Between the eternal snows of the Atlas and the burning desert sand, Marrakech has been fashioned just like a work of art. Over the centuries, wonderful palaces, great mosques, impressive monuments, riads and luxuriant gardens emerged from the ground. The architects took turns in creating a city worthy of the term imperial, worthy too of receiving the special privilege of one day giving its name to the entire country.
Marrakech is a spot where world travellers like to return. A major stage on the spice route, it is still a meeting point nowadays. The town square of Jemaa el-Fna, its souks and its medina are the very soul of an effervescent town, where drumbeats, the fragrance of mint, general hubbub, shadows and colours mingle ceaselessly.
Marrakech is in itself a perfect jewel, a priceless treasure surrounded by ramparts that protect it against everything, even the passing of time.
MARRAKESH CITY OF FASCINATION
Carts overflowing with oranges and roasted grains, women from the Anti-Atlas coming to sell their baskets, storytellers, musicians, dancers, public scribes with thcir black umbrellas, fortunetellers, potion vendors, healers and apothecaries all contribute to the unreal spectacle that in Marrakesh, is commonplace.
Then, as dusk approaches, the showmen make way for the hot food stalls. One after another, acetylene flames spring into life. And then, in the starry night, the moon comes out to play the role it was designed for: to be the most magical of the thousand and one lighting up the Jemaa el Fna Square
Just as it has done every morning for more than 800 years, with the same inflected intonation, the call of the muezzin going out from the 70 metre high Koutoubia, the spiritual beacon of Marrakesh: sunrise over Marrakesh. A multicoloured crowd invades the winding streets of the medina. Groups of men jostle towards the Ben Youssef mosque, nestling against the Medersa, the vast and superb Koranic school founded by the Mérinide Sultan Abou-El-Hassan (1331 - 1349) and one of Marrakesh's most remarakable monuments.
The sun bathes Marrakesh in light.
Its rays show up the pink marble of the fountains, spread across the tiled courtyards, are reflected and then bring warmth to the turquoise, greens and whites of the mosaic, to finally be lost amidst the stucco of the Bahia Palace and the Dar Si Sa'id, now a museum housing the finest masterpieces of Moroccan art.
The legendary sun of Marrakesh adds a note of accentuated contrast to the imperious splendour of the Saadian tombs. It illuminates the relllains of the Badii Palace where a shimlllering mirage may reveal the wonder of these former glories to the dazzled visitor; the gold, the marble and the onyx which were traded for their weight in sugar by the most celebrated Saadian ruler, Ahmed el Mansour (1758- 1603).
The sun sets over Marrakesh.
Then, against a sky blazing with evening fire bounded by the etrenal snows of the Atlas mountains, the perfect proportions of the Ménara pavilion may be cntemplated, mirrored in the quiet, still waters that stand before it.
In the copper souk perhaps, where the metal is worked by craftsmen following age-old traditions, their faces set in profound oncentration. Or perhaps it was in the Laghzal Souk, home of the wool merchants. Or in el Btana with its sheepskins. Or even in the hubbub of the Zarbia souk, where carpets and caftans are sold to the highest bidder...
You are in another world. Where the smell of saffron, cumin, black pepper, ginger, verbena, cloves and orange flower enchant the nostrils. Among sacks of almonds, ground nuts and chick peas piled high like mountains, with baskets of dates, casks of olives and, on the apothecaries' shelves, pots of henna, ghassoul. flasks of rose extract, jasmine, mint, khöl, pieces of amber and musk...you are in the souks of Marrakesh!
Outside the ochre-coloured ramparts, the rhythm is broken, the colours change.
The sound of the wind in the foliage, chirping birds, the heady odours of jasmine and honeysuckle and th persistent perfume of the ramous Marrakesh roses. Here, nature is a haven or peace, beauty and contemplation. No doubt it is grateful to man for having watered it since 1106 by means or an ingenious system of collecting and channelling spring water. 13000 hectares of vegetation, 18 000 palm trees, a world class golf course; this is the renowned Palmeraie (Palm Grove) or Marrakesh. Further away, behind the Royal Palace stretch the Agdal orchards, the setting for lavish festivals and celebrations. The trees weigh themselves down with exquisite fruit as the seasons advance oranges, figs, pomegranates and olives..
And near Bab Doukkal stands the Majorelle garden with its abundance of giant bamboo, yucca, papyrus, palm, cypress and banana trees, philodendrons and bouganvillaeas, and amazing cacti with natural colours that contrast vividly with the bright blue façade of the villa.
