Sunday, March 6, 2011

Portrait of Marrakech: The Old Medina

Marrakech or Marrakesh (Berber: Murakush, Arabic مراكش murrākuš, local pronunciation: marrakəš ), known as the "Red City", is the most important former imperial city in Morocco's history. The city of Marrakesh is the capital of the mid-southwestern economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Like many North African cities, the city of Marrakech comprises both an old fortified city (the médina) and an adjacent modern city (called Gueliz) for a total population of 1,070,000.[1] It is served by Ménara International Airport and a rail link to Casablanca and the north.  (2)
Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco. (Source: Wikipedia) Here are some pictures of my nostalgic wanderings through the old city.

Here I am clowning around and pretending I am a sultan while in the courtyard of one of Marrakech's beautiful palaces.
The aroma of spices makes the Marrakech souk a pleasant olfactory experience.
I will always have a passion for Moroccan tiles. Here is a detail from one of the palaces.

The rooftop view from one of my favorite cafes on Djemma El Fna. I used to come here after work every day for a kahua ba halib (cafe au lait) to pick me up on my way home.

The mysterious passages of the Old Medina by night. These are some of the passages I used to walk through to visit some of the other Peace Corps volunteers who were living the the Daoudiate Quarter of the city.

Every old medina in Morocco has beautiful gates, either on the outer walls or in the inner town, dividing the different quarters.

Funny how often I got lost finding my way through these narrow streets that only a donkey, bicycle or motorcycle could get through. The latter were notorious and often you would almost get mowed down by one zipping out of a blind corner!

The Menara had to be my favorit spot in Marrakech. It was just outside of the Medina, a short bicycle ride away. They were the pleasure gardens of the sultans, similar to Taman Sari in Yogyakarta. This was the place to get away from it all or to have a picnic with your Moroccan friends who would bring a tangia - a delicious meat stew that had been cooking for hours in a covered clay pot inside the fires that feed the local bakery and hammam (public bath).

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree :
    Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.
    So twice five miles of fertile ground
    With walls and towers were girdled round:
    And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
    Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
    And here were forests ancient as the hills,
    Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

    But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
    Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
    A savage place! as holy and enchanted
    As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
    By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

    And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
    As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
    A mighty fountain momently was forced:
    Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
    Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
    Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
    And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
    It flung up momently the sacred river.
    Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
    Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
    Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
    And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:

    And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
    Ancestral voices prophesying war!

    The shadow of the dome of pleasure
    Floated midway on the waves;
    Where was heard the mingled measure
    From the fountain and the caves.
    It was a miracle of rare device,
    A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

    A damsel with a dulcimer
    In a vision once I saw:
    It was an Abyssinian maid,
    And on her dulcimer she played,
    Singing of Mount Abora.
    Could I revive within me
    Her symphony and song,
    To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
    That with music loud and long,
    I would build that dome in air,
    That sunny dome! those caves of ice! 

And all who heard should see them there,
    And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
    His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
    Weave a circle round him thrice,
    And close your eyes with holy dread,
    For he on honey-dew hath fed,
    And drunk the milk of  Paradise.

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

This was our hotel in the medina, It was a cheap place to stay if you did not mind the fact that they had a wedding practically there every night, a cultural event that I felt I was lucky to get for free because I love the music played at Marrakshi weddings...and we were fed as well! I don't think Herman enjoyed the situation as much as I did, so I promised him that we would stay at a tourist hotel next time we come to Marrakech!

Marrakech is a city of gardens and an oasis in the surrounding rocky desert. Orange trees line the main avenues of the New City, known as the Gueliz and if one is hungry there are plenty of oranges to pick freely from the trees. We were surprised that the majority of them were sweet!

Here is another detail of the intricate tiles that adorn the traditional palaces and buildings.
Here is the Bab Al Kasbah, the gate to the quarter of Marrakech by that name - which means castle or fort in Arabic, "Take me to the Kasbah!"

Here I am wandering through the medina.

Here is a gate within a gate within a gate... something out of a Thousand and One Nights!

There is always something colorful and magical to see while wandering in the souk. I cannot believe I lived in this beautiful city for the two precious years of my life in the Peace Corps!

Here is a grayer me in my old haunts through the medina.

Marrakech is a carpet collector's paradise.

Here is a little market square in the old medina.

You need the riot of sounds and scents to complete this lovely scene inside the Medina.

Thus...I continue my wanderings...

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