We drove for several hours through the winding roads of the Atlas, bound for Marrakech. Again, the scenery is astounding, even through the threatening, leaden skies, and we stopped for photos in jaw dropping locations. The country changes so much! On arrival in Marrakech we cheked into our beautiful Riad hotel, the mirror, bed head, wardrobe and chairs were attention grabbers with intricate metal work inlaid with stone and I’d love to take them home. As soon as we were settled, we headed into the famous Jemaa el Fna, the great square, one of the largest public spaces in the world and unique to Marrakech. Every night it comes alive with snake-charmers, musicians, story-tellers, fire-eaters and hundreds of small outdoor restaurants, though to take a photo can cost as much as 200Dirham each – so the sneaky photography trick of buying a meal in one of the restaurants with a view from the terrace was employed. Everyone seems to be in on the “photography charge”, even veiled ladies. It’s a much easier square to navigate than Fes and the Great Minaret (third largest minaret in Morocco) serves as a handy land mark.
After breakfast the next day, we met our Marrakech local guide and set off on a morning tour of the old medina. We visited the beautiful 150 room Bahia Palace, a splendid mansion built in 1866 for a former slave who had risen to become Vizier of Moulay Hassan Government. The palace for his 24 concubines was handily located to the royal quarters, as was those of his four wives. He ruled Morocco whilst the king’s sons grew to majority. He was eventually ousted by the French who decided to take over the building for their administration. We explored the tranquil inner courtyards, fragrant with orange blossom, and the many salons and chambers that make up this elegant home. We continue to the Marrakech Museum, itself a former palace, which houses a fine collection of Moroccan art and sculpture – saw my first painting displays, some good, some awful, all abstract (yay!)- and we then walked through the streets of the old medina as we make our way back to the Jemaa el Fna. I found the place to buy the Marrakechi (black and white) and Berber hats (wool with geometric shapes) to add to my collection, and the castanets that may have to wait for our return to Marrakech in two days.After lunch and more spy photography, I jumped the hop on- hop off tour bus to get a better understanding of the city, stopped at a few places and then returned to the Riad, a little tired. The rest of Marrakech seems to be made up of salubrious hotels made from former Riads, being the embassy houses of former foreign diplomats. All in all, Marrakech is a bit disappointing, perhaps from expectations raised by friends who have visited here, or perhaps because of the length of time I have been travelling. For me, Fes had a more exciting Medina, and the countryside is a better experience because of its people.