Medina of Marrakech

In the medina of Marrakech

We’re staying for two nights at the Riad Célia hotel in the city center. It’s a long day full of walking around the medina. First from the center to the south, then to the north, then a siesta at the hotel, back to the south and finally a meal in Place Jemâa El-Fna. Orientation isn’t easy, but following the tourists helps. Unlike the rest of the country, no one is actively trying to sell us anything, even if we spend a long time looking in the stores.

Photos of the Saadian Tombs, the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Palais de la Bahia are on individual pages.

There are several large mosques in Marrakech, as well as a multitude of small neighborhood mosques like the one pictured near the Riad Célia hotel. Because of the narrowness of the streets, you don’t often see them. What looks like a gallows on the minaret is actually a crane with a pulley. Loudspeakers are installed on the minaret. They are used to call for prayer and can be found in all Muslim countries. Calling methods differ according to religion: Christians use bells, Jews trumpets and Muslims originally voice, shout or chant.

In almost all of Marrakech’s medina, cars can’t get through because the alleyways are too narrow. People and light goods are transported by bicycle or moped, while anything heavier (building materials, fruit, furniture, etc.) is carried on donkey carts. These carts are narrower than in the rest of the country.

In the Mellah, Marrakech’s old Jewish quarter

We’re to the east of Place des Ferblantiers. These markets are unfamiliar to tourists, and we can see the differences: the alleys are wider, there are really only necessities, and prices are often indicated (except for fruit and vegetables). The bags hanging from the roof are bags of henna used by the women to paint their skin. The jewels you find here are not precious: gold and silver jewelry merchants are grouped together to the west of Place des Ferblantiers.

Some spices are mounted in cones, but most are ground in the customer’s presence. What look like stones in the center foreground are handmade soaps. On the left are washcloths, as few people have running water, even in Marrakech.

Southwest of the medina

We are and to the south the Place des Ferblantiers.

This mosque on Yaqub el Mansour Square was built in the 12th century. After taking this photo, the policeman in the center came to see us if we hadn’t taken a photo of him because “it’s forbidden”. What can you do if he stands like that in front of tourist attractions?

Here, we’re visiting Marrakech’s Saadian tombs.

The whole city of Marrakech has this type of doorway, most of them unnamed.

The door below does not correspond to the Bab Agnaou as we know it. The famous old Bab is a few meters further to the south, with a single passageway. The old opening gives access to a courtyard and is only open to pedestrians. Both large cabs (the Mercedes) and small cabs (Fiat Uno) can travel here. A Japanese tourist also found himself trapped by the photographer.

Below a normal street scene in Marrakech. On the left wall a sign reads Oqba Bnou Nafi (عقبة بن نافع) or Uqba ibn Nafi. Born in 622 and died in 683, he was an Arab general sent in 670, at the head of Muslim armies, by the Umayyads of Damascus to convert polytheistic Maghreb to Islam.

The doorway visible at the far end is the real, ancient Bab Agnaoua, built in the 12th century. This opening gives access to a courtyard and is only open to pedestrians. The current passageway is further back.

West of the medina

We pass through the gardens south of Marrakech’s grand mosque.

The Koutoubia mosque (Arabic: كُتُبية) is a religious edifice built in the 12th century and representative of Almohad art. Also known as the Mosque of the Booksellers, it was begun under the Berber Almoravid dynasty in 1120, but extensively remodeled from 1162 under the Almohad emir Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur. Its name comes from the fact that it was located in the souk of the manuscript merchants. It is organized on a T-shaped plan. This tradition has existed since the construction of the Kairouan mosque in the 9th century, and is also found in Spain. The 69-meter-high minaret is square in cross-section, in keeping with Western Muslim tradition. The Almohad dynasty, which adhered to the Malikite rite, favored a rather austere architecture, reflecting a certain asceticism. The Koutoubia mosque is no exception: its sobriety is evident in its simplicity. The arches used may be horseshoe or poly-lobed, but remain bare. The minaret is later (completed in 1196), and more ornate. In particular, there is a great deal of intertwined arch work (sebka). It is surmounted by three gilded copper balls symbolizing the terrestrial, celestial and spiritual worlds. Among other things, it served as a model for the Giralda in Seville. The exterior of the minaret is decorated differently on each of its four faces: plaster painting with floral and epigraphic ornamentation, a network of interlacing reliefs where paintings are interspersed, a band of earthenware with white fillet on a turquoise background, and arcatures that are sometimes intertwined. It is built of shale sandstone from the Guéliz quarries. Admirably proportioned: 12.80 metres square, 69 metres high with the lantern (77 metres to the tip of the spire), with a 2.50 m outer wall. An outer core with six overlapping chambers is in the tower’s middle.. Around this, a gently sloping ramp leads to the covered walkway (Source: Wikipedia).

