Morocco to Madrid 3: Marrakesh Medina

Currently sipping a beer at a relatively hidden restaurant called Le Jardin after what has been one heck of a day.

So we woke up late today, with late being 10 am.  Contemplated getting up a couple of times, but the body just wasn’t willing.  Think I’m just about acclimated to the time difference, but not the heat, and needed the extra minutes.  Our riad had a lovely “continental breakfast” ready for us pretty much as soon as we got down.  After that, we were good to go.

The Marrakesh medina is definitely big enough to get a little lost in, but not so huge that it’s beyond navigation, especially with a good map and a keen eye for signs.  We planned to hit the south end of the medina first before swinging back up north to check out an old medresa and a photography exhibit.  We kinda did that, though not in the most direct ways.

First stop was going to be the Saadian tombs.  The Saadians ran the show in Marrakesh in the 16th century but, after falling to the Alawites, these gorgeously laid out tombs were hidden away for centuries before being rediscovered.  You’d think starting the day with marble, plaster and gold burial sites would lead to some anti-climax for the rest of the day.  You would be incorrect.

We swung by the massive Bab Angou (Sheep Gate) before trying to get in to the Badi Palace, which was previously known for being in a complete state of ruin, and now seems to be in a state of restoration, because we couldn’t get in today.  So, instead, we wandered down to the Bahia Palace, or Beautiful Palace, which is a bit of a junior in terms of age (100 years) but certainly lives up to its name.  We then checked out the nearby Dar Si Said, equally as beautiful, with various artefacts from Marrakesh’s history.

At this point, the sun was coming out, the streets were getting hotter, so we figured lunch.  Found a place called, of all things, “Oscar Progres”, complete with Oscar-themed decor on their menu, which consisted of your traditional tagines (stews) and couscous, along with some grilled meats.  Granted, I say “traditional” because I had a traditional citrus chicken tagine, while Daina had a chicken tagine with French Fries added on top, while drinking a Coke, so traditions change.

Just before lunch, I noticed my low back was getting a bit twingy – had some disc spasms a couple of weeks ago that have taken a while to get out – so we made a quick stop at the riad before continuing on our adventure.

And this is where the unexpected adventure begins.

We decide we’re going to walk on down to the Ali Ben Yousef Medersa, a route that would take us through the souks past the Moussaine mosque.  There were signs leading down a dark alley to the Moussaine mosque museum, which was actually a restored house from the 16th century, made by the same Saadians that were buried in those tombs I mentioned earlier.  Excellent restoration that puts it on par with a lot of Marrakesh’s other palaces. No idea it was there, but glad we checked in on it.

We then headed up to the souqs, where many vendors are making and selling their wares (or, at least, putting on a display about how they may be selling their wares).  This led to a tour of dyes district, one where we were let in through the back of one man’s shop to see how things were made in a legitimate fashion, and another where it looked a bit put on for the tourists (that one also came with more of a hard sell).  You could see the same for silver and leather, and in fact, we were told multiple times that there was a special “Berber festival where they came down from the Atlas mountains just for tonight” happening in the tannery district, but knowing that the tannery was basically watching leather be made, and getting a funny vibe off the “One Night Only” vibe, we opted out of that one.

Then it was on to the Medresa, a 14th century Quaranic school that was once the biggest in North Africa.  Cedar wood, mosaics, a Carrara marble mirhab (where you pray towards, also facing Mecca), insane wood-lattice carving – it was absolutely stunning and deserves its top billing as one of Marrakesh’s greater sights.  After leaving, we stopped in at the House of Photography, where images of Morocco from the 1880s to the 1930s were on display.  Funny, that some places didn’t look like they had changed at all, such as the Djemaa El Fna, while some scenes would be completely unrecognizable in a modern context.  It actually gives you a good sense of Marrakesh as being somewhat authentic as compared to other ancient tourist hubs.

From there, it was our stop at Le Jardin, where a couple of drinks cost us more than our meal at lunch.  We then headed back to Havana from yesterday and had another good, cheap meal (also cheaper than the cost of drinks at Le Jardin) before heading back to the riad.

But not just yet.

See, yesterday, a shopkeeper flagged Daina down in the street near our riad, claiming “I have your style”.  Since everybody trying to sell you something in Marrakesh has some variation on that line, we figured it would be just another hard sell on a carpet or something.  I even mentioned it to Daina, saying “we can take another route if you don’t want to be hassled.”  He didn’t bite, we walked by and, of course, the conversation started.  Daina was lured inside while I was taking a Bootleg Daycare picture of a school sign with an oddly drawn Mickey or Minnie Mouse.  I followed after him and didn’t see him immediately, which led me to wondering what was going on.

Well, turns out the “shop” was actually a converted “palace” according to the seller, chock to the brim with all sorts of different kinds of art, furniture, carpets – you name it, it was there, and yes, Daina admitted that it was “his style”.  I kept walking through expect the hard sell on… something, but no, he was just happy enough to show us the wares and to remind us that we could come back tomorrow so the owner could show us a “demonstration”, which if I remember from Tunisia, is where the hard sell on a carpet comes in.

Regardless, even if we don’t go back tomorrow, just getting to walk around that massive space with all of its treasures was enough.

So tomorrow will likely be a bit more chill, as we missed the Marrakesh Museum (it was almost near closing), so we’ll go back to that, and see what else we can do an discover.  I have a feeling “a bit more chill” may not be how I describe the day near the end.

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