72 Hours in Marrakech
It takes just one hour and ten minutes to fly to Marrakech from Lisbon. One of the advantages of living in Lisbon is its proximity to so many different countries and cultures. In the US, unless you live in Florida, only Canada and Mexico are close.
Morocco is a country of contrasts. While 99% of the people are considered Muslims, it feels quite liberal relative to other Muslim-predominant countries, embracing both the old world and the modern world. Burkas and niqabs are worn by less than 10% of the women, and some women wear no head covering at all. Men riding donkeys pulling carts filled with anything from building materials to food talk on mobile phones riding through the souks. Cars, motorbikes and scooters, and horse-drawn carts fill the streets. Beautifully crafted arches lead to alleys with run-down buildings and messages painted on the walls.
Here’s a slideshow of Moroccan buildings, alleys, streets:
One of the biggest tourist attractions is Jardin Majorelle. With a history dating to the 1920s including restoration by Yves Saint-Laurent after it fell into disrepair, it is quite beautiful. Unfortunately, it is also covered with people taking selfies and has a gift shop. When we visited in 2000, there were no more than ten people visiting and no commerce other than an entrance fee.
The Jardin Majorelle is attached to the more recently built Yves Saint-Laurent Museum, which features an array of outfits on mannequins and in photos that could never be worn on the streets of Morocco. Oh well… One thing of note in these connected days is that many of the designs smack of cultural appropriation – a tunic that might have cost less than one euro in its native country was sold for thousands to wealthy people in other countries. No photos were allowed in the exhibits.
A highlight of our three days in Marrakech was the Jewish cemetery and the nearby synagogue. Although there are only several hundred Jews living in Marrakech now, at one time there were hundreds of thousands. Most left for Israel after 1948, sometimes for a life worse than living in Morocco, as the poor Jews in Morocco were brought to Israel for cheap labor. An interesting historical note – the Nazis controlled the government of World War II in Morocco but the Moroccans refused to cooperate with the Nazi anti-Semitism and invited Jews to participate in government functions not dominated by the Nazis.
Here’s a slideshow of images from the Jewish Cemetery in Marrakech:
Morocco is so much more than interesting imagery. Casually walking through Marrakech, one is barraged by the visual sights but also by smells, which originate from eateries, herb and spice stalls, tea and perfume vendors, and food booths cooking everything from lamb’s heads to crepe-like pancakes called msemmen served with honey or cheese. Raw food vendors are common, meat, chicken (live and killed in the stall), vegetables, fresh and dried fruits are everywhere. Beyond the senses of smell and vision, sound is everywhere, with the beautiful calls to prayer emanating from the mosques five times a day, the sounds of ancient and modern music, the constant Arabic and Berber in both conversation and advertising of wares, and the ever-present scooter motors with drivers beeping to warn the crowds in the souks. Because my son looks like a Moroccan and learned enough Arabic to push back on persistent sellers, we were able to navigate the streets with less hassle resulting in a better experience.
Morocco is a country of magic and pragmatism, of color and darkness, of modernity and antiquity. Here’s a slideshow with more photos of Marrakech: