mercredi 19 octobre 2011

Authentic Morocco

For westerners, Morocco holds an immediate and enduring fascination. Though just an hour's ride on the ferry from Spain, it seems at once very far from Europe, with a culture Islamic and deeply traditional that is almost wholly unfamiliar. Throughout the country, despite the years of French and Spanish colonial rule and the presence of modern and cosmopolitan cities like Rabat or Casablanca , a more distant past constantly makes its presence felt. Fes, perhaps the most beautiful of all Arab cities, maintains a life still rooted in medieval time, when a Moroccan empire stretched from Senegal to northern Spain; while in the mountains of the Atlas and the Rif, it is still possible to draw up tribal maps of the Berber population. As a backdrop to all this, the country's physical make-up is also extraordinary: from a Mediterranean coast, through four mountain ranges, to the empty sand and scrub of the Sahara.
All of which makes travel in Morocco an intense and rewarding -if not always easy -experience. Certainly, there can be problems in coming to terms with your privileged position as tourist in a nation that, for the most part, would regard such activities as those of another world. And the northern Morocco cities especially have a reputation for hustlers: self appointed guides whose eagerness to offers their services -and whose attitude to tourists as being a justifiable source of income (and to women as something much worse) -can be hard to ideal with. If you find this to be too much of a struggle, then it would probably be better to keep to low-key resorts like Essaouira or Asilah, or to the more cosmopolitan holiday destination of Agadir, built very much in the image of its Spanish counterparts, or even a packaged sightseeing tour.
But you'd miss a lot that way. Morocco is at its best well away from such trappings. A week's hiking in the Atlas; a journey through the southern oases or into the pre-Sahara; or leisured strolls around Tangier, Fes or Marrakesh -once you adapt to a different way of life, all your time will be well spend. And it is difficult for any traveller to go for long without running into Morocco's equally powerful tradition of hospitality, generosity and openness. This is a country people return to again and again.

mardi 18 octobre 2011


Marrakech-"Morocco City",as early travellers called it -has always been something of a pleasure city,a marketplace where the southern tribesmen and Berber villagers bring in their goods, spend their money and find enter-trainment. For visitor it's an enduring fantasy - a city of immense beauty low, red and tentlike before a great shaft of montains-and immediately exciting. At the heart of it all is a square,Djemaa El Fna, really no more than an open space in the centre of the city, but the stage for a long-established ritual in which shifting cir-cles of onlookers and comedians. However many times you return there, it remains compelling. So, too, do the city's architectural attractions: the immense, still basins of the Agdal and Menara gardens, the delicate Granada-style carving of the saadian tombs and, above all the Koutoubia Minaret, the most perfect Islamic monument in North Africa.
Unlike Fes, for so long its rival as the nation's capital, the city exists very much in the present. After Casablanca, Marrakesh is Morocco's second largest city and its population continues to rise. It has a thriving industrial area which reflects the rich farmlands of the Haouz plain which surround it: notably flour mills, breweries and canning factories. And it remains the most important market and administrative centre of southern Morocco. None of this is to suggest an easy prosperity-there is heavy unemployment here, as throughout the country, and intense poverty, too -but a stay in Marrakesh leaves you with a vivid impression of life and activity. And for once this doesn't apply exclusively to the new city, Gueliz; the Medina, substantially in ruins at the beginning of this century, was rebuilt and expanded during the years of French rule and retains no less significant a role in the modern city.
The Koutoubia excepted, Marrakesh is not a place of great monuments. Its beauty and attraction lie in the general atmosphere and spectacular location -with the magnificent peaks of the Atlas rising right up behind the city, towering through the heat haze of summer or shimmering white of winter. the feel, as much as anything, is a product of this. Marrakech has Berber rather than Arab origins, having developed as the metropolis of Atlas tribes-Maghrebis from the plains, Saharan nomads and former slaves from Africa beyond the desert, Sudan, Senegal and the ancient Kingdom of Timbuktu. All of these strands shaped the city's souks and its way of life, and in the crowds and performers in Djemaa El Fna, they can still occasionally seem distinct.
For most travellers, Marrakesh is the first experience of the south and-despite the inevitable 'false' guides and hustlers-of its generally more relaxed atmosphere and attitudes. Marrakchis are renowend for their warmth and sociability, their humour and directness-all qualities that (superficially, at least) can seem absent among the Fassis. there is, at any rate, a conspicuously more laid-back feel than anywhere in the north, with women, for example, having a greater degree of freedom and public presence, often riding mopeds around on the streets. And compared to Fes, Marrakesh is much less homogenous and cohesive. The city is more a conglomeration of villages than an urban community, with quarters formed and maintained by successive generations of migrants from the countryside.

