Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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What to actually look for in Marrakech … forget the Palaces and Tombs

Posted by Rishiray on March 4, 2010


For the past three days, I have been doing things in reverse. By meeting up with two great guys from the local Couchsurfing network, Mohammed and Houssam, I have been shown a side of Marrakech that the tourists don’t generally see right away and they have provided me with some first hand local knowledge that I could access without spending more time.

Regardless, there are just some local behaviours that I could never get accustomed to. A good example is the social contract that Moroccan pedestrians and drivers are part of; I could never cross the road like a Moroccan, no matter how long I am here, since I never signed that social contract.

At day and night, the Koutoubia Mosque is the landmark that all Marrakhis use to navigate and it can be seen from about 20 miles away at night, shining above the trees and buildings in the dark. The name is derived from the Arabic al-Koutoubiyyin for librarian, since it used to be surrounded by sellers of manuscripts, and there are no steps inside leading to the top … it is a long sloped floor, so that the Muezzin could ride a horse to deliver his call to prayer. Now that is some modern innovation, I could not imagine having to climb that thing 5 times a day.

It dominates the Marrakhi skyline.

In doing my touring backwards, I have realized that the attraction of Marrakech is in the people and not in the “Tourist” attractions. The tourist core of Marrakech consists of the following attractions

  • Palace Bahia : Which is nice and a typical Moorish type palace, but nothing really spectacular
  • Palace Badi : Which is really a set of ruins, populated by storks and birds
  • Saadian Tombs : It is an expensive, lavishly decorated tomb  … so what?
  • Moussadine Fountain : It is a nice fountain … if you love fountains, head to Fez … nuff said.
  • Koutoubia Mosque : Which unless you’re a Muslim going to pray or you can fake being a muslim, with 007 hidden cameras, you’re not going to see much in here or photograph anything in here
  • Ramparts of Marrakech : Lovely to photograph in the evenings since baked walls take on a deep orange-coloured hue. The strong walls surounding the medina have been standing since before the 13th century and are the best examples of fortress walls in Morocco.The gates are great examples of the Moorish design; Bab ed-Debbagh gate opens up onto the tanners area, and we all know about the tanneries : the good and the  bad!

Aside from those places listed, the rest are hotels and long walkways and boulevards. I haven’t really listed the Djemma el Fna, since it is an experience rather than a tourist sight or place.

I do love the people here, the utter madness of the streets and the inventiveness of everyone I see. For instance, if you need to make a call and you are driving a scooter on the road, how do you make the phone call? Simple, pick up a friend, have her hop on, let her dial and hold the phone to your ear, while you’re driving. It’s so simple!

Or notice this scene, everyone is looking one way, and the “petit taxi” decides that it’s clear and goes the wrong way against traffic, because it was easier. Now this is a Trinidadian type manuever, but I don’t think that I have ever seen it in action. Can you imagine pulling one of these on Wrightson Road in Port of Spain? Attempting this in Toronto, will result in instant seizure of the car, if not an accident first, but here it seems perfectly normal.

Marrakis also love their cats. Cats are everywhere here, in the cafes, restaurants and of course all around the tourist sites, since they get fed all the time. I’m accustomed to dogs, but cats run Marrakech.

If you had a UNESCO world heritage sight, it stands to reason that the authorities would sanitize and clean up all tourist attractions … well not here. At the Badi Palace, there are massive stork nests at the top of the ruins and there are no plans to remove the old inhabitants out of there, even though I saw a stork flying quite close to a tourist eating a sandwich. I’ll add that to my list of things not to do in Morocco … ” Don’t eat food at Badi Palace unless you want close encounters of the Stork kind”

Is it time for Tajine as yet??

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No Responses Yet to “What to actually look for in Marrakech … forget the Palaces and Tombs”

  1. Monika said

    Really funny and well put info on Marrakech! Who needs a Lonely Planet Guide book anyway?
    “The cats rule Marrakech”, priceless.. 🙂
    No food eating at Palace Badii…noted!
    Good work! 🙂
    Cheers, Monika

  2. Once in the medina, everything can be seen on foot, though you’ll be doing a lot of walking. For exploring more of the city, buses and petit taxis are plentiful. Almost all buses stop at Jema El Fna and Place Youssef Ben Tachfine and fares range from Dh 2 to Dh 5 depending on the distance.

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