Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Pearl of the South, Jewel of the South, The Rose City—just a few of the nicknames Marrakesh has acquired over the years. The pearl and the jewel symbolize its importance as the center of Morocco ever since it was a trading and resting place on the crossroads of ancient caravan routes from Timbuktu. The rose attests to a city still painted entirely in salmon pink, in keeping with the red-clay earth below. Once called Morocco City by foreign travelers, Marrakesh eventually lent its name to the country itself. Part Berber, part Arab, part African, Marrakesh is the heartbeat of Morocco, where palaces and monuments of unrivaled refinement sit calmly alongside the snake charmers and Gnaouan drums pulsing constantly from Djemâa el Fna Square—the most exuberant marketplace in the world.

Marrakesh Sights

Marrakesh has two distinct parts: the walled-in medina, or Old City, and the wide-open New City (Ville Nouvelle), Gueliz. When you can see the ramparts, you’re either just inside or just outside the medina, a labyrinth of narrow alleys in which houses, souks, and bazaars form an interlocking honeycomb, specifically designed to confuse invaders and now serving much the same purpose for tourists. Walking among the twisting and turning alleys deep in the medina is a voyage in itself. If you are literally claustrophobic, ask for a guide at your ; if not, just follow your nose, keep walking, and you’ll end up at one of the babs, or arched gates, that lead in and out of this ancient quarter. If that fails, ask a young Marrakshi to show you the way out, and give him a 5 DH piece for his trouble.

A street—usually no more than an alley—is called a rue (French) or zencat (Arabic) and an alley is called a derb. At the medina’s center is the famous Djemâa el Fna square, the heartbeat of Marrakesh, whose name has many interpretations: as Djemâa means “meeting place” and el Fna means “the end” or “death,” it could be translated as “Mosque of Death” or “Meeting Place at the End of the World.” Today it’s a fun fair, but once upon a time the Djemâa’s purpose was more gruesome: it provided for public viewings of the severed heads of sinners, criminals, and Christians, hung on stakes around the square. Most of the medina’s monuments charge an entry fee of 10 DH-15 DH and have permanent on-site guides; if you use one, tip him about 30 DH. Gueliz, in comparison, is flat and open, its wide streets lined with orange and jacaranda trees, office buildings, modern stores, and a plethora of sidewalk cafés.

Marrakesh Reviews

Marrakesh has arguably the best selection of restaurants in Morocco; as a group they serve equal parts Moroccan and international cuisine. Restaurant dining, however, is a relatively new phenomenon for Moroccans, who see eating out as somewhat of a shame on the household. Even the wealthiest Marrakshis would prefer to invite friends to sample home cooking than to go out for the evening. A treat is to spend an evening at one of Marrakesh’s popular riad restaurants. These are mostly in the medina and will give you an idea (albeit a rather expensive one) of traditional yet sumptuous Moroccan entertaining.

You can also eat well at inexpensive sidewalk cafés in both the medina and Guéliz. Here, don’t miss out on a famous local dish called tangia, made popular by workers who slow-cook lamb or beef in an earthenware pot left in hot ashes for the whole day.

Marrakesh Hotel Reviews

Marrakesh has exceptional hotels. Five stars are dropped at every turn, the spas are superb, and the loving attention to detail is overwhelming. If, however, you’d prefer not to spend a fortune sleeping in the bed that Brad Pitt once graced, solid budget and mid-range options abound. They’re small, clean, and suitably Moroccan in style to satisfy adventurous penny-pinchers.

A building explosion is still taking place in the Palmery, where billion-dollar palaces are de rigueur. These range from tasteless embarrassments of riches to rustic embraces of expensive simplicity. At least 20 minutes from the medina, Palmery retreats master seclusion and space at the same time, and are ideal for romance, quiet, and golf.

To take on the historic heart of Marrakesh and live like a pasha of old, head to one of the medina’s riads. Riad restorations, many by ultrafashionable European expats, have taken over the city; you’d trip over them, if only you know where they were. Anonymous doors in the narrow, twisting derbs of the medina, and especially the souk, transport you to hidden worlds of pleasure. There are cheap ones, expensive ones, chic ones, funky ones, plain ones… the list goes on. You can reserve by the night, and in some cases even rent the whole riad.

Marrakesh

The most fascinating nocturnal scene in Marrakesh is, hands down, the Djemâa el Fna. From sundown, when the gas lamps are lighted and the cooking oil starts sizzling and smoking, through midnight, when the last stalls are cleared away, the square hums with life in the form of acrobats, storytellers, musicians, jugglers, drummers, fortune-tellers, and even tooth pullers.

Marrakesh

Marrakesh is a shopper’s bonanza, full of the very rugs and handicrafts you may have seen in the pages of interior-design magazines back home. As a group, the bazaars in the souk sell everything imaginable and are highly competitive. Recently, boutiques have begun to spring up in Gueliz, part of a movement toward allowing buyers to browse at their leisure, free of the souks’ intense pressures. Most of these stores are happy to ship your purchases overseas. Some souk bazaars also ship merchandise, but it’s worth sticking to recommended merchants only, as many travelers find that their shipments never arrive. The bazaars open between 8 AM and 9 AM and close between 8 PM and 9 PM; stores in Gueliz open a bit later and close a bit earlier.

As you wander through the souk, take note of landmarks so you can return to a particular bazaar without too much trouble. Once the bazaars’ shutters are closed, they’re often unrecognizable. Some bazaars are closed on Friday, the Muslim holy day.

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