lundi 17 octobre 2011

The Djameaa El Fna

there's nowhere in Morocco like the Dejemaa El Fna - no place that so effortlessly involves you and keeps you coming back. By day it's basically a market, with a few snake charmers, storytellers and an occasional troupe of acrobats. In the evening it becomes a whole carnival of musicians, clowns and street entertainers. when you arrive in Marrakesh, and after you've found a room, come out here and you'll soon be immersed in the ritual: wandering round, squatting amid the circles of onlookers, giving a dirham or two as your contribution. If you want a respite, you can move over to the rooftop terraces of the Café de France or the Restaurant Argana to gaze over the square and admire the frame of the koutoubia.
what you are part of is a strange process. Some say that tourism is now vital ti the Djemaa's survival, yet apart from the snake charmers, monkey handlers and water vendors (all of whom live by posing for photographs), there's little that has compromised itself for the west. In many ways it actually seems the opposite . Most of the people gathered into circles round the performers are Moroccans - Berbers from the villages and lots of kids.There is no way that any tourist is going to have a tooth pulled by one of the dentists here, no matter how neat the piles of molars displayed on their square of carpet. Nor are you likely to use the scribes or street barbers or , above all, understand the convoluted tales of the storytellers, round whom are gathered perhaps the most animated, all-male crowds in the square.
Nothing of this, though, matters very much.There is a fascination in the remedies of the herb doctors, with their bizarre concoction spread out before them. There are performers, too, whose appeal is universal. The Jemaa Elfna square's acrobats, itinerants from Tazeroualt, have for years supplied the European circuses - though they are perhaps never so spectacular as here, thrust forward into multiple somersaults and contortions in the late afternoon heat. There are child boxers and sad-looking trained monkeys, clowns and chleuh boy dancers - their routines, to the climactic jarring of cymbals, totally sexual (and traditionally an invitation to clients).
And finally, the Djemaa's enduring sound - the dozens of musicians playing all kinds of instruments. late at night, when only a few people are left in the square, you encounter individual players, plucking away at their ginbris, the skin-covered two-or three-string guitars.Earlier in the evening, there are full groups: the Aissaoua, playing oboe-like ghaitahs next to the snake charmers; the Andalucian-style groups, with their ouds and violins; and the back Gnaoua, trance-healers who beat out hour-long hypnotic rhythms with iron clanging hammers and pound tall drums with long curved sticks.
if you get interested in the music there are two small sections on opposite sides of the square where stall sell recorded cassettes : one is near the entrance to the souks and the other is on the corner with the recently pedestrianized Rue Bab Agnaou. Most of these are by Egyptian or Algerian Rai bands, the pop music that dominates Morocco radio, but if you ask they'll play you Berber music from the Atlas, classic Fassi pieces, or even Gnaoua music - which sounds even stranger on tape, cut off only by the end of the one side and starting off almost identically on the other. These stalls apart, and those of the nut roasters, whose massive braziers line the immediate entrance to the potter's souk, the market activities of the Djemaa are mostly pretty mundane.

