"Harira bien qui rira le dernier"
It was interesting for us to be in Morocco during Ramadan. Everyday shortly before 6 p.m. (when the sun sets), Muslims were hurrying to finish what they were doing, close their shops, buy some food, etc. in order to be back home right on time when the mosque starts "screaming". This "signal" indicates that the fast is broken and they can finally have the first meal of the day.
One day, we were walking in the Kasbah district when we heard the signal. Every street was deserted, we were the only ones. A guy who was eating his soup saw us and invited us to share his meal. It's a tradition there to invite people to eat with them. So we accepted his kind invitation and ate this delicious chickpea soup called "harira" with him in his little shop.
Dont get overcharged
Marrakesh is perfect to explore by foot, but if you need to get someplace - New city, tanneries, another neighborhood - quote a very low price to the driver. That way they will bring it up just a bit to make it fair. If you don't like the price, walk away, and they usually come after you.
Restaurant du Progres
Restaurant du Progres, on rue Bani Marine, south of Djemaa el Fna, is a good value restaurant in the heart of the city. It was almost full on the time we visited though they did find us a table beside an elderly French couple. There were quite a few set menus on offer but we decided to order a la carte and it worked out about he same rice. We had olives and salad du variete for starters. We then shared a chicken couscous for mains as Ruth wasn't too hungry. All this came to about 70 Dh, a very reasonable price. The restaurant is easy to find: walk through the small archway in Djemaa el-Fna to get to rue Bani Marine, then walk past the line of mopeds and continue down the street.
tombs and graves
The Saadian Tombs are dating back from the 16th to the 18th century and were built by Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour for himself, his family, ancestors and some soldiers and servants. Totally there are 166 Saadians resting here. The tombs were rediscovered and restored in 1917 and made accessible for public.
As a matter of fact these Saadian Tombs are a kind of a burial ground: existing of two main parts: the mausoleums and the garden. It has two mausoleums and inside the walled garden - with some nice palm trees - also a more or less ‘normal’ graveyard.
The most important mausoleum - on the left hand side if you enter the site - has a prayer hall and two funerary rooms with stunning stucco ceilings and zellij tile work on the walls and beautiful carved doors. The Hall of Twelve Columns contains the tombs - made of Italian marble - of Ahmed el-Mansour, his sons and successors. We only could see it through a small opening and I must be rather difficult to get a glimpse of the tombs and the interior during high season.
In the middle of the garden is another mausoleum with a prayer hall and some other tombs of Saadians.
The garden itself contains lots of graves with zellij tiles of soldiers and servants. Most remarkable for us was the fact that none of these graves has a name on it.
To be honest the garden (and the graves) are rather neglected and could use a decent overhaul.
At the entrance guides are offering tours, but I think you don’t need one after reading a travel book. A visit to the Saadian Tombs will not take longer than 30 minutes. Be aware the sight is closed from around 12.00 till 14.30 hours. The entrance fee is 10 Dirham (December 2007).
A short stay in the Medina
I spent six days in Marrakesh in July on a whim. I'd wanted to go to Istanbul but the timing wasn't right and I just found myself going to Morocco somehow. It wasn't a country that had ever particularly appealed but the more I looked into it, the more it had to offer and the less I felt able to choose between places. Marrakesh or Fez? The desert or the mountains? In the end, we decided to go to that classic destination, Marrakesh, as I felt sure I'd be returning to Morocco again and again.
July is supposed to be the low season in this part of the world but I'm not sure Marrakesh is ever what you'd call quiet. There are people, noise and diversion everywhere, all of it funnelling towards that famous square, Djemaa el-Fna. And it was baking - I am usually someone who can tolerate the heat but at over 40 degrees everything slows right down until nightfall. That's when everything appears to go into overdrive, with the streets filling and music can be heard around the medina.
On a first trip to Marrakesh you don't do off the beaten track. This is because everyone, but everyone, is drawn to Djemaa el-Fna. It's gaudy, hyper-touristy and a playground for rip-off merchants, but it's also quite beguiling. We found ourselves returning daily. Fresh from another fleecing by a taxi driver or snake charmer we would go back to the square to watch the action from one of the restaurant balconies over a plate of couscous and get ready to re-enter the fray.
All life is going on down below: the orange stall men and their customers, the musicians, people filing into the mosques for prayer, crowds of tourists, storytellers surrounded by local men, families, and as dark comes the food stalls start up. You can be absorbed in watching the mass of people for hours.
...is a perfect amount to see the centre of Marrakesh and also to do a day or overnight trip. There aren't a huge array of sights in Marrakesh and even those there are aren't the must-sees of, say, Istanbul or Rome. But you'll need a few days to just walk around and relax, the real pleasures of this town. See Djemaa el-Fna at different times of the day, lounge in a riad if you can, wander around the streets, shop. Mix in a few sights if you have the time.
We visited the Badii Palace, the Saadian tombs, Bahia Palace and the Majorelle Gardens. Of those, I would say the tombs and the gardens are the most inspiring. The Badii Palace, though, offered the greatest single pleasure of the whole trip; the huge drained pools inside the abandoned palace (now just walls and rubble) were being filled for a folklore festival and I sat with my feet inside the icy water. Delicious in the heat!
If you like colourful glassware, pottery and knicknacks (and I do), Marrakesh is heaven. However, be warned that you can get many items cheaper and with less hassle in other towns. I ended up doing most of my shopping in Essaouira!