A lovely slow morning as we didn't have to be anywhere till 9am this morning.
It's predicted to be 35 degrees again so we thought we'd be out early enough to see and do most things before before it gets too hot and could then retire to the comfort of our Riad before heading out again at night.
Mustapha had offered to show us around so we took him up on this and enjoyed a lovely morning with a young local. First stop was in the Jemaa el Fnaa for some freshly squeezed orange juice before heading over to the Museum and a lovely coffee shop. After taking advantage of our companion over coffee and quizzing him about modern Marrakech and how the youth of today view their country, we wandered around both the Museum of Marrakech and the Old University.
Although there is high unemployment In Morocco and we have come across a number of highly educated young ones who are doing menial jobs just to survive. There is an air of positive expectancy about them as they speak of the policies instigated by the new king, Mohammed VI. Top of the list is water, schooling, tourism and strategic international investment with five neighbouring countries, so they can form mutally benefical alliances keeping neigbouring economies strong, decreasing the risk of terrorists attacks.
The museum is housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace which strangely enough is quite an interesting example of Andalucian architecture, housing a mixture of both traditional and modern Moroccan art.
The magnifent Islamic Ben Youssef Madrasa ( university), just two minutes walk away, was founded during the 14th century and is believed to have housed up to 900 students, making it one of the largest in North Africa. The dormitory cells cluster around the large courtyard beautifully carved in cedar, marble and stucco. The carvings are made up of geometric patterns and inscriptions only, as Islam dictates that there be no representation of animals or humans.
"Today I choose to be happy because it is better for my health" a Voltaire quote inscribed on the front door of the university.
Next stop was a small photography museum, Maison de la Photographie, which not only houses some wonderful photographs of early Marrakech and its people, but also a rooftop cafe known to be on one of the highest terraces in the city. The view from above is almost as varied and chaotic as below, satellite dishes sit proudly on almost every building.
The city of Marrakech was founded in 1062 after originally being a temporay campsite for traders and Berber farmers. Under the rule of the Almoravids, studious, devout warriors from the desert, numerous schools and mosques were built and it soon became an important cultural, economic and military base. Being used by more and more traders from Timbuktu bringing gold, salt and slaves from below the Sahara for the European merchants.
For many years the city was the capital of Moroocco and much of the Muslim architecture was influenced by the Spanish during this time with craftsmen coming from Seville and Cordoba. Infact in 1578 they spared no cost when the El Badi Palace was built as a replica of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, with marble from Italy, jade from China and gold dust brought from Sudan.
From 1917 till 1956 Morrocco came under French rule and it was only after the country regained its independence that Marrackech has taken off as a tourist destination. It soon developed as a trendy hippie Mecca, attracting all sorts of western musicians, artists, rock stars and writers.
Once dubbed the red city beause of the wonderful rich orche colour of the huge walls of the Medina and other buildings. This fortied city has its own unique mysterious feel to it, quite different to anywhere we've travelled.
We haven't moved outside the medina today and are now back amongst the lifeblood of it in the Jamaa el Fnaa. It's not surprising to discover that this square has been known as the busiest of its kind in all of Africa, for 100's of years. It is used by locals and tourists alike and seems to thrive off the active concentration of people. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes of this place are intriguing and drag you back again and again even after you think you've seen everything and your senses need a break.
We grabbed another coffee to top up the caffeine levels on the upper terrace of a delightful cafe overlooking the smaller spice market. Yummy smoothies and delicious almond filled crescent shaped biscuits in a great spot.
The stalls in the Souk are a wonderful array of colour. Lots of beautiful scarves, leather bags of all shapes and sizes, some glorious coloured shoes, ceramics, rugs, carpets, silverware and on it goes. All run by men and most of them sitting outside their stall playing on their phones, it was such a funny sight. Gosh what did they do before technology gave them these new toys. But don't get me wrong, if they smell a hint of interest they are upon you like bees to a honey pot. And if you ask the price of something, lie down and expect a beating.
It was sleeves rolled up as we attacked the market with high aspirations of finding a bargin or two. But they have been trading this way for years and, although foreign to us they seem to thrive on the whole procedure.
Come 5pm the big square starts to change and takes on a new energy. The food stalls are being set up along with their displays, cooking and seating areas. When you come back after dark it's like a whole new place and I'm sure the numbers peak about this time. There's been a changing of the guard from the woman offering the henna, the snake charmers, dried fruits sellers etc to the magicians, the story tellers, the gamblers, the dancing boys(or girls) and different peddlers of various local tonics. Once again it's tourists and locals alike that sit side by side devouring the local delicacies, even sheeps heads sitting proudly amongest the more appetizing options, most of which is done right there in front of you at the food stalls. The food production is swift so there's a high turnover of people and always interesting who you get to sit beside next. If you're not good at making a decision as to where or what to eat they will soon make if for you and have you laughing as they do so. It's fast, cheap and delicious and if you feel you need something sweet there are barrows of local sweet biscuits being pushed around the square by smiling enthusiastic youths. It's an experience not to be missed!