Among the rosy-tinged buildings of Marrakesh, visitors will discover ancient archaeological marvels and twisting medina alleyways where every turn yields an abundance of new sights, sounds and scents. The ramparts, old city walls, of the medina in Marrakesh were built in the thirteenth century and are the best examples of fortress walls in Morocco. At two meters thick and 12 miles long, the walls are a great place for an early morning stroll. Catch them during the last light of day to see the walls take on a deep orange-colored hue.
Tucked away in the narrow streets and alleys, the mosaic of souks (markets) should not be missed. Each is devoted to a separate trade such as pottery, woodwork, copper, leather, carpets and spices. It is easy to lose your way, but well worth exploring to bargain for anything from handmade shoes, tea glasses and Moroccan carpets. Bargaining is a way of life in Morocco and vendors expect you to reduce their initial price offers. Vendors may initially quote a price up to ten times the worth of the item. If you’re not sure what you should pay for something, go to a fixed price store to get an idea of the usual price range. It is important that you reply to the vendor with a rock-bottom price and bargain from there. It’s a good idea to set a maximum price you are willing to pay. Quite often, if you walk away from the vendor because the price is too high, they will follow you and may agree to a sale. Once you have agreed on a price with the vendor, it is important to honor the contract and purchase the item.
The monuments of Marrakesh are numerous and range from the well known Koutoubia Mosque and its superb minaret (famous throughout the Islamic world and the ‘sister’ to the Giralda in faraway Seville) to the lesser known tropical gardens of the French painter Jacques Majorelle (now owned by Yves Saint Laurent). There is the Palais Bahia, a superb example of Muslim architecture, and the ruins of the Palais El Badi, reputedly one of the most beautiful palaces in the world in its time. The Saadian tombs are a recently uncovered gem of the medina. All of the above can be a challenge to locate, but that is all a part of the experience of exploring the phenomenal medinas of Morocco.
In the evenings, head to the heart of Marrakesh, Djemaa el–Fna, a square unlike any other in the world. Originally a trader’s square, it now functions as the public face of this city. At dusk, it transforms into a living theater where milling throngs of people watch displays by musicians, dancers, storytellers, boxers, snake-charmers, vendors of herbal medicinal potions, and acrobats in a riot of entertainment. Also found in the square are scribes for those who cannot write, barbers and tooth-pullers. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the rhythm of the music, emotion of the dancers, idle talk of the merchants and skill of the jugglers. Visitors should take plenty of loose change, as the performers do expect a couple of Dirhams worth of appreciation in addition to applause.
For the budget-minded, cheap eats are available at the local markets and souks. For a special treat, try Pastilla which consist of layers of flaky dough, spicy meat filling and almond paste, wrapped into a pastry, baked, and then dusted with powdered sugar. Another cheap and tasty meal is Harrira soup which is a thick, filling soup consisting of chick peas, tomatoes and lentils.