To wander through the souks is to be drawn into a wonderful feast for the senses. And the pleasure becomes aIl the more intense when the object of the visit is the choice of a ring, a sword stick, a carpet, a pair of babouches, a woven basket or rare, sweet-smelling spices. For if you really want to enter into the spirit of the souk you must be prepared to follow three essential rituals centred around the desire for something, bargaining for it and finally acquiring il. Bargaining is an art which is practised in good humour over a glass of mint tea. A discussion over a priee frequently tUTUS into an amicable, or even friendly conversation. And in fact, a long session of bargaining will give you more to remember your purchase by.
There is a very strong tradition of high quality craftwork in aIl the imperial cilies, a tradition which is very much alive today. Rabat is famous for ils embroidery, carpets and Salé pottery. Meknes for ilswood carving, ils metal animaIs encrusted with silver thread and ilS mosaics. Fez is the capital of handicrafts, specialising in the famous "Fez blue" pottery, coppeT trays and leather work. ln Marrakesh, the leather work is of particularly high quality. You cali see cobblers using the most traditional methods to sew their babouches. The region is also known for the incredible variety of ilS spices and for the quality of ilS Berber carpets.
THE WONDERS OF THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
Seen from Marrakesh, the vast, imposing mass of the snow-capped mountains seems unreal and unbelievable. And yet the splendour, other-worldliness and imposing might of the constantly changing Atlas landscape arc only 20 kilometres away. Just head out South East of Marrakesh, through the friendly Berber villages of Aghma and Dar Ca'id Ouriki. Follow the road bordered with terraced gardens along Wadi Ourika until you reach Arhbalou. From there on, the choice is simply limitless!
Bear right towards Oukaimeden ( 2 ,600 m), the fa mous win t e r sports resort only 74 km from Marrakesh. Or else admire Setti Fatma and its hundred-yearold walnut trees and dive into the invigorating coolness of its seven waterfalls. Or possibly go on to Annameure, village of the A"it Oucheg tribe where you can hire a mule and climb up as far as Djebel Yagour, centre of Moroccan prehistory which boasts over 2,000 cave paintings.
To the South, another change of scene. 47 km from Marrakesh, on the road to Taroudannt, in the typically Berber village of Asni, people come to barter in the souk which is held every Saturday. Towards Ouirgane, the landscape is reminiscent of American canyons. Magnificent gorges lead to 1m Iii, a charming mountain hamlet. This is the starting point for hikes through Toubkal national park: climbing to the summit (4165 m), North Africa's highest point or, at 3XOO m, the Tazaghaght plateau, a stone strewn desert at such an altitude that it looks down upon the clouds.
East of Marrakesh, water, water, everywhere!
The Ouzoud Falls, where the water plunges for more than 100 metres. Wadi Mehasseur, spanned by the natural lmi-n-lfri bridge, the "gateway to the abyss" in Berber, which cascades through vast rock formations to end in the artificial Ait-Aadel lake surrounded by bare, red-coloured hills.
NOT TO BE MISSED
POPLULAR ART / A GUENUINE FESTIVAL
Every year, the ruins of the el Badii palace provide the grandiose setting for the national festival of popular art. This is the showplace for music, dance and songs, costumes, j ewe Ilery and ornaments for fam i ly or rc I i gi ous ce lebrations. Qu i te enchanting!
THE TREASURES OF THE OAR SI SAID MUSEUM
Jewellery in finely worked silver, oil lamps in Taroudannt stone, embroidered leather, rustic pottery, marble, magnificent pots, chests, Berber jewellery: it is I ike walk i ng through a dream. Especially the fa vouri te' s bedroom wi th its exceptionally beautiful collection of carpets.
TANGIA: THE BEST OF TRADITION
It is both the name of a rounded earthenware pot and a delicious dish of mutton and spices which stews slowly, buried overnight in hot ashes. Delectable!
THE TANNERS ANCIENT CRAFT
Nothing has changed in the souk's tanneries for many hundreds of years. Among the skins stretched out on the straw to dry in the sun, close to the vats, craftsmen are still using saffron to obtain yellow, poppies for red, indigo for blue and antimony for black. A look into the past that should not be missed.
YOUR CARRIAGE AWAITS FOR THE PALMERAIE:
As the horsc settles into a brisk trot, how delightful it is 10 feel the gentle caress (d the .,gl~1 hrcc/e on your check and gaze at the silhouette of the palm trees standing (>lIt against the fiery sky: riding towards the tower of the palm grove in the light of the setting sun is one of the most romantic moments you can enjoy in Marrakesh.