FROM THE ROOFTOPS OF MEDINA
The best views of the Medina, or old city, are from the rooftop terraces. Enjoy a mint tea or fruit juice, browse and take pictures undisturbed, watch the hustle and bustle, or gaze out into the reddish
The Jemaa el-Fna square is a living and intangible heritage of humanity and has its own rules. The square is known as the best school in Marrakech: "he who attends its classes will be intelligent and learn languages and all the rest; he who does not attend will not only be stupid but will not even be considered to be from Marrakech".
Along its wide perimeter, there are many cafés. From the top of their terraces, the panoramic view is perfect. They are ideal places for a short midday break or dinner while watching the incredible sunset over the minaret of the Kutubía, while the street food stalls fill the lively square.
After leaving the hustle and bustle of the large square, we head through the winding streets of the souk to reach the Place des Epices (Spice Square), a place with an authentic atmosphere. During the day, the stalls selling handicrafts, spices and herbalists leave hardly any room for walking, so it is best to go up to one of the terraces and observe the atmosphere at a leisurely pace, without rushing.
In the square, there are several trendy café-restaurants with a chic and traveller atmosphere. The menu of drinks and dishes is very varied, with a mixture of tradition and modernity.
Fruit juices, lemonade and handmade sweets accompany you as you look out over the square to watch the inhabitants come and go and the variety of stalls, surrounded by ochre carpets with geometric designs hanging from the facades.
"STREET-FOOD", RESTAURANTS & RIADS
One of the peculiarities of Arab culture is to get together with the family and share a meal from a large plate placed in the middle, accompanied by bread alone. Gathering with family and friends around the table is essential, especially on special occasions. It is also widespread to go out with friends and eat from street stalls.
Moroccan cuisine is slow-cooked, and its fundamental ingredients are years of wisdom and fresh produce. Based on home-based cooking, a Moroccan proverb states: "Throughout life, a Moroccan will try to revisit his mother´s kitchen".
One of the main dishes of gastronomy is the Tajin, which takes its name from the earthenware container with a conical lid; the heat is distributed evenly throughout the container, thus preserving the temperature, and the steam generated inside gives it a characteristic flavour. There are many types of tajin, with meat, fish, chicken or vegetables. The most typical is lamb with prunes, sultanas, almonds and cinnamon.
Couscous is the most typical dish of Moroccan cuisine and the traditional Friday meal. It consists of wheat semolina with lamb or chicken and vegetables, potatoes, spices and fruit, such as prunes or raisins.
Pastela is a very elaborate pastry with thin layers of filo pastry, filled with pigeon meat, almonds, saffron, sugar and cinnamon; it can also be made with chicken. A dish that is always present on holidays or special occasions, you have to order it in advance in some restaurants.
Marrakech is the perfect place to enjoy street food. Most of the stalls are set up after sunset in Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. If you like to go off the beaten track, try snail soup, sheep´s brains or Kefta. Finding the places with the most customers is always recommended, where quality and fresh produce are guaranteed.
Wandering around the stalls in the square, you can find pots of Tanjia, popularly known as "student
stew", meat seasoned with turmeric, cumin and olives; the bread is used as a spoon. Nearby is the alley of Méchoui, where a row of shops serve the tasty and tender Mechoui, lamb grilled with mint. Ordered by weight, Nuss (1/2kg) or Rubb (1/4kg), it is served with freshly baked bread and olives - a delight!
There are numerous restaurants and riads in the Medina, old properties with gardens. In each one, you will taste the speciality of the house. The camel burger, the saffron-scented Tajines, simmered with turmeric and ginger. If you don´t have the stomach for exoticism, there are other options, unique sandwiches, salads of all kinds of fresh vegetables, served in dishes that surprise with their colour and intense flavour.
The Argan tree is exclusively from Morocco and specifically in the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve. Marrakech is one of the country´s leading centres for commercialising the precious oil obtained from pressing the ripe seeds of the tree´s berry. The oil is used in gastronomy and cosmetics, and hair care.
