The acquiring of culture is the development of an avid hunger for knowledge and beauty.
When planning your visit to Morocco, you may find Marrakech tourism a little overwhelming.
Escaping London, you’ll want to ensure that you experience the best of this exotic and hypnotic city.
There is a vast choice of things to do and more than you could ever squeeze into a weekend in Marrakech. But for me, it is the heady whirl of jasmine and orange blossom; the nectarous orange juice and stickiest dates; the donkeys, monkeys, snakes and mint tea tightly interwoven into the exhilaratingly psychedelic chaos that most intoxicates and fascinates.
Here are a few cultural, historical and simply un-missable treasures to visit. Enjoy it.
Sex and the Souk Shopping:
Retail Therapy in the medina
There are few more pleasurable ways to spend time in Marrakech than wandering around the seemingly endless maze of markets in the Medina. The area of the Medina, just north of the Jemaa El Fna, is commercial – at least in its more central areas – with a fibrous network of souks. Beginning on the north edge, the souks comprise alleyway upon alleyway of tiny retail cubicles. The further in you venture the more interesting they become.
The two main routes into their heart are rue Semarine (aka Souk Semarine) and rue Mouassine; the former offers the more full-on blast of bazaar, the latter is a more sedate path leading to stylish boutiques. Every section has its own speciality: carpets and textiles; copper teapots and cooked snails; spices and magic medicines; embroidered cottons, clothing, babouches (slippers), kaftans, leather and antiques – and most importantly strong straw baskets and raffia bags, which you’ll need to transport all your goodies back to the riad.
Timing is Everything: The Festivals
Four key events for the diary:
January sees the Marrakech Marathon
In alternate years in February and March, the film festival, Marrakech Biennale comes to town
July the National Festival of Popular Arts, a five-day celebration of Morocco’s arts
December the Marrakech International Film Festival.
Some Green Respite:
La Mamounia, Arest El-Mamoun and Jardins Majorelles
With green space at a premium in Marrakech, it’s good to know where to seek respite from the African sun. Just outside the Medina is the glamourous, world-famous La Mamounia with its equally famous gardens.
Avenue Bab Jedid. View map
The Arset El-Mamoun Gardens were established in the 18th century by Crown Prince Moulay Mamoun on land gifted to him by his father, the sultan, on the occasion of his wedding. Designed in traditional style, on an axis, with walkways, flowerbeds, orange groves and olive trees, non-residents who want to enjoy their splendour can visit for a buffet lunch at the poolside restaurant, take afternoon tea at Le Menzeh tea and ice-cream pavilion in the gardens, or on the back terrace overlooking the gardens.
French painter Jacques Majorelle’s flourishing subtropical homage to the botanical world is a much sought-after shaded retreat from the bustle of the Imperial city. He built Le Jardin Majorelle whilst recovering from heart problems in 1924 and used a now famous shade of cobalt blue that is named after him, Majorelle Blue.
Even though Morocco is no longer under the French protectorate, this originally French creation is one of the most beloved areas in Morocco. The garden has been open to the public since 1947. Since 1980 the garden has been owned by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé. After Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden.
Linger longer for the café, outstanding museum with Berber jewellery, Yves Saint Laurent’s Galerie Love, and the cluster of shops and cafés on the Jardin Majorelle’s doorstep Majorelle Gardens, Rue Yves Saint Laurent.
The Marrakech Biennale
The Marrakech Biennale has been the catalyst for the Red City’s growing art scene. Housed in an exquisite townhouse is the Medina’s premier exhibition space, Dar Cherifa Parts of the building date back to the 16th century and it has been lovingly restored by owner Abdelatif ben Abdellah. Regular exhibitions lean towards resident foreign artists, but there have also been shows by Moroccan artists Hassan Hajjaj and Milaudi Nouiga.
8 Derb Charfa Lakbir, Mouassine. View map
When Galerie 127 opened in 2006 it became the first photo gallery in the Maghreb and only the third in Africa. It got off to a good start with an opening show by Tony Catany. The king bought 30 of the photographs.
127 avenue Mohammed V, Guéliz. View map
David Bloch Gallery
David Bloch Gallery pushes the envelope the most. Set in a contemporary industrial-style space, the focus is on Morocco, North African and Middle Eastern street artists. Large picture windows, steel struts painted charcoal, and white-washed brick provide the frame for bold works that fuse neon, neo-calligraphy and geometrics by collectible artists like Larbi Cherkaoui, Mohamed Boustane and Yassine ‘Yaze’ Mekhnache.
8 bis rue des Vieux Marrakchis, Guéliz. View map
Galerie Rê is a serious and lavishly designed contemporary gallery for changing exhibitions by mostly ‘Moroccan and Mediterranean’ artists.
Résidence Al Andalous III, corner rue de la Mosquée & rue Ibn Toumert.View map
The Dar Si Said Museum
Former home of the brother of Ba Ahmed, builder of the Bahia Palace, now houses a ragtag collection of crafts and woodwork. Among all the ceramics, leather and weapons are beautiful examples of carved cedar, rescued from the city’s lost dwellings.
Riad Zitoun El-Jedid. View map
Maison de la Photographie
More engaging is the new Maison de la Photographie which displays exhibits from a collection of 8,000 photographs spanning the period from 1870-1950. It highlights the origins of photography in Morocco, illustrating the history, culture, ethnology and daily life of the people of Morocco. The museum’s top terrace with its 360 degrees view, is perfect for a post-picture visit drink or light lunch.
46 Ahal Fés. View map
The new Douiria Mouassine showcases a restored, petite 17th-century reception apartment detailed with exquisite decorative plaster and woodwork.
5 Derb El Hammam, Mouassine. View map
Marrakech Museum of Photography and Visual Arts
The Marrakech Museum of Photography and Visual Arts (MMPVA) has a temporary home inside the Badii Palace with a changing roster of exhibitions until the new Sir David Chipperfield-designed building is unveiled next to the Menara Gardens in 2016.
46 Rue Bin Lafnadek. View map