Marrakesh

 

This city of exotic sights, sounds and smells is one of the busiest in Africa, thanks to its designation as an economic center and major tourist destination. Located near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh continues to see climbing real estate and hotel development and remains popular with travelers, especially those from Europe.

Sometimes referred to as Morocco's creative heart, the city is home to the largest traditional Berber market, or souk, in the country, with nearly 20 markets selling Berber carpets, electronics, clothing and a wide variety of crafts. The markets also feature performers such as dancers, fortunetellers and snake charmers.

The city consists of a Medina, or old city, which is surrounded by more modern developments. The Medina features typical Moroccan houses where visitors can stay, while the new area of the city has modern hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs.

 

Climate in Marrakesh

The climate in Marrakesh is semi-arid, with dry, hot summers and mild winters. While summer days are sweltering, it cools at night to allow some relief. Rainfall is typically low, occurring mostly during winter, and sunny days are the norm.

 

Activities in Marrakesh

One of the city's annual festivals stems from its heritage. The Dakka Marrakchia Festival dates back to the Saadian Dynasty of the 1500s. Dakkas music consists of percussion beats combined with chanting and is performed in honor of Marrakesh's Sabaatou Rijal, the city's seven spiritual guards. The 10-day festival is held each February.

For 10 days each July, the city turns into an outdoor theater that features traditional performers from across the country, such as Arabic belly dancers and High Atlas Berbers. Performances are held in the El Badi Palace or on Jemaa el Fna. Each evening is finished with a show by gun-wielding horsemen.

Held toward the end of each year, the Festival International du Film de Marrakesh is a growing event that is designed after the Cannes Film Festival. Marrakesh has drawn plenty of international stars to the event, including Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. During the weeklong festival, more than 100 movies are screened and chosen films may be viewed each night on a large screen in the Jemaa el Fna.

Each January, the Marrakesh Marathon draws more than 6,000 runners from across the world. The route in Marrakesh is considered one of the world's fastest, winding past alleys of palms and orange and olive trees as well as the city ramparts. Runners point to the flat surface and mild winter weather as benefits for this race.

 

Sightseeing in Marrakesh

Located in the Medina Quarter, or old city, the Jemaa el Fna is Marrakesh's main square, used daily by locals and visited heavily by tourists. While daylight sees orange juice stalls, snake charmers and vendors in costume selling water, night brings different entertainment. Crowds increase and dancing boys, storytellers and magicians appear. Food stalls and vendors of traditional medicines also converge on the square.

Built in the 16th century, the Saadian Tombs consist of high walls, palms and tombs that serve as the final resting place of members of the Saadian dynasty's royal family. The architecture is Islamic, with floral motifs, geometric mosaic tiles and marble. There are two mausoleums; the larger is known as the Hall of the Twelve Columns and features light from a lantern shining onto the sultan's tomb.

Once a grand palace paved with turquoise and gold, the El Badi Palace is now mere remnants of its former glory. In fact, it was looted and left in ruins just 75 years after it was completed. However, you can easily see what it once was - four sunken gardens, two pools, its high walls. There is a minbar, the pulpit from where the imam recites the Koran, on display in a restored pavilion in the palace.

 

The largest mosque in Marrakesh and one of the city's most noticeable landmarks, Koutoubia Mosque, features a 235-foot minaret that can be seen for miles in all directions. Dating to the 12th century, the interior of the mosque is closed to non-Muslims.

 

Marrakesh Cuisine

The cuisine here varies widely and has influences from Berber, Moorish and Arab palates. Meats include everything from beef to camel and there is an abundance of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Spices are used extensively here, including cinnamon, cumin and turmeric. Locally grown mint is a also a common ingredient in many dishes.

 

Traveling to Marrakesh/Passports

Marrakesh-Menara Airport is an international airport with direct flights from London, Paris, Madrid and other cities in Europe. For Americans and Canadians, expect to change planes in Casablanca. The airport is about 3 miles from Marrakesh. Options to get to the city include bus and taxi. The Marrakesh railway station links directly to both Casablanca and Fez.

To get around the city, expect to do a lot of walking. There are also buses and petits taxis.

 

 

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