A nice sleep in and late morning start for our guided tour around Marrakech. This time I have chosen to travel with Top Deck, a company that caters to 18-39-year olds. This will be my last chance to use this company because I will turn 40 while in Morocco. Haha right down to the wire! Even though Mohammed is our guide with Top Deck, we have a local guide named Youssef who will show us some of the significant sights of Marrakech. As we leave the hotel, there are a few horse drawn carriages with canopies waiting to take us. These are called caleches; a fancy mode of transport popular in France in the 19th century and brought over when the French colonised Morocco in the 1950’s. It’s totally touristy, and I’m glad to learn that the health and well being of the horses is regulated and monitored.
Marrakech is the 4th largest city in Morocco, and comprises a fortified city – a medina quarter that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is one of the busiest cities in Africa. It became a trendy place to be in the 1960’s and 70’s and many famous celebs bought property here such as Yves St Laurent who renovated the Majorelle Gardens (we don’t visit this place today, but it is a popular destination). Our horses clip clop over into the medina, and our first stop today is the Saadian Tombs, a historical royal necropolis from the 16th century found inside the royal kasbah. It was built and expanded over many years, with mausoleums and pretty gardens. In addition to the large chambers, there are many smaller tombstones decorated with multicolored tiles scattered on the grounds.
Eventually the area fell out of use and was isolated – no one knew it was there for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered. So it was restored and studied, and became one of the most popular places to visit in Marrakesh! We wander around and marvel at the beautiful architecture in this peaceful burial place.
Next stop is the Bahia Palace. Built in the late 19th century by Si Musa who was the grand vizier (head of government) to the sultan; after is death his son continued to expand the palace.
The decoration is what sets this place apart; the floors are paved with marble tiles, the cedar wood ceilings are beautifully painted, and the walls are carved with Arabic inscriptions.
After exploring the palace, Youssef takes us through narrow alleys and gives us a history of what life is like for Moroccans. The next stop is a shop that sells all things smelly and yummy, like herbs and spices and soaps. Some important ones used in Moroccan cuisine are turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and ras el hanout – a blend of 12 or more spices so you get a little bit of everything!
After this we are dropped off at a restaurant for lunch. It seems as though we are being taken to places that are a bit too pricey – I’m sure we could find something authentic and much cheaper but this is one of the few negative aspects of some group tours. Tours are supposed to be as easy as possible and this is much more convenient than searching for a place to eat ourselves. Some people are more travel savvy than others though! But anyways, I order the tanjia Marrakech which is different than a tagine – it is cooked in an earthenware urn, covered in parchment and then cooked underground overnight. The meat in this tanjia is lamb; I’m not a huge fan and then it gets to the table and there are big chunky gross looking pieces of mat. I’m picky about fatty and crunchy bits. Haha. But I’m so glad I tried it because it is absolutely delicious.
After lunch a few of us wander into Jemaa el Fnaa, the main square with tons of shopping stalls and souks(markets).
During the day you’ll find lots of orange juice stalls, snake charmers, and guys with Barbary apes (they want you to pay for a pic…don’t get too close because they will put the ape on you whether you want it or not, and then you’ll feel obligated to pay them). The square has an energy that is electrifying. Wandering through the narrow alleys and getting lost in the labyrinth of the souks is really cool too.
The vendors in the shops aren’t super aggressive; they’re ok if you say no and walk away. Before heading back to the hotel, I make a quick stop to have a look at the minaret of the largest mosque in Marrakech, Koutoubia.
I’d like to go inside but it doesn’t look open and I’m not sure if non-Muslim women can enter anyway. Then it’s a short cab ride back to the hotel where a few of us sit in the pool and have a few beers and get to know each other before we hit the road tomorrow!