The taxi driver pulled over, “Ben Slimane is that way,” he tells us. He’s driven to the end of a cul-de-sac, and we need to walk from here. Our Riad was located in the Medina, the old historic part of Marrakesh.
No sooner are we out of the car that a group of youngsters approached, “where are you staying?” offering to show us the way.
Taking one on his offer, we started following him with some hesitation into the maze of the Medina. It felt like we were being led into a trap, the walls were getting closer and alleys darker until we reached a small archway leading into a dark passageway, “it’s here Madame” he gestured with enthusiasm. Our instincts told us not to venture any further, but at some point, you have to trust the world around you.
It was the entrance to Riad Les Jardins des Lilas; a lovely renovated old house build around an inner courtyard. All was well, and we tipped the young man for his assistance.Our host at the Riad assured us that we were safe anywhere in the city, which makes sense since tourism is their primary industry. He also noted that you can be sure of three things during a visit to Marrakesh.
- Everyone will want to be your friend (for a few dirhams).
- You will get lost, take that as a reality.
- Morrocan Tajines, they’re on every menu, and you will surely be tempted to try one.
Once we got over our initial discomfort, with a map of the Medina in hand, we ventured out to experience the above. From our hotel, the narrow pathways led into larger pedestrian alleys, which led into the busy community.
Immediately we could feel the sensation of a different culture: impregnated in the bustling and noisy streets, in the activities, and the voices, and dress of the people.
We observed men and women both wearing the traditional djellaba, a long hooded tunic worn over their clothes, the men in earth tones, the women in patterned or brightly coloured fuzzy fabric. They looked warm and cosy going about in their Pyjamas, and slippers.
The streetscape was awash in various tones of terra-cotta, with bursts of brightly painted doors.The ancient pathways lead through glittering Souks of every kind with sellers ready to haggle, a tradition art going back more than a thousand years.
It’s hard to resist the exotic palettes of vibrant silk panels, textured wool rugs, deep hued leathers, polished wooden trays, Berber talisman jewellery, and a myriad of other treasures for sale.
Artisans workshops; blacksmiths, metalworkers, weavers, carvers, potters, and other trades each have their sector of the Medina.
Amid the busyness, donkey carts, a profusion of people, and motorbikes scoot around.Ultimately, all roads lead to the heart of it all, the DJemaa el Fna square, with its long history as the trading centre for outsiders coming to Marrakesh. During the day, orange juice and date stands, snake charmers, acrobats, and sellers of trinkets fill the plaza before turning into a large open air food court by night.
Now and then we glanced inside a doorway. The entrance to the Dar Essalam restaurant caught our attention. We were not dressed appropriately to dine in the lavish surroundings but enjoyed a quick look at the mosaics and decorations.The Medina has virtually no public green space, and we were unable to find anywhere to sit, other than at cafes or restaurants so Gordon would settle on sidewalks to sketch the urban scene.However, you can take refuge from the chaotic Medina just outside the walled city. The Jardin Majorelle is an enchanting oasis where you can enjoy a collection of exotic plants and rare variety of cactuses from around the world. French Painter Jacques Majorelle developed the site and built a studio on the grounds in the 1930’s. Years later it sat empty falling into disrepair, and in 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé purchased the property, saving it from demolition.
After Laurent’s death in 2008, his partner created a foundation and donated the garden in his memory.
After a few days in Marrakesh of wandering aimlessly, we learned to navigate the labyrinth and settled into the local ways. We became comfortable with the chaotic spider-web that is Marrakesh.