Good Morning Marrakech: Part 2
I've been apprehensive about nightlife in Marrakech. The city gets weird after dark. Women are absent and men are seated outside of the city's multitude of cafes smoking and drinking coffee, or walking in packs and murmuring obscenities at any passing woman. And unlike many other dry cities in Morocco, there are bars and liquor stores. Marrakech at night is male dominated and not for the faint of heart.
The days however, vibrant and chaotic spectacles, feel safer and more accessible with each passing day. Time here is easy to fill, especially with Mehdi helping us plan out our days.
1. Le Grand Café de la Poste
Before embarking on another day Marrakech's routine madness, Isabel and I dined at the stylish Café de la Poste, per Mehdi's recommendation.
The café oozes a flapper-style colonial era decadence, full of dark-paneled wood, art deco motifs and long green palm fronds. The cool dark interior and the constantly misted terrace made both seating areas equally appealing. Lunch at Café de la Poste seemed to beckon Marrakech's local expat crowd, all cooly relaxed on the terrace sipping on chilled white wine. Not a care in the world.
The lunch menu was wistfully French- and Moroccan-influenced and so was my lunch order. We both requested a much-needed glass of Côtes du Rhône rosé. I'm accustomed to a "rosé all day" style de vie and alcohol is scarce in Morocco. To start, we shared an appetizer of creamy camembert baked in puff pastry encircling a light pile of fresh mixed greens. Lunch was a warm and savory beef kaftan tajine cooked with eggs cinnamon and semolina.
I can't seem to quit the conflicting decision to eat hot food on hot days, but it was delicious. And rosé is my favorite way to keep from overheating.
2. Sahara Desert Camel Ride at Sunset
Though we weren't in Morocco long enough to embark on a multiple day, camel ride journey through the Atlas Mountains, (plus we are pretty broke at this point, and that's not cheap) we found a sunset camel ride that took place just outside of the medina.
Organized with the help of our new best friend, Mehdi, we were fetched from our Le Savoy, shuttled outside the city and adorned in "traditional" garb for the camel ride. I wasn't
thrilled with the costume, and anyone could have worn it before me, also when was it last washed? They were at least colorful and photographed nicely.
The lackadaisical tour lasted for two of hours. There were only five of us total, including the guide. The expansive dessert was beautiful, the Atlas Mountains were visible on the horizon, and we were treated to a mint tea refreshment stop mid-ride.
During our ride, a rambunctious camel calf was tagging along with his mother. I felt that the little fella and I had bonded. Until he started trying to chomp at my hair. Did we become best friends or did he think my hair was obtainable hay? Do camels eat hay?
Regardless, It was fortuitous that Isabel happened to be holding my camera, and caught what is probably my favorite photo from the entire trip.
3. Saadian Tombs
"Anyone who says you can’t take it with you when you go, hasn’t seen the Saadian Tombs near the Kasbah Mosque."
It's comically accurate, because Saadian Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ed Dahbi spared no expense whatsoever on his final resting place before his death in 1603. The marble is imported from Italy, the massive tombs are gilded with colorful mosaics, plaster and even pure gold. It is a gorgeous, glorious mausoleum.
Al Mansour's family members are dispersed both inside and out of the burial chambers, in tombs are scattered all over the property. Apparently he played favorites and all of alpha princes are resting the grandest tombs nearest to him. *Insert feminist eye roll here. The tombs are mysterious and fascinating and made even more so by the fact that they weren't discovered until 300 years after Mansour's death.
4. Koutoubia Mosque
Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech, with an ancient obelisk as the focal point of its grandeur. Built between 1184-1199, Koutoubia still active today. Five times every day, a voice rings out over the hubbub of the medina calling the devout to their prayers. Excavation has proven that the tower was originally built misaligned, and that Almohads leveled and realigned it. When it finished in the 12th century by Sultan Yacoub El Mansour, 100
booksellers flocked to its base. The name "Koutoubia" came from the word kutubiyyin, or bookseller.
Koutoubia is both spiritual and renowned. It's served as a guidepost for international architecture like Seville’s La Giralda and Rabat’s Le Tour Hassan. Much of the moorish architecture in southern Spain is inspired by Marrakech and Koutoubia in particular.
5. Djemma El Fna
The true enchantment of Marrakech is Djemma El Fna. The
large square is unlike anywhere else in Morocco, and frankly, anywhere else int the world. By day, Djemma El Fna is Marrakech's biggest open-air square. It boasts snake charmers blowing unto flutes to bewitch their cobras, medicine men totting miraculous cures, henna tattoo artists (who will grab your hand, tattoo it and then demand money), and men compelling pet monkeys to spin tricks. (they'll shove their monkeys in your arms, offer to take a picture and also demand money.) Everyone in Morocco wants your money. Remember that.
As the sun starts to set each night, Djemma El Fna comes to life. The vendors fire up their grills, the aromas of cumin and roasted meat fill the air. The henna artists and medicine
men dissipate, they're replaced by Berbère story tellers, musicians and acrobats all flooding the streets to entertain the masses.
Unesco declared the Djemaa El Fna a 'Masterpiece of World Heritage' in 2001 for making oral history and storytelling a nightly part of Marrakech life. These days it's much more of a boisterous carnival than its rustic storytelling origins. Djemma El Fna dazzles the senses and gives you feelings of both anxiety and exhilaration.
One trip to the market and you want to go back every day. The thrill of haggling is addictive, the pulsating life of the crowd is invigorating and the knowledge that you will never see the same thing twice at Djemma El Fna is intoxicating.