The collection and extraction of the oil are done traditionally; a task carried out only by women. After selecting the seeds, they are roasted and crushed by hand with a stone or metal mill and mixed with boiled water until a puree is obtained, which is then kneaded until the oil comes out in a small trickle. It is a long process, as 30 kilos of fruit and two days of work are needed for one litre of oil, which explains its great value.
In Moroccan cuisine, it can be enjoyed as a salad dressing or as a bread dipping sauce. It is also used in the preparation of Amlou, a brown paste of roasted and ground almonds with honey and argan oil that can be eaten as a toast spread, and they are finger-licking good. Studies have shown that its use in gastronomy is beneficial for health and the treatment of various diseases.
However, the oil gained international fame for its health, beauty, skin and hair care benefits thanks to its anti-inflammatory and moisturising properties. The oil is available on its own or mixed in creams and other cosmetic products.
The different Argan oil articles, both for use in cosmetics and gastronomy, can be found in other shops and also in the Berber pharmacies of the Medina, based on natural medicine. It is quite an experience to listen to the pharmacists talk about the benefits of creams and ointments. It is not only oil that is sold, but also perfumes, spices and all kinds of remedies for specific illnesses.
It should be borne in mind that the argan oil sold is not one hundred per cent pure, as the price would become too high. It is often necessary to haggle, as the prices are inflated. Bargaining is widespread at the souk stalls because, according to a national saying, "nothing has a fixed price; it depends on the need you have for it". The need plays a role in bargaining, the final price, and the time available. Another proverb says: "you have the clock, but we have the time".
JEMAA EL-FNA SQUARE and the KOUTOUBIA MINARET
It´s easy to take a photo in the red city that will make your trip unforgettable. Many places can inspire you: a unique character in the most famous square in the world, an excellent opportunity to take some great pictures with the most beautiful lady in Marrakech, or a romantic embrace in the Garden of Eden.
Life in Marrakesh revolves around its most famous square, Jemaa el-Fna. For the curious traveller, it feels like entering Neverland. A journey back in time, back to the Middle Ages. It´s like being part of a play, fascinated and enchanted. People, smells, music and characters impossible to imagine will surround you.
The square changes throughout the day. In the mornings, you will come across snake charmers, dentists who use pulled molars as a lure, henna tattoo artists, the one-person band and the monkeys on their masters´ shoulders. During the afternoon, the food stalls are set up, and when night falls, the square is illuminated by hundreds of tiny lights; the smoke and smell of street food awakens the appetite. The transgender people, the storytellers or the card-casting witches arrive. Which character or animal inspires you most to take the unforgettable photograph?
Near the square, we look for the most beautiful lady in the city; she is not hiding; on the contrary, she towers over all the buildings, none can be higher than her. We are talking about the minaret or minaret of the Koutoubia mosque. Its elegance lies in the simplicity of its exterior design. It was built in the 12th century by the Almohad sultan Abd al-Munin when he defeated the Almoravids and established a new dynasty in
The name Kutubia could be translated as "the booksellers´", Kutub in Arabic means "books". The
minaret is 66 metres high and is the most representative construction of Marrakech. Its measurements and style were a standard for other minarets, such as the Giralda in Seville and the unfinished tower of Hassan in Rabat. The great Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, back in 1352, spoke of it as follows:
"There are grandiose mosques, such as its Aljama, the one known as Kutubiyyin, which has a tremendous and colossal minaret, and when climbed will reveal length and breadth of the entire settlement".
-Plaza Jemaa el-Fna is the centre of the
-The Koutoubia Mosque is located very close to
the Jemaa el-Fna square.
MUSEO YVES SAINT-LAURENT & JARDINES MAJORELLE
It is easy to imagine why Ives Saint-Lauren and her partner Pierre Bergé fell in love with the Majorelle gardens when they first saw them in 1966. It owes its name to the French painter Jacques Majorelle who bought a villa of palm trees in 1922 and years later commissioned the architect Paul Sinoir to build the eclectic style house, somewhere between art deco, Moorish and Corbusier.
