Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
The Kingdom of Morocco is a sliver of land bordered by two seas: to the north the Mediterranean; to the west the Atlantic. Located at the most northern tip of Africa, it’s a stones throw from Europe and both continents have been irrevocably marked by the other. Morocco is also a land caught between two cultures; preserving their ancient traditions while moving rapidly into the modern world. It is a country of beautiful natural landscapes from snow-capped mountain to fiery desert sands, as well as stunning man-made art and architecture. Moroccan arched doorways, artistically carved wood doors and furniture, colorful rich patterned carpets and fabrics, and most outstanding of all, mosaic tiles in geometric patterns that grace floors, walls, ceilings and decorate buildings. Morocco is a photographers dream extraordinaire with eye-catching colorful motifs at every turn.
During my recent visit we traveled from city to city on modern, well-marked highways to experience the ancient and admire the new - Casablanca, Rabat, Meknès, Fès, Marrakech, Essaouira, Safi/El Jadida - each with its own charm and historic places to visit and many with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. History abounds at every turn in this ancient land but in Marrakech I was seduced by the light and energy of this most magical of cities.
Founded almost 1,000 years ago, Marrakech was the 16th century imperial city and its royal lineage is still apparent today. Its clean modern broad tree-lined boulevards, beautiful rose colored buildings, and fountains at major intersections, are immensely appealing. Horse-drawn carriage rides, especially at dusk to catch the changing light, present a photo-op not to be missed.
A major attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Djemaa el Fna Place, a large square where you will find venders hawking their wares and crowds in every stage of garb imaginable from the traditional Moroccan djellaba (long loose fitting unisex robe with hood that comes to a point) to the Arab burqa (women encased in black full length robes including the face, with mesh covering the eyes) to modern trendy… and often, not so trendy… dress. Here you can not help but spot the red costumed water sellers with their wide-brimmed hats happy to pose for enthralled tourists for a fee.
The square is a chaotic mix of performers: drummers, dancers, snake charmers and henna artists eager to grab your hand and start applying their craft. *
Behind the square is the wall-enclosed ancient Medina with its winding narrow alleyways cluttered with shops selling clothes, leather goods, jewelry both old and new, household items, foods, spices, nuts and sweetmeats, and of course the Rose Water and Argan Oil endemic to Morocco. The scene is organized chaos with locals shopping for bargains, tourists looking for souvenirs and gifts, donkeys pulling carts loaded with goods, and people riding motorcycles; all vying for a few inches of passing space.
Down a dark claustrophobic ally we came across a doorway labeled “The Lotus Chef School”. Curious we asked to enter and found ourselves in an open courtyard with young women being taught how to make traditional Moroccan fare. It was a serendipitous finding and was representative of the treasures Marrakech holds. www.groupelotus.com
Marrakech is renowned for its museums and we visited several, most outstanding was the Musée Mohammed VI for the Water Civilization in Morocco. This museum is a must-see and make sure you leave plenty of time because it’s a fascinating look at water’s contribution to the rise of civilization. The museum is beautifully designed and laid out and leads you through a series of exhibits from the ancient sourcing of water to the most modern management, an absolute necessity in an arid landscape. To counteract the damaging effects caused by the floods of 1996 and the drought of 1983, King Hassan II began a dam building project to control and distribute water according to people’s needs. But far from being pedantic the museum is an entertaining journey through time and man’s vital relationship to water. www.museeaman.ma
The Berber Museum is another must-see, it is a showcase for the diverse tribal regions that Berbers (Imazighen) occupied and attests to their creative and flamboyantly rich culture. On display are robes in varying colors and draping styles, head coverings in imaginative designs and breathtaking tribal jewelry that indicate status, tribal affiliation and security against hard times. There is also a spiritual and healing component to the motifs that is known only to people who created them and while you can’t decipher their meaning you can be captivated by their beauty.
The museum is housed in the workshop of French artist Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) and was assembled by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent. www.jardinmajorelle.com .
Down the street is the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, a tribute to the legendary French designer’s contributions to the world of fashion. It features a permanent exhibition showcasing his work with alternating revolving themes as time and tastes changed. www.museeyslmarrakech.com
Between the Berber Museum and Yves Saint Laurent Museum is the glorious Jardin Majorelle which took the artist 40 years to create. The winding flower laden paths with exotic plants and reflecting water ponds are a peaceful oasis and a fitting final resting place for both Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent. The Foundation Jardin Majorelle encompasses the Berber Museum, the Jardin Majorelle and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum and represents only a small sampling of the many monuments and museums in Marrakech waiting to be explored.
Our hotel in Marrakech was the 5-star The Pearl, centrally located within an easy walk to the Medina past the imposing Koutoubia Mosque and Jemâa el Fna square.
This sophisticated modern hotel’s rooms and suites are decorated in rich purples with every amenity for their guests. The hotel feature’s a roof pool with outstanding views over the city. Marrakech is known for its culinary excellence and lunch at The Pearl’s Del Café, was a perfect example. Del Café is a handsome modern restaurant serving traditional Moroccan dishes with a flair. The obligatory eggplant salad, served with every meal – both lunch and dinner - was outstanding and the individual pigeon pies were a revelation. www.thepearlmarrakech.com
Of course one could not visit Marrakech without paying a visit to the legendary La Mamounia Hotel. It’s located across from the Koutoubia Mosque on the road leading to the Jemâa el Fna square and the Medina beyond. The opulent buffet lunch we enjoyed at poolside was another outstanding meal and ranks as one of the top experiences in an all-together magnificent city… Marrakech Morocco.
*Editorial Tip: always negotiate price before or you will have a fight over fees at the end; also do not take photos of people without first asking permission and expect to pay for the privilege.
For information about Marrakech visit The Moroccan National Tourist Office: www.visitmorocco.com
© January 2018 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.