Exploring The Medina Of Marrakech

Issue 100

By Laura Fleming

Marrakech is a vibrant Moroccan city situated to the west of the great Atlas Mountains. Famous for its old quarter, the Medina, I knew I had to focus my time exploring the gorgeous architecture and bustling markets within the Medina walls.

After leaving the comfort of my friends in Agadir, I was anxious and eager to start heading Northwards through the Atlas Mountains to enjoy a couple of days in Marrakech. The four-hour bus ride was filled with inquisitive conversation and a brief Arabic lesson with my friendly Moroccan neighbour, himself on his way home to Casablanca. The sun had been set for many hours by the time I arrived at my hostel in the centre of Marrakech’s Medina, so luckily for me the kind host, Mustafa, made some delicious Moroccan mint tea and promised that he would take me around the famous markets the following morning.

Waking up to the beautiful, sun lit hostel and a humongous breakfast of local delicacies, it was not long before we were out weaving the intricate streets of the UNESCO world heritage site, Marrakech’s Medina. The loud intensity of the tightly packed streets and the vibrant colours of the different buildings, paired with the smells of a range of delicious cuisines being cooked up nearby was all an absolute treat for the senses.

After walking a while, we stepped out into the famous Jamaa el Fna market square to see a plethora of market stalls, including one with the widest variety of olives I had ever seen. The music from the snake charmers’ flutes echoed around the square as I quickly lost my bearings on where we had made our entrance, so I was grateful for Mustafa’s insight.

Continuing our walk by delving into the traditional market streets, the Souks, I was mesmerised by the skills and creativity at some of the stalls. One man who caught my attention was fashioning chess pieces by operating a complicated looking tool with his feet, and after watching this spectacular show I had to seriously deliberate whether I could fit a hand-crafted chess set into my backpack. After the impulsive side of me won that battle, we found ourselves outside the unsuspecting Ben Youseff Madrasa. Named after the Ben Youseff Mosque, the oldest Mosque in Marrakech, this historic building possessed some of the most immense décor I had ever seen. The impressive Madrasa was founded in the 14th century and was a college for theology students up until 1960. I was able to explore the tiny meditation and prayer rooms that surround the central courtyard and left with a sense of complete wonder.

After a quick food break in a side street by Jamaa el Fna, I was keen to visit a recommendation from a friend, the Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech. The beautiful museum housed incredible photographs dating back to the early 19th century, which gave me an insight into how the ancient city ran throughout the centuries. As well as a wide range of photographs, the museum exhibited a film about the Berber people, an ancient indigenous group pre-dating the Arabs in North Africa. The film followed a Berber family in the Atlas Mountains, and we were able to watch them make incredibly beautiful jewellery and rugs from the natural materials around them.

The next day, I was keen to take a break from the busy streets of the Medina and spend some time in Le Jardin Secret. A serene oasis in the form of two Riads, the place offered a gorgeous display of tropical plants from around the world surrounding intricate water fountains. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house surrounding a central courtyard, which would typically have a fountain in the middle.

The courtyards of Le Jardin Secret offered a cool, green recluse by comparison of the busy streets beyond the walls of the Riad, which I enjoyed immensely whilst sipping on more mint tea. I was fascinated by the symbolism of water in the gardens, as water is considered to be not only a sign of wealth, but also holds spiritual properties to Muslim civilization. Literature throughout the gardens showcased the hydraulics history of the ‘Khettara’, a ground drainage tunnel developed in the late eleventh century to supply water to mosques and other significant buildings, Le Jardin Secret included. Refreshed by this calming sanctuary, I stepped out of the Riad and back into the lively streets of the Medina, not knowing what wonders I would find next.

Marrakech has so much to discover, I would strongly recommend visiting to soak up the rich culture of the incredible Medina.

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