Djemma el Fnaa, Musicians and storytellers.
Although Djemma el Fnaa IS a tourist attraction, where snake charmers, colourfully attired Water Sellers and Gnaoua musicians, pose for photos (for a price!), many of the musicians, singers and storytellers are performing to and for the locals. (Usually dressed in 'everyday clothes' not costumes!)
The speed and dialect they use is often too difficult for foreign tourists to understand!
Around the square, you'll see crowds gathered in a circle around these artistes.
Some may be listening to an animated storyteller, pacing in front of his audience, others to Berber musicians accompanying a singer or storyteller, sometimes with a male or female (or Transvestite or Trans-sexual ) dance, often taking a comic role!
I spent most of my evenings watching a performance from a group of Berber musicians who seemed to have adopted me! (I think they were called Groupe Aylalen)
They often invited me to join them for a drink, at a nearby cafe, after their performance (which I'm afraid I declined)
Gathered around kerosene lamps, the musicians would start a tune, then start singing, their leader would then break off and start appealing to the crowd- Although I couldn't understand fully, there seemed to be different storylines, where other musicians from the group would also take their turn in the proceedings to appeal for money.
Slowly, coins would be tossed into the arena, when enough was judged to be collected, the music would continue - a sort of pay per view!
There were also cassette tapes of the groups music to buy. (Which I did - a souvenir that reminds me of my happy evenings in Djemma el Fnaa!)
Often musicians and dancers from other groups would come and join in for a song or two, before returning to their own group.
The musicians are on the lookout for tourists taking photo's, and will (rightly) expect a tip, but often they are then invited to take a seat, with a front row view.
These evenings made my stay in Marrakesh even more special, I felt quite at home here!
Bus ride to the desert
Don't worry about bus schedules, we went from Marrakech to Quarzazote and back by bus:
Just show up at the bus terminal anytime, a guy will come up to you and ask where you want to go, I ignored him at first, thinking he was scamming, but these guys are actually there to make sure you get your ticket and get on the proper bus - in an efficient manner.
You will tip the guy who puts your bag under the bus, how much was it? I don't remember, but it was a small, set amount.
The buses themselves were dirty and bumpy and it's a bit unnerving when 20% of the occupants are vomiting into small plastic bags and throwing them out the windows (continuously), but you get to ride with the locals.
Walking around in circles
When you come to Marrakech this is what you will do:
Every evening after (or during) dinner you will walk. You will walk around, usually in a circular/spiral pattern, you will look at the people, you will look at the crazy entertainments, you will hear the non-musical drumming and you will wonder how these guys never learned to play those damn drums, especially when they do it every day.
You will avoid the snake guys, you will also avoid the monkey guys.
You will stand on the edge of many circular groups of people and try to watch the muscians and story tellers, you will like the story tellers because, even though you can't understand what they're saying you know it's better than television.
You will think the Magician on the big stage is really lame, even though the locals seem to think he's cool.
Most of all you will wonder how and why the locals do this every night without being drunk.
Mellah - Old Jewish Quarter
We really enjoyed our time in the Mellah district, which is the old Jewish quarter. There are plenty of narrow laneways to explore and there was a distinct lack of tourists around when we visited which is always nice.
There is an excellent spice market in the area where we spent ages chatting to one of the traders. Alison purchased a few spices and he threw in some free pumice stone and a Berber toothbrush for us both.
In the Mellah you can visit a small synagogue. The local children will point it out to you - it is hard to find as it is hidden behind a plain door on a narrow street. I have written more information in a dedicated tip about the synagogue.
Also in this part of town you can visit the remnants of La Palais Badii, a magnificent palace that was built by Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour in 1578. The palace was subsequently torn apart by a later sultan who used the materials to decorate his own palace. Unfortunately the palace was closed when we tried to visit.
Another place in the Mellah that we didn't get the chance to visit, but really wanted to, was the Palais Bahia. This 19th century palace was built as a harem's residence by Si Ahmed ben Musa. Its rooms vary in size depending on the importance of each wife or mistress. It has lovely courtyards and gardens.
marrakech medina is a place of contrast : shade of patios and souks bright light of places and outskirts of city, quietness of riads and noise of streets and shops so you can choose to be here or there