15 April 2015

The Aladdin's Cave of Marrakech Medina pathways

Haunting calls to prayer echoed through early afternoon hillsides raising the hair on our arms, the sun shone for most of the day before dissolving into an early wet twilight and the tang of freshly made tagines filled our plates. Our first day in Morocco had passed in a haze of poolside snacks (and a very excited Skype call home) after a bone wearingly flight, so as the second dawned we were determined to explore. (Well, ok, dawned is a touch untruthful, perhaps 'as the second day 8am-ed' is a little more accurate - we were after all on holiday.)

Souk of Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

Forewarned about the attention we could get travelling as women on our own in Morocco, we arranged for a local guide to meet us in the foyer of our hotel. His name was Sahmi, an enthusiastic 65-year old ex-primary school teacher who asked us what we wanted to see. Still slightly clueless despite frantic googling the night before and rather jet-lagged, we arranged for a half day walking tour to include the Yves St Laurent cactus garden, the labyrinthine souk and Sahmi's favourite spots. We also asked to see the tanneries to Sahmi's slight discomfort - they're not a very ladylike place to show guests.



Marrakesh The Ochure City Adventures of a London Kiwi

Yves St Laurent Garden Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

The Old Town of Marrakech nestles behind high walls of weather-beaten earth punctuated with square slits to let the dusty Arabic winds whistle through and keep the city breathing. Homes dripping with exotic dessert plants drape the outskirts of the sprawling souk, and somewhere at the centre lies a tourist enticing gem.

Yves St Laurent Garden Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi


Yves St Laurent Garden Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

The Jardin Majorelle is a carefully manicured collection of exotic plantings from 5 continents, gathered over 40 years by Jacques Majorelle, a French painter who discovered the delights of Marrakech in 1917; immediately bewitched by the "oasis-city whose colours, light and souks [were] soaked with fertile and happy life”.

Yves St Laurent Garden Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

Yves St Laurent Garden Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

We dodged through the selfie taking tourists (selfie sticks abounded) and admired the striking studio, painted in “Majorelle blue, an ultramarine, cobalt blue, 'evoking Africa'. Strong, deep, intense, it accentuates the green of the leaves and makes them sing." With the intense cost of garden upkeep, it looked likely to be sold and bulldozed for a hotel before being discovered by Yves St Laurent and his partner Pierre BergĂ©. It inspired the fashion of Yves St Laurent for many years before his death in 2008, at which point a very classical memorial was built in the garden.

Yves St Laurent Garden Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

Yves St Laurent Garden Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

We left the garden to begin tracing our guides steps through the ochre walls of the Souk, a fantastical collection of winding street heaped with everything you could imagine. Stalls festooned with silk scarves, hand carved wooden everythings (included polished life size football ornaments!?), tables laden with teeth suckingly sweet slices flavoured with rose, spice, orange and cardamon.

Souk of Marrakesh Adventures of a London Kiwi

Marrakesh Souk Adventures of a London Kiwi

Walls lined with jars of Berber health cures as old as the dessert itself, the odd set of coloured fake spice cones surrounded by agog tourists, bewitching door frames hung with lamps in every metal and glass hue and tagine pots heaped in groaning piles, every size shape and colour. The smell was a riot of fragrance: fresh lemon wood carving, ylang-ylang, wafts of food from small cafes, winter orange blossom heavy on the trees, mint tea and just the hustle and bustle of people.

Marrakesh Souk Adventures of a London Kiwi

What struck me the most were the eyes of the shop owners. Most were trained outwards to watch their passing trade as we wandered around corners hung with metal work and down teeny alleyways. We trotted along behind our guide, popping into suggested shops (usually his friends I guess?) and Rebecca and I just soaked it all in.

Marrakesh Souk Adventures of a London Kiwi

We did make it through the tanneries - our sweet guide stopping off at a local market to buy handfuls of Mint for us to hold to our noses against the, er, earthy smells.

Marrakesh Tanneries Adventures of a London Kiwi

The Morocco tanneries were almost primal; small rooms of men hand scraping the hides off animals, a field of men stood hip deep in pits full of natural dyes and storerooms of feathers, straw, mopeds speeding around corners and donkeys pulling carts of goods (who then enjoyed a sweet treat of our mint).

We then were taken to the mosaic encrusted Bahia Palace.

Marrakesh Tanneries Adventures of a London Kiwi

It was an experience like no other.

24 comments :

  1. Incredible photos and words, Emma - I really felt as though I was there! And you're brave to visit the tanneries, though I suppose I would have wanted to see them too! I'm curious to know (in case I make a trip soon myself!): how did you find your guide?

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  2. This is just so beautifully written and atmospheric. To echo what Jaime said below I really felt like I was there. Marrakesh is such a wonderful city.

    Lots of love,
    Angie
    SilverSpoon London

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  3. I really want to go to Marrakesh and your post has made it sound so wonderful! Definitely moving up my list of places to visit. X

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  4. I would love to go to Marrakesh, and I think your post has just given me a stern reminder to get my act together. It looks like you got to see some hidden gems too x

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  5. I'm still insanely jealous. And I bloody love how you manage to sneak a cat photo into everything. You shall be Cat God and I shall worship you.

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  6. Wow, talk about an assault on the senses! So well written I felt like I was right there with you.

    V
    Life+1

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  7. haha, I just scrolled down and realized that several other people said the same thing! Obviously you're an incredibly good writer!

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  8. Honestly, I thought my description was a little overblown - but it just fits the experience we had! Thank you :D

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  9. Cats, cats, cats! There were so many of them - the Morrocan people love them as they keep the mice down. You know we both squealed finding them :D

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  10. I hope you can make it over - it is just something else!

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  11. I'd love to go back for a longer trip as well, and explore more cities - check out Chefchaouen!

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  12. I'm quite gobsmacked by everyone's kind responses - I thought it was too high-faluting, but I guess not? There really was no other way to describe it though!

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  13. We were lucky to visit in Spring whilst it's not too hot - in summer, not a chance! We just asked our hotel concierge who found Sahmi for us - he's worked with them for years.

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  14. Awww little Moroccan kitty :) Brilliant descriptions in this post - I feel like I'm back there again! I wasn't brave enough to visit the tanneries though, would have definitely needed a fistful of mint!

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  15. Loved this, felt like I was there too.

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  16. Love the way you told this story, feels like i was walking along with you... But, yano, without the erm... 'earthy' smells! xo

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  17. I can't decide if that's a better or worse way to experience it :)

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  18. I also think we were lucky that it was a cool morning - I couldn't imagine it mid-summer (well, growing up on a farm I probably can actually...!)

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  19. Wow looks incredible! Loved all the senses you evoked. And that beyond gorgeous blue!

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  20. Great article and I also love the pictures, it's like I also went with the experience. I remember my arabic teacher on skype at http://preply.com/en/arabic-by-skype, she also loved to travel.

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  21. I'm loving reading your adventures, I've always wanted to go and I feel like loads of bloggers I follow have gone this year! Making me lust for travels.

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