“OMG. Chaos.” Those were the first words my friend Caren and I simultaneously said to each other as we arrived in Marrakech just after midnight on a Sunday. The city was BUZZING with people, scooters, and taxis. The taxi driver dropped us off on the side of the road near the medina (old city) square called Jemma el-Fnaa (pronounced exactly how it is spelled.. don’t even dare to add a syllable between the F & n…) and said your Riad (traditional moroccan house with an interior garden) is that way and pointed. He said just walk towards Café du France and “it is there”. Well, “it is there” happened to be down a narrow path to the right and around a few corners in a dark alley and thanks to the un-hired hired “guide” that helped us find the unmarked door for a fee of 10 euro, we had officially arrived. We quickly dropped our bags and ran to the square in search of food. Chaos.
There are no less than 75 vendors selling the same dishes in the square. 5 people from each stand are asking if you want food all at the same time, the people eating are yelling come here, this one is the best; surely all 75 were the best, especially after traveling for 24 hours, anything would do! The two of us filled up for 85 dirhams, which is the equivalent of $10.50. Welcome to Marrakech; a city that stole my heart or cast a spell on me, or possibly both. Either way, I’m in love. Hamdulilah (close meaning as Hallelujah!)
The alleys in the souks are no more than 6 feet wide at their widest. There are shops that have overgrown their insides and have put their products lined up against the walls on the outsides, on both sides. In between, you have people walking, tourists browsing, people selling bread and sardines, people riding their scooters in both directions (the unofficial transport of Marrakech), cats and more cats, camels, donkeys hauling anything from fruit to furniture, beggars of the adult and children variety, and souk owners asking you to smell something, anything just to get you to name your price for goods you didn’t know you needed. After all, “looking is free & for you, I make Muslim price.” If you keep navigating the alleys, you’ll start to hear the sound of the snake charmers and you know Jemma el-Fna is near. The medina is bursting with beautiful objects to look at, touch, & smell. One shop to the next is an adventure. One store you are bargaining for a beautiful Berber rug that you all of a sudden can’t live without, & the next you are seriously wondering how you are going to get all of those beautiful, yet oversized lanterns into your luggage to only be told, “Inchallah, don’t worry, we ship with DHL all over the world!”
No matter the treasure, one thing is for sure; Marrakech is the epitome of the true artisanal experience; truly committed to the handmade way of life. A walk through the souk is a journey through years of craftsmen tradition & the trade that was passed to them. Each item is handmade; which means no two items are the same, no mass production, no factories. The beautiful lanterns are hammered deep in the medina along side a tannery where leather is tanned, colored, and stitched together to make various bags, shoes, and poufs (that I obviously also need). Even the bread, that is served with EVERY meal, is made at home and either baked there or at a special place in the medina – and problems of gluten intolerance are a non-issue, as they only use the purest ingredients.
The only pause in the city happens during the 5 calls to prayer, called Adhan, and it is probably one of the most beautiful sounds I have heard during any of my travels. Religious or not, it is sure to raise the hair on your arms and neck in a good way. The souk owners leave everything, often “closing” the store with a wooden broom stick only and heading to one of the 300 mosques in the medina alone to pray. This pause gives you a minute to really take in the old city. All of a sudden the smell of orange blossoms takes over your senses and you remember that you can have the best orange juice of your life for $.50, no sugar and no water added. The sound of tea being poured moves your attention to the afternoon refreshment. The only way to pour tea is from 2 feet above the glass, poured back into the pot, and repeated until the tea is perfectly sweet. A man is walking by juggling coins in his hand, letting you know he has cigarettes for sale (even though I don’t smoke, I came to appreciate this sound). The Moroccan people are all smiling and having a good time with each other and with the tourists. All of a sudden, I realize my thoughts have shifted from chaos to pure love. The energy, the kindness, the way of life; one can’t help but think, denia hania, Arabic for life is good.
WHERE TO EAT: STREET FOOD for sure! any of the crepes are amazing and cheap. also any juice/smoothie store deeper in the medina is great too (can get a smoothie that is avocat avec amande for example.. avocado with almonds) For a more fine dining experience, I recommend either lunch or dinner at El Fenn!
FAVORITE SHOP: Zina – Bijoux & Caftan – fine jewelry made of silver and stones – quality can be found here. 62, babftouh medina, Marrakech tel: 05 24 38 65 25 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
PLANNING A HONEYMOON: contact my friend Katie at Ever After Honeymoons
PHOTOGRAPHS & STORY BY: Leila Brewster