There is something special about Marrakech. It is charming, colourful, and just the right level of chaotic. There are museums and palaces around the Medina that offer a wonderful respite from the crowds and the merchants while providing insight into Berbere culture and history.
I visited one site a day, enough to break up the maze running through the souks and the luxurious hours spent on various rooftop terraces. I could have filled my days fuller, but I’m trying to do less but better when I travel now. By that I mean that I want to dedicate more time to fewer places and really immerse myself into the places I go. Part of Moroccan culture is lingering to really enjoy a meal and tea instead of rushing off to the next thing, and I am trying to embrace that. As a North American and a server, it is engrained in me to get in and get out to allow quick turnover of the table, which my European colleagues never understood. So here I am, enjoying long meals in the sunshine.
After visiting the tombs the first day, I continued my foray into Moroccan culture at the Heritage Museum. Housed in a riad that had been owned privately for decades while the owners amassed a large amount of culturally important artefacts and turned it into a museum. What a cool idea! I would love to display all of the treasures that I have collected over the course of my exploration of the planet. Maybe when I die, I’ll stipulate that I want an auction for all of my cool travel treasures, and all funds raised will go to a charity of my choosing. Included in the price of admission was mint tea and cookies on the rooftop terrace, which was lovely as I was all alone in a city of so many people. It’s a rare experience.
As I left that museum and made my way through the snaking roads back to my riad, I happened upon some baby tortoises in a cage. As I stooped to get a closer look, the shopkeeper came up to me holding a three month old chameleon that he put onto my outstretched hand. I asked him why I saw so many reptiles for sale in the souks, and he said that locals bring them home and put them in their gardens for luck and insect management. Both species thrive here, so they’re happy in the gardens. He also showed me some of the other wares he had for sale that I was seeing everywhere. Bars of glittery perfume, eucalyptus salts that you can mix with water to clear up sinuses, headaches and a myriad of other ailments, and hand-mixed spices. He told me that the spice market we were in used to hold slave and carpet auctions, and now it sold mostly straw hats and purses that the locals stitched colourful designs into. It was a really interesting conversation, and was a good reminder that talking to locals is when you learn the most about their culture and experiences. I avoid almost all interaction when it’s clear that they’re just trying to sell me something, but I love conversations with those who simply want to teach me about their culture and learn about mine.
I visited the Jardin Majorelle the next morning, though I was initially reticent to do so. I worried that it would be too crowded judging by the endless lines that I witnessed both times I went by there. However, since the Ben Youssef Madrasa was closed for renovations for a couple of years, I figured that there was no harm giving the garden a shot. Boy am I glad I did! Though it was busy, the gardens are large enough that you never feel lost in a crowd unless you’re next to the beautiful blue house that you see in all the photos. It was absolutely amazing to be shadowed by towering bamboo plants, palm trees, and citrus trees growing in the ground and in colourful vases around the property. Birds flitted from plant to plant, chirping and singing. It felt so ALIVE.
I paid an extra 30 dirhams to visit the Berbere museum while in the garden, and I’m happy I did. It featured archival photographs and video footage, weapons, jewelry and clothes from a variety of Berbere tribes and demonstrated how differently the tribes decorated themselves.
Today, my last day in Marrakech, I visited the Maison du Photographie. I loved seeing all of the old photos of a Morocco long gone. The best part was the videos they showed in two different rooms. One was an in-depth interview with a Hungarian photographer who moved to Morocco during WW2 and fell in love with the country and its people. The other was a documentary filmed in the mountains with a couple different tribes from the 1950s. The last scene was hilarious and the most memorable. It ends in a market where men and merchants do business, and showed the different ways the buyers would transport the live animals back to their homes. Baskets, fireman carries, over the shoulders, and even by holding the back legs of a goat while it walked on the front two in a bizarre wheelbarrow fashion. The rooftop terrace cafe was a treat because it was a clear enough afternoon to see the Atlas mountains splayed out behind the city.
Marrakech is a great city to experience incredible food, art, architecture and cultural experiences. I can’t speak highly enough of it!