Avenue Mohammed V is one of the main routes into Marrakesh’s medina.

The marabout on avenue Mohammed V is dedicated to Lalla Zahra Bin Alkouch.

Behind this façade lies a beautiful courtyard with a large swimming pool, just a stone’s throw from Place Djamâa el-Fna.

Rue de la Koutoubia is not a shopping street, but rather the main access to Place Jemâa El-Fna. It’s only from midday onwards that Moroccan city streets start to get crowded. This continues until around 10 o’clock in the evening.

Jemâa el Fna Square

The Koutoubia is Marrakech’s most famous religious monument. This architecturally striking and richly decorated mosque has a complex history. It is in fact a double sanctuary with a minaret. The first Koutoubia was completed in 1157, and the second one, together with its minaret, was added the following year. The creative layout of both sanctuaries, which places a strong emphasis on the qibla wall, sets them apart from one another. This is evident in the T-shaped arrangement made possible by the overlap of the prayer hall’s axial and longitudinal naves, which make up the two main aisles. What really sets this monument apart is its gigantic minaret, one of the wonders of Islamic art and architecture. Built of ashlar, the minaret’s interior features a ramp leading to domed halls and to the top of the minaret. The upper facades are decorated with green and white ceramic tiles (Source: Wikipedia).

There are a number of beautiful cafés with terraces around Place Jemaa el Fna, but most of them have their shortcomings in terms of location. They often face south, which doesn’t make them very useful for taking photos from the terrace. And some, like this one, are placed very close to the evening strolling restaurants, making it hard to breathe after dark.

At night, street kitchens are set up here, offering everything from soup for the poor to luxury kebabs. Although there are a lot of tourists, Moroccans can also be found shopping here.

All these kitchens leave a lot of dirt and grease on the floor, and daily cleaning takes all morning.

Souk Smarine in the Medina

We’re just north of Place Jemâa el Fna, the alleyway that leads to Place du Bab Ftouh. The Souk Smarine is mainly focused on textiles.

A hundred streets like the one in the photo make up the souks of Marrakech. All the merchants sell a mixture of useful and tourist products, but the overall quality seems good. The Moroccans themselves shop in the medina; in the photo below, no tourists are to be seen.

Most alleyways are covered in all kinds of materials. Here, thin planks let in a little light.

The tea products north of Bab Ftouh square are attractive, but impractical in Europe.

Around the Mouassine Mosque

We don’t hesitate to damage beautiful structures when it comes to passing on progress in the form of electrical or telephone cables.

Butchers often display meat on tufts of parsley, perhaps to ward off insects. In any case, butchers keep to the shade.

On Rue Mouassine, just off Rue Laksour, this pun alludes to the FNAC department stores in France and Belgium. The medina bookshop, the only one we saw, is well-equipped, but the books, the sales stand and the sales assistant all fit into a room of less than four square meters. There are tourist guides, of course, but also good cookery books.

The el Mouassine Mosque, in the northern part of the medina, is right in the middle of the souks of Marrakech‘s medina. It’s not easy to get around it without getting lost in the alleyways, as the sales stalls are right up against the surrounding walls.

The el Mouassine mosque is surrounded by small courtyards of various shapes, as it is oriented diagonally in a maze of more or less rectangular streets.

The alleyways of the medina don’t follow any plan, and they’re never really perpendicular. It’s the kind of fork in the road that makes orientation difficult, as here in the Souk aux Teinturiers.

The photo below shows one of the large gates demarcating the different souks and parts of the medina. We are south of the Ben Youssef mosque, where we visit the

Souk Quassasine

Note the cat on the roof of the fishmonger’s shop in the photo below.

In the street leading to the Sîdî Ishâq Mosque in Marrakech, everything is grilled. We can’t resist the smell and eat in this street restaurant.

The streets are covered with mats offering shade. Leather goods are the mainstay here.

Fashion in Marrakech is very diverse. Babouches are the yellow leather slippers in the foreground of the photo on the right.

By night in Place Jamaâ El Fna

This square is located next to the Koutoubia mosque. This tourist mecca constantly attracts visitors who come to watch the shows put on by snake charmers, monkey trainers, storytellers, musicians and other folk artists (games, henna drawing, etc.) from early evening until the call to dawn prayer. The intensity of these spectacular and original activities was one of the reasons why UNESCO designated the square a World Oral Heritage Site in 2001, the first of its kind in the world. It is also distinguished by speakers who tell stories or extol the virtues of magical products. But beware of the many pickpockets.

Part of the square is reserved for stalls selling meals. There are a few simple benches to sit on around these stalls. Most of them sell meals from the grill, i.e. kebabs and meat, but there are also stalls selling very simple and tasty meals such as soups. These stalls look very well run and seem expensive, but they’re not.

The map shows our route through Marrakech on foot, except for the paths taken in detail in the various souks.

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