It wouldn´t be an exaggeration to compare the lush gardens of 9,000 square metres, filled with palm trees, cacti and ponds flanked by wide indigo walls, to an oasis. The French artist´s work was completed in 1937 when he painted the house in a deep blue colour of his creation called Majorelle blue.
When Yves Saint-Lauren and Pierre Bergé acquired the property in 1966, Jaques Majorelle had already passed away in Paris. The gardens were in decline. As the fashion designer often said, they renamed the place Villa Oasis, an inexhaustible source of inspiration. He designed some of his collections here, and thanks to Majorelle, he discovered the power of colour, because previously he only used black and white.
The designer died in 2008 and Pierre Bergé in 2017, just as the gardens opened to the public. His partner Bergé turned the blue house into a museum of Berber tribal pieces, jewellery, costumes and artefacts, and some pieces designed by Yves Saint-Lauren. For today´s visitors, this place contrasts the bustling and hot city of Marrakech with a space full of coolness and serenity.
The museum dedicated to Yves Saint-Lauren opened in 2017, adjacent to the garden. In a way, it is a tribute to local building techniques, with traditional materials such as ceramics, tiles, oak wood or granite. The façade is half-wrapped in brick, forming different textures and shapes as if it were a fabric made by the designer.
The museum has a permanent collection. Ives Saint-Lauren was more than a designer; he was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Fifty of the firm´s haute couture designs show the artistic development, accompanied by drawings, sounds and images intimately linked to the artist´s life. There is also a room for temporary exhibitions of painting and other arts.
To end the visit to this monument that no one will show you, I will let you in on a secret about the damask rose, or rose with a thousand petals, grown in the Dades Valley, at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, and whose fragrance captivated the designer.
The Europamundo will take you through the village of El Kalaat de M´Gouna. The rose water and rose oil are produced here for Ives Saint-Lauren´s perfumes and whose distillery is one of the best-kept secrets, an exciting and beautiful story that we will discover.
The Majorelle Gardens are located on Rue Ives Saint-Lauren, outside the Medina to the city´s north.
The safest and cheapest way is to take a petit taxi from the hotel or Jemaa el Fna square.
THE WALL GATES
The oldest parts of Marrakesh´s ramparts date back to the city´s founding in the 12th century. The wall, which is two metres thick and up to nine metres high, is striking for its red colour, which changes colour depending on the light that falls on it. Today, the ancient wall is twenty km long, surrounds the entire Medina and consists of nineteen gates. These Babs or gates are named after the tribes that used them or the economic activity practised near them. We challenge you to visit five of them.
Bab Agnaou: The Royal Gate
This Bab served as the entrance to the palace of the Medina and is the most elaborately decorated. The gate was built in the 12th century by order of the Almohad sultan Yacoub el Mansour. It is made up of four semicircular, overlapping arches. It is decorated with a frieze of Quranic verses and geometric decorative elements. The broken upper parts at each gate end probably correspond to two slender towers, hence the name ´Agnaou´, Berber for ´ram without horns´.
Bab Er Robb: Towards The Atlas
Bab Er Robb is a gate attached to Bab Agnaou (the royal entrance) but independent. It leads to the main roads leading to the High Atlas. The etymology of Robb is probably related to a drink made from figs and raspberries, which was very popular in Saadian times.
Bab Ksiba: Rock In The Casbah
Bab Ksiba was built in the 12th century at the time of the Almohad dynasty. The name Ksiba refers to the Kasbah quarter of the Medina. The Bab Ksiba gate gives access to the southern end of the Kasbah district, the first citadel of the Sultans of Morocco.
Bab Moussoufa: The Marrakech Gate
Bab Doukkala, in the northwestern part of Marrakesh, is built in red brick in the form of double horseshoe arches. Near this gate is a synagogue as well as a mosque. This is a lively place, day and night, as the
bus station is very close by.
