Exploring Marrakech’s medina
As a traveller there are few pleasures greater than losing yourself for hours in a market-place, and Marrakech’s medina has to be one of the most exotic, chaotic and riveting market-places in the world – as we discovered today! Everything you might ever need can be bought in Marrakech – clothing, carpets, shoes, scarfs, bags, jewelery, baskets, luggage, pottery, soaps, children’s toys, herbs, spices, eggs, chickens, beef, lamb, mutton, fish, camel meat, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, cakes, biscuits, orange juice (freshly squeezed in front of you), and even live animals like chameloens, baby tortoises and snakes. We spent our day weaving our way through the many souks of Marrakech, mesmerised by the colours, the energy and the vibrance!
Like most Moroccan cities, the heart of Marrakech is its ancient medina (translation = walled, fortified town). Some 200,000 people live in the medina of Marrakech, with another 1.4 million in the suburbs of the surrounding ville nouveau (translation = new town). Supermarkets and shopping malls do exist here, but most people still prefer to come into the medina to do their shopping – especially if they’re looking for a gift or something special. Certainly there are vast tracts of the medina that cater more to the 20 million tourists that flock to Marrakech every year, but, as we discovered today, there are also districts frequented predominantly by the locals. In these parts of the medina the touting is less intense and the vibe more laid back and relaxed. The colours are no less vibrant though!
The medina is divided into 18 districts or souks, each home to the workshops of different typesofcraftsmen and selling different wares. One of the largest souks is Souk Semmarine, which specialises in leather goods – from brightly coloured leather sandals to jackets and leather pouffes. Souk Ableuh is where to go if you want herbs and spices – lemons, chilis, capers, pickles, olives, and that essential ingredient for Morrocon tea: mint. Souk Kchacha specialises in dried fruit and nuts, including dates, figs, walnuts, cashews and apricots; and Souk Berbiere is known for its Berber carpets and rugs. In Souk Siyyaghin we saw jewellery, and laterns and wrought iron at Souk Haddadine. Check out some of our favourite photos from today here (click on eahc photot to see them full size).
Marrakech’s medina is far easier to navigate than the one of Fes – eventually all the main streets lead back to the central sqaure, the greatest spectacle of all: Djemaa El Fna. Named after the public exceutions that used to be held here (Djemaa el Fna translates to “Square of the Dead”), the central square in Marrakech is definitely unique. It smells like spices, oranges and horse poop; and it sounds like a cacophany of touters, drums, pipes and people. By day the square was predominantly occupied by tourists, orange juice stalls, snake charmers posing for photos (for a fee), and men with chained Barbary apes making some money from tourists wanting to touch the poor beasts. It’s sensory overload, Morrocon style! We had a late lunch at one of the many roof-top restaurants around the square and happily watched the action down below from our sanctuary of calm.
As the day progresses, the entertainment on offer at Djemaa El Fna changes: the snake charmers and monket wranglers depart, to be replaced by acrobats, magicians, musicians, story-tellers and dancers. Then the food stalls get set up and all the place really gets lively! It was madness in the square at night – crazy, colourful, chaotic and totally captivating. Ah Marrakech – there really is no place quiet like it!