dimanche 16 octobre 2011

The Koutoubia

the absence of any architectural feature on Djemaa El Fna - which even today seems like a haphazard clearing -serves to emphasize the drama of the Koutoubia Minaret, the focus of any approach to the city. Nearly seventy metres high and visible for miles on a clear morning, this is the oldest of the three great Almohad towers (the others remaining are the tour hassan in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville)and the most complete.its proportions-a 1:5 ratio of width to height -established the classic Moroccan design. Its scale, rising from the low city buildings and the plains to the north, is extraordinary, the more so the longer you stay and the more familiar its sight becomes.
Completed by Sultan Yacoub El Mansour (1184-99), Work on the minaret probably began shortly after the Almohad conquest of the city, around 1150. It displays many of the features that were to become widespread in Moroccan architecture - the wide band of ceramic inlay near the top, the pyramid-shaped, castellated merlons rising above it, the use of darj w ktarf and other motifs -and it also established the alternation of patterning on different faces. Here, the top floor is similar on each of the sides but the lower two are almost eccentric in their variety; the most interesting is perhaps the middle niche on the southeast face, a semicircle of small lobed arches, which was to become the dominant decorative feature of Almohad gates.
If you look hard, you will notice that at around this point,the stones of the main body of the tower become slightly smaller. This seems odd today but originally the whole minaret would have been covered with plaster and its tiers of decoration painted. To see just how much this can change the whole effect - and, to most tastes, lessen much of its beauty - take a look at the Kasbah mosque (by the saadain Tombs) which has been carefully but completely restored in this manner.
there have been plans over the years to do the same with the Koutoubia and the local press have recently been running a number of articles on various schemes, possibly involving a restoration of the whole mosque area. To date, however, the only parts of the structure that have been renovated are the three gilt balls made of copper at the summit.These are the subject of numerous legends, mostly of supernatural intervention to keep away the thieves.They are thought originally to have been made of gold and were possibly the gift of the wife of Yacoub El Mansour, presented as a penance for breaking her fast for three hours during Ramadan.
Currently,the tower itself is encased in scaffolding, the purpose of which is not yet clear. At the same time ,archeologists are excavating the precincts of the mosque,possibly to verify that the original mosque, which predates the tower, had to be rebuilt to correct its alignment with Mecca.
Alongside the mosque, and close to Av.Mohammed V, is the tomb of Fatima Zohra, now in white koubba. She was the daughter of a seventeenth-century religious leader and tradition has it that she was a women by day and a white dove by night; consequently children dedicated to her,even today, never eat pigeons.

jeudi 9 juin 2011

The Lower Medina : the Royal palace, Saadian Tombs and Mellah

Staying in Marrakesh even for a few days, you begin to sense the different appearance and life of its various Medina quarters, and nowhere more so than in the shift from north to south, from the area to the north of Djemaa El Fna and that to the south of it. At the southern extremity ( a kind of stem to the mushroom shape of the city walls) is Dar El Makhzen, the royal palace. To its west stretches the old inner citadel of the Kasbah; to the east, the Mellah, once the largest Jewish ghetto in Morocco; while rambling to the north of it is a series of mansions and palaces built for the nineteenth-cen-tury elite.
All in all, it's an interesting area to wander round, though you inevitably spend time trying to figure out the sudden and apparently arbitrary appearance of ramparts and enclosures. And there are two obvious focal points, not to be missed : the Saadian Tombs, preserved in the shadow of the Kasbah mosque, and El Badi, the ruined palace of Ahmed El Mansour.

The Zaouia of Sidi Bel Abbes

Rue Amesfah runs for around 150m north of the intersection with Rue Baroudienne before reaching the junction of Rue Assouel (to the east) and Rue Bab Taghzout (to the west). Following Rue Bab Taghzout, you pass another fondouk, opposite a small recessed fountain known as Chrob ou Chouf ("drink and admire"), and around 500m further down, the old city gate of Bab Taghzout. This marked the limits of the original Almoravid Medina, and continued to do so into the eighteenth century, when Sultan Mohammed Abdallah extended the walls to enclose the quarter and the Zaouia of Sidi Bel Abbes.
Sidi Bel Abbes was born in Ceuta in 1130. As a marabout and a prolific performer of miracles, particularly giving sight to the blind, he is the most important of Marrakesh's seven saints, and his zaouia, a kind of monastic cult centre, has traditionally wielded very great influence and power, often at odds with that of the sultan and providing a refuge for political dissidents.
The present buildings, entry to which is strictly forbidden to non-Muslims, date largely from a reconstruction by Moulay Ismail, an act that was probably inspired more by political motivation than piety. you can see something of the complex and its activities from outside the official boundary - do not, however, try to pass through the long central corridor. The zaouia has prospered over the centuries; in 1875, it was said to possess property to the value of £200,000 and serves as a great almshouse and asylum.
It still owns much of the quarter to the north and continues its educational and charitable work, distributing food each evening to the blind.
The tomb of Sidi Bel Abbes is in the nearby Sidi Marouk cemetery and can, for a small fee, be visited by non-Muslims; look for the white koubba with the light green dome. A couple of blocks to the southwest, there is a smaller, though again significant zaouia dedicated to Sidi Mohammed ben Slimane, a Saadian marabout and another of Marrakesh's seven saints.

West to Bab Doukkala : Dar El Glaoui
A third alternative from Ben Youssef is to head west towards Bab Doukkala. This route, once you've found your way down through Souk Haddadine to Rue Bab Doukkala, is a sizeable thoroughfare and very straightforward to follow. Midway, you pass the Dar El Glaoui, the old place of the Pasha of Marrakesh and a place of legendary exoticism throughout the first half of this century . Part of it is nowadays occupied by the Ministry of Culture; visitors are allowed in at the discretion of the caretaker, but there's little to see. The main section of the place remains private.

mercredi 8 juin 2011

North of the Ben Youssef Mosque

The are a immediately north of the Ben Youssef Mosque is cut by two main streets : Rue Assouel (which leads up to Bab El Khemis) and Bab Taghzout, which runs up to the gate of the same name and to the Zaouia of Sidi Bel Abbes. These were, with Bab Doukkala, the principal approaches to the city of Marrakech until the present century and along them you find many of the old fondouks used for storage and lodging by merchants visiting the souks.

One of these fondouks is sited just south of the mosque and a whole series can be fond along Rue Amesfah - the continuation of Baroudienne - to the north and west.
Most are still used in some commercial capacity, as workshops or warehouses, and the doors to their courtyards often stand open. Some date from Saadian times and have fine details of wood carving or stuccowork. If you are interested, nobody seems to mind if you wander in.

Bab Debbagh and the tanneries

Bab Debbagh is supposedly Almoravid in design, though over the years it must have been almost totally rebuilt. Passing through the gate, you become aware of its very real defensive purpose: three internal rooms are placed in such a manner as to force any-one attempting to storm it to make several turns. The leather goods shop, on the right-hand side of Bab Debbagh, gives good views from its roof (for a small fee) over the quarter.
Looking down, you have an excellent view over the tanneries, built here at the edge of the city for access to water (the summer-dry Oued Issil runs just outside the walls) and for the obvious reason of the smell. If you want to take a closer look at the processes, come in the morning, when the co-operatives are the work; any of the kids standing around will take you in. As at Fes, a tour is an ambivalent experience. There's a beauty about the proceedings, but the traditional dyes have been in large part replaced by modern chemicals, which can cause sciatica, malignant melanoma and other internal cancers.
Bab El Khemis
Following the road from Bab Debbagh, outside the ramparts, is the simplest approach to Bab El Khemis ( Gate of the Thursday Market) another reconstructed Almoravid gat, built at an angle in the walls. The Thursday market now seems to take place more or less daily, around 400m to the north, above a cemetery and marabout's tomb. It is really a local produce market. though odd handicraft items do occasionally surface.

mardi 24 mai 2011

The tanneries and northern gates

The main souks -and tourist route -stop abruptly at the Ben Youssef medersa. Beyond then, in all directions, you'll find yourself in the ordinary residential quarters of the Medina. There are few particular "sights" to be found here, but if you've got the time, there's an interest of its own in following the crowds, and a relief in getting away from the central shopping district of Marrakesh, where you are expected to come in, look round and buy.
Probably the most interesting targets are Bab Debbagh and Souk El Khemis. From Ben youssef you can reach these quite easily: it's about a fifteen-minute walk to the first, another fifteen to twenty minutes round the ramparts to the second. As you pass the entrance porch to the medersa, you'll quickly reach a fork in the side street. To the left, a covered passageway leads around behind the mosque to join Rue Amesfah. Head instead to your right, and then keep going as straight as possible until you emerge at the ramparts by Bab Debbagh; on the way you'll cross a small square and intersection, Place El Mokef, where a busy and sizeable lane goes off to the left - a more direct approach to Bab El khemis.
If you were to turn right, not left, from Place El Moukef, you would arrive within ten minutes at place Ben salah and the Zaouia of Sidi Ben Salah with a very fine, and prominent minaret built by a fourteenth-century Merenid sultan of Morocco.

vendredi 25 mars 2011

The Almoravid Koubba

Even though it is signposted opposite the entrance to the Ben Youssef medersa, the Almoravid Koubba (aka Koubba Ba'adiyn) is easy to pass by- a small, two-storey Kiosk, which at first seems little more than a grey dome and a handful of variously shaped doors and windows. Look closed, though, and you may begin to understand its significance and even fascination. For this is the only intact surviving Almoravid building, and it is at the root of all Moroccan architecture. The motifs you've just seen in the medersa -the pinecones, palms and acanthus leaves -were all carved here for the first time. The windows on each of the different sides became the classic shapes of Almohad and Merenid design -as did the merlons, the Christmas tree-like battlements; the complex "ribs" on the outside of the dome; and the dome's interior support, a sophisticated device of a square and star-shaped octagon, which is itself repeated at each of its corners. Once you see all this, you're only a step away from the eulogies of Islamic art historians who sense in this building, which was probably a small ablutions annexe to the original Ben Youssef Mosque, a powerful and novel expression of form.
Excavated only in 1952 -having been covered over amid the many rebuildings of the Ben Youssef mederssa - the koubba lies just the south of the present (mainly nineteenth-century) Ben Youssef Mosque. It is mostly below today's ground level, though standing with your black to the mosque you can make out the top of its dome behind the long, low brick wall. There is an entrance gate down a few steps, opposite the Ben Youssef Mosque, where a gardien will emerge to escort you round and sell you ticket (10dh), and may also show you the huge, old water conduits nearby, which brought water from the Atlas. If the koubba is closed, you can get almost as good a view from the roof of very ancient (but still active) hammam down to the right; the attendants will give you access for a small tip.

The Ben Youssef Medersa

One of the largest buildings in the Medina, and preceded by a rare open space, the Ben Youssef Mosque is quite easy to locate. Its medersa - the old student annexe, and their home until they had learnt the koran bu rote- stands off side street just to the east, distinguishable by a series of small, grilled windows. The entrance porch is a short way down the side street, covering the whole lane at this point. Recently restored, it is open from 9pm to 5pm every day; admission is the standard 10dh.
Like most of the Fes medersas, the Ben Youssef was a Merenid foundation, established by sultan Abou El Hassan in the fourteenth century. It was, howevere, almost completely rebuilt under the saadians, and it is this dynasty's intricate, Andalucian-influenced art that has left its mark. As with the slightly later saadian Tombs, no surface is left undecorated, and the overall quality of its craftsmanship, whether in carved wood, stuccowork or zellij, is startling. That this was possible in sixteenth-century Marrakesh, after a period in which the city was reduced to near ruin and the country to tribal anarchy, is remarkable. Revealingly, parts have exact parallels in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, and it seems likely that Muslim Spanish architects were employed in its construction.
Inside the medersa, you reach the main court by means of a long outer corridor and a small entry vestibule. To the side of this are stairs to student cells, arranged round smaller internal courtyards on the upper floors, an ablutions hall and latrine, still in evil-smelling use. Util very recently, a remarkable tenth-century Ommayad marble basin - decorated with eagles and griffins -completed the ensemble, though it has now been removed to the Dar Si Said museum.
The central courtyard, weathered almost flat on its most exposed side, is unusually large. Along two sides run wide, study, columned arcades, which were probably used