Bab Ed-Debbagh: Gate Of Colour
Bab ed-Debbagh is one of the oldest gates in the city. It was named after the capture of Marrakesh
in 1147 by the Almoravid dynasty. It is located on the west side of the Medina and entrance to the
Suppose you like the idea of touring the gates of the wall, the Bab Aghmat gate, located to the east of the Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, the Bab Berrima gate with its towers near the Badi Palace or the Bab el-Khemis gate, located in the northeast of the Medina, one of the main gates.
THE RUINS OF THE BADI PALACE AND THE BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA.
There is a lot to see, and I wouldn´t want you to miss out on any of the city´s other gems.
Badií Palace: The Incomparable.
It is said that the plans for the palace were inspired by the Alhambra in Granada. Although it can no longer be enjoyed in its full splendour today, a stroll through its remains gives you a glimpse of what this 16th-century jewel of Islamic art was like.
Its construction was to celebrate the victory over the Portuguese in the bloody battle of the Three Kings on 4 August 1578 in the Oued Makhazine (Almajazin River) near Larache. So-called because it killed the King of Portugal, Sebastian "the Desired" - son of Philip II´s sister, Joanna of Austria - Muley Ahmed, the deposed king and Sebastian´s ally, and finally Sultan Abd el-Malik. In addition to these and 10,000 other Portuguese, thousands more were sold as slaves to the Moroccan population.
Another curious consequence of this battle was that many of the Portuguese soldiers who took part in the battle ended up in the hands of Sephardic Jews, expelled from the Iberian Peninsula and thus took revenge for their treatment. The Jewish festival of Purim Sebastiano or Christian Purim is still celebrated today, as King Sebastian had said that if he won the battle, he would force the Jews to return to the Christian faith or condemn them to the sword.
After the battle and the appointment of Ahmed al-Mansur of the Sa´did dynasty as the new Sultan of Morocco, one of the first things he did was to build the Badi or Badií Palace, translated as: "The
Incomparable". The noblest materials were used in the construction of the 360 rooms.
In 1696 the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismail took his wealth to Meknes, his residence and new Imperial City. Today, all that remains is the large esplanade of carved gardens, planted with orange trees and a pond with a fountain in its centre, all surrounded by high walls.
The Ben Youssef Madrasa Next to Ben Youssef Mosque is the old Koran school or Madrasa of the same name, founded by Sultan Abou al Hasan in the 14th century, later rebuilt by the Sa´did dynasty. In its prayer hall, more than 800 students memorised the suras or chapters of the Qur´an.
The Marrakesh Madrasa remained active for centuries until it was closed in 1960. After a few years of neglect, it was restored in 1982 as a place for visitors. Its ground plan is two concentric squares; the interior is a beautiful ablutions courtyard. The galleries are occupied by the students´ cells; a third gallery corresponds to the prayer room or mosque.
The buildings are made of cedar wood with stucco and coloured tiles; their walls serve as a canvas for many inscriptions, most of them to the Islamic ritual before prayers begin.
The Madrasa has a Nasrid influence and is often reminiscent of the Alhambra and the Generalife,
jewels of Nasrid art in al-Andalus. This beautiful Moroccan monument´s columns, arches, and many other architectural and decorative elements show the Nasrid influence, even though the two buildings are several decades apart in time.
THE NEW TOWN
The French protectorate lasted several decades and left a clear mark on the urban planning model. A model planned and carried out by Henry Prost; this French-born architect is an important figure in the recent history of Morocco, where he lived for a decade. In 1913, Marshal Louis Hubert Lyautey, in military command of the protectorate, called on Prost to set the significant urban development of Fez, Rabat, Meknes in motion Marrakech and Casablanca.
The general idea was to create new districts, to expand and avoid neighbourhoods with narrow streets, poor ventilation and poor sanitation. The most striking example was the Ville Nouvelle in Casablanca, the first city to be planned from the air. The design started from a central square and grew radially, crisscrossed by wide avenues, boulevards and gardens. Other cities followed suit.
The Ville Nouvelle of Marrakesh is primarily made up of the Gueliz district, and the central square from which the main avenues run is Place 16 November. Many buildings from the protectorate years are colonial in style, although some are in poor condition. On Av. de Hasan II, Av. Mohamed V, Rue de la liberté or Rue Des Vieux Marrakchis, you´ll find exciting art galleries, clothing and haute couture shops delicious pastry shops, Arab baths and historic cafés.
Next to Gueliz, the Hibernage district is a modern area with lots of nightlife, casinos, cocktail bars, nightclubs in hotels and chic restaurants with international cuisine and live music. Among its buildings is the Royal Theatre with domes and columns in ancient Egyptian style; concerts are held in an amphitheatre. Nearby are the 12th century Menara Gardens with a beautiful pond and El Harti Park with fountains and a rose garden.
Its neighbours look to the West, influenced by new trends which they incorporate into their roots. Today, the Moroccan middle class is looking for new spaces and moving into its modern flats. There is an atmosphere of creativity, culture and commerce, with fashion and decoration firms and exhibitions of contemporary Moroccan art.
Here are some interesting places to stop. The Matisse art gallery and MACMA museum on Rue Youguslavie showcase contemporary works by renowned Moroccan artists. The nearby Boulevard Mohamed V is home to the photographic Galerie 127, fashion boutiques with excellent linen and silk kaftans (a typical Arab woman´s garment) and leather garments. Just off Place 16 November is Le 16 Café, a famous French patisserie.
One of the most famous streets is Rue de la Liberte. Apart from the Agora gallery, you will find MY Kechmara, a popular lunch stop for salads and sandwiches. The moccasins and babouches of the Atika shoe shop; the sweets of Al Jawda, a classic of the neighbourhood, and to finish in the most relaxing way the hammam (Arab baths) Les Secrets de Marrakech, where you can choose from a wide range of massages.
HOTEL LA MAMUNIA
It is time to take a break, but not just anywhere; it will be in a luxurious place steeped in history, the hotel La
Mamunia. Its rooms have housed great politics, cinema, literature, and music figures. But it is much more than a hotel of luxury and ostentation; it is the paradigm of exoticism and distinction.
Before becoming a hotel, we must go back to the 18th century to find its origins; the then Sultan Mohammed III gave his son the property known as the Mamoun garden opposite the Kasbah of Marrakech as a wedding gift. After the first Great War, the renowned architects Henri Prost and Antoine Marchisio were commissioned to build a 50-room hotel.
At the time, Europe´s wealthy classes wanted to forget the disasters that the war had left in their countries. Marrakech was the ideal destination to get away from the shortages. The hotel seized the moment to attract many wealthy and aristocratic people looking for fun and luxury.
To this day, not even the royals have been able to resist it as a nest away from prying eyes.
Being greeted at the Mamunia by doormen dressed in white tunics and fez hats makes you feel unique, different, as surely felt by the most distinguished guests, such as Orson Welles, Paul Bowles, Edith Piaf, Yves Saint Laurent or the Rolling Stones.
If there is one guest who has left his trace, Winston Churchill, who himself used to say: "The most charming place in the world". The British Prime Minister spent long periods here, especially at the end of the Second World War and post-war. He fell in love with this city and its mountains, as attested by the numerous canvases painted by his hand with scenes of Marrakech.
Lovers of classic cinema are in luck as they can tour the rooms where one of Alfred Hitchcock´s best-known films, The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring Doris Day and James Stewart, was filmed. The Jemaa el-Fna square is also where some scenes from the film were shot.
Among some interesting features of the hotel´s customs are the practice of not displaying stars at the entrance and the absence of signs indicating room numbers. Lacking stars at the entrance or not having indications on how to get to the rooms means things are still done the old-fashioned way, with private check-in and very personal treatment.
Stroll through the gardens among the old olive trees and the scent of orange blossom; you will realise why this hotel has been rated as the best hotel in Africa and in the world for many years. Today it has 136 rooms and 71 suites.
Dirección: Avenida Bab Jdid
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