With no real concept of what Marrakech’s Medina was actually going to be like, we booked a riad that turned out to be located twenty minute walk away from the famous square of Jemaa el Fna. Its location meant that we were thrown right in at the deep end in terms of our introduction to the labyrinth of alleys which form this human ants’ nest of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thankfully we had the safety net of Rashid, the riad’s house manager, to hand hold us on our first trip down the ‘red city’s’ rabbit hole.
We’d visited souks and medinas in Tunisia previously but nothing really prepared us for the real experience of plunging into the heart of Marrakech. Call it full on; overwhelming; an assault on the senses; a kaleidoscope of sensations; roller-coaster ride, a whirlwind, maelstrom in the Medina…etc. etc. etc. Colours, sounds, smells and noise charge the virgin visitor from all directions and you can either cower in a corner or spread your arms and welcome the experience. Love it or hate it, you won’t forget it.
For now my head is still swirling with experiences that refuse to get into an orderly line. Until they’re rounded up and sorted out, here are a selection of photos that hopefully give a taste of the wildly contrasting world of the Medina in Marrakech.
The Medina Away from the Souks
A wacky races of mopeds and bicycles weave around pedestrians in narrow alleys. The trick to negotiating them is not to move out of the way of the traffic; let the bikes do all the work. In some ways these are more interesting than the trinket and treasure laden souks as narrow doorways often reveal all sorts of curios.
The Medina is simply a maze that will test even the most confident of navigators. If you don’t get lost at least once then you haven’t ventured far enough into the warren.
Museum of Marrakech
Even for those who relish a full-on Medina experience, a little tranquil respite can be in order now and again; there are plenty of serene pit stops like the Museum of Marrakech that are perfect for a calming culture shot.
The Aromas of the Medina
Okay, it’s not all the aroma of exotic spices but most of the smells you encounter in the Medina are pleasing to the nose, especially when passing cupboard-sized ‘restaurants’ selling barbecued meat kebabs and the ever present tagines.
Jemaa El Fna – Refreshments 1
By the time you reach La Place Jemaa El Fna, refreshments are required. First choice has got to be a cooling, zingy fresh orange juice from one of the stalls (pick any, they’re all the same price).
Jemaa El Fna – Refreshments 2
Alternatively head to one of the restaurants with a terrasse panoramique for a revitalising mint tea. It’s a bit like sitting outside of the action but they do have the best views of the square…
Jemaa El Fna – Food Stalls
…and are a good place to watch the famous food stalls being erected in the late afternoon sunshine.
La Koutoubia Minaret
Beyond the square is La Koutoubia, the most iconic minaret in the city. The call to prayer acting as a soundtrack to the bustle in Jemaa el Fna rounds off perfectly the introduction to the ‘red city’.