Marrakesh: Maghrebi Magic in the Medina (and Beyond)

We arrive in Morocco at just after sunset. The van drops me at the southern gate of the medina, which turns out to be a bit farther from my hostel than expected. But it does require me walking through the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in the medina and the star attraction of Marrakesh. The size of the place and the bustle occurring at this particular dusk have me excited to explore right away. But my prime concern is to check in my accommodation (which, as with the previous stops, is inside the medina), eat dinner, and buy a train ticket to Casablanca (my next destination), so I do the exploring the next day.

The Berber Museum’s striking blue facade stands out in the Jardin Majorelle.
The Yves Saint Laurent Museum pays tribute to the fashion designer, who considered Morocco his second home.
The Theatre Royal across Marrakesh’s train station regularly stages cultural shows.

And explore I do early the next day. I first go to the Jardin Majorelle in Ville Nouvelle, about a 30-minute walk northwest from my hostel (I’m saving my remaining cash and figuring I need a morning exercise anyway). The Jardin Majorelle was a property of French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle until the 1950s, when it was sold following his divorce, and the garden fell into neglect. Fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé purchased it in the 1980s and restored it. Today, the garden contains about 300 species of plants from around the world. The centerpiece of the garden, though, is the distinctly blue structure that houses the Berber Museum, which shows an assortment of Berber artifacts. The displays are in French, though, so non-French-speaking visitors might find themselves less enlightened than their French-speaking counterparts.

Near the garden is the Yves Saint Laurent Museum. Opened in 2017, the museum pays tribute to the works of the venerated fashion designer through photos, sketches, and thousands of accessories and garments from his personal collections.

The Bahia Palace’s central garden displays a typical Moroccan design in its floor tiles.
Marrakesh’s medina contains an array of products, such as spices of all colors
The kasbah’s walls were added to the medina by the Almohads starting from the late 12th century.
The Mouassine district is one of the wealthiest pockets in the medina.
Marrakesh’s medina has some fanadiq (inns used by traveling caravans), which are now converted into artisan complexes.

Back in the medina, I start my exploration of the area with a visit to the Bahia Palace. The palace was originally built in the 19th century for Grand Vizzier Si Musa, and then was expanded by his son, Ba Ahmed, who also succeeded him after his death. The palace compound contains a central garden, a mosque, and a hammam. Today, it’s a popular attraction in Marrakesh, with various tour groups overwhelming every portion of the palace.

I mostly spend the rest of the day exploring the alleys of the medina. At one point I run into Holga and Michelle, the German couple I was with in the trip to Erg Chebbi. Then I do a bit of shopping for Moroccan bath salt and soap. I stop by the Le Jardin for a lunch of couscous before retreating to the hostel to rest for a bit.

Food items are common in the stalls at the Jemaa el-Fnaa.
The minaret of the Koutobia Mosque can be seen from the Jemaa el-Fnaa.
Dinnertime sees crowds flocking into the Jemaa el-Fnaa food stalls.
Le Jardin has a few Moroccan dishes on its menu, including the Marrakshi specialty tanjia.

After about an hour or so, I resume my tour, this time focusing on the area close to the Jemaa el-Fnaa. It’s already late afternoon, and the bustle of the square is beginning to pick up. Snake charmers, shirt and bracelet vendors, faux guides, traders, and visitors — the world seems to be descending on the place. I climb to the rooftop of Le Grand Balcon at the southeastern part of the square for a panoramic view. Admission to the balcony requires buying a drink, so I buy a can of Pepsi Max, which I nurse at a table that just got empty as I wait for the sunset.

Then at night, I explore the stalls in the square. I want to try eating in one, but since I’m trying to stretch my budget (the Safari tour really did burn my cash), I instead return to Le Jardin, where I can use credit card. One of the servers recognize me and exclaims, “Oh, you’re back!” This time I order tanjia, a Marrakshi specialty composed of slow-cooked meat (often beef) prepared in a clay pot called, well, tanjia. It’s often called “bachelor’s dish because it was traditionally cooked by single men. The dish’s simplicity, with its basic ingredients and cooking methods, allowed these men to easily prepare it, often after working at the souks. As I pay for my meal at front desk afterwards, the staff at the cashier asks how like experience restaurant. “I love it,” I tell her. “In fact, this is my second time today in this restaurant!” Of course, the fact that I can use my card here has lot do with it, but it’s not exactly that I’m lying either.

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