Marrakesh, the Moroccan city set against the dramatic jagged line of the High Atlas Mountains, used to be an ancient marketplace, where tribes and nomads traded in gold, ivory, and spices brought by caravans; it was later settled by the Almoravid sultans from North Africa and Andalusia. The city is a bewildering cocktail of different cultures and traditions –from native Berbers to African slaves, Arab traders and French colonizers. The city has always attracted artists and musicians in search of sensory inspiration, who are drawn to its exotic markets and music.
Today a labyrinth of passages, courtyards, shaded gardens, orange trees with their fragrant blossoms, and trickling fountains make this place live up to its name which means “brilliance.” I soak in the intricate details of its architecture: every inch of space is studded with iridescent mosaics known as zellij and ornately carved ceilings with crimson paint and gold leaf.
The city is protected by building laws that prevent buildings higher than palm trees, except minarets! Creativity and artistic vibe permeate everything: every architectural detail is picture-worthy and even the most prosaic object seems to be ethereal – from the technicolor tiles to fountain-filled courtyards, ornate door knockers to brass lanterns that cast filigreed shadows.
One of the most fascinating things on display in a small museum inside the palace complex is the pulpit from the Koutoubia Mosque, which the imam used to ascend every Friday to lead the prayers from the Qur’an. Shaped like a staircase, this was made in Cordoba, Spain and brought to Marrakesh in pieces and assembled here. Intricately carved out of different kinds of wood, in shapes ranging from six-pointed stars to hexagons in vibrant colors, with inlays and designs -this is the work of talented Muslim artisans.
If you want to fill your shopping bags, Marrakesh is the place! I navigate the souqs in the old town -a maze of connecting alleys, dodging kamikaze mopeds and donkey carts, feral cats, and trawl through packed shops that sell everything from chessboards, gleaming brass lanterns, rainbow colored slippers called babouches to tribal carpets and killims in myriad colors.
The city feels like an open-air museum where entertainment is around every corner. I rock to the rhythms of Gnawa musicians, who are descendants of North African slaves, with chants and dancing, performing with their heads swirling and tasseled fezzes spinning. I am fascinated by the water sellers, wearing traditional clothes -water used to be a precious commodity! These colourfully dressed men with furry goatskin bags full of water and wide-brimmed Berber hats are some kind of cultural icons and touristy photo ops!
Originally published on skyline.com