The story tellers come out and you see huge circles of men listening to them, enthralled. People veiled and masked to unveiled all mingled together enjoying the cool of the night. The party seems to break up around midnight. By morning, the tables, grills, chairs and other evidence of the evening's activities have been put away!
A souk (or suq, a favorite Scrabble word!) is a shopping area. These were originally organized by guild, so all of the cloth weavers were together, and all of the brass workers, the tanners, the spice sellers, etc. Though this is no longer the law, it is certainly still largely the way things are organized.
We stopped for some sweats from this shop - yum.
We went to the museum with low expectations. The guide books all say not to bother, as had a fellow we met on the train. But, entrance was included with a ticket to see the Medersa and the fountain, so we peeked in. We enjoyed the architecture of the museum more so than the collections.
The Medersa ben Youssef
This was a Koranic school. The inside was both stark and rich! The common areas were beautifully decorated in tile mosaic and ornamental plaster. They featured courtyards and alcoves, cookie-cutter doorways and ornate, carved, wooden window features. The private areas were unadorned, and extremely crowded! I guess that made students study more!
The history of Marrakech is one of repeated conquering. The tribe that built Marrakech built a grand mosque. Their conquerors tore is down and built a new mosque on the same place. They left this fountain, though. A Muslim must wash before prayers, so fountains are built just outside for this purpose. This is the oldest structure in Marrakech and dates from the 1100s.
This was the palace of a wealthy man, who was the sultan's administrator. He used the palace, which is located very close to the sultan's, as both his residence and his office. The guidebook pointed out that this man had four wives and 24 ladies in his employ, all of whom had to be housed, presenting an interesting challenge to the architect! Each of the wives had apartments on the second floor. He ruled the front of the house. In the rear he built a ladies courtyard, where his harem lived. Rumor has it that he and his brother were eventually murdered by the sultan's mother, because she saw them as a threat to her son. The riches were cleared out and moved to Mekes. There were so many of them that it took 10 years!
We loved the details inside all the buildings we toured. Beginning at the floor, there are bright colored intricate mosaics. These extend up the walls. Bordering the mosaic is ornamental plaster, often with verses from the Koran. This plaster extends upwards rising to the carved and painted wooden moldings and ceilings. Beautiful!
Taking in the palace in their own way...
Gueliz - The New City
The medina is a fascinating place, but on our last day we ventured out to the new town. It is a big city! There is even a McDonalds, which of course had to be checked out! Interestingly, we couldn't wait to get back to the medina where is was cool!
From quaint little Marrakech we traveled to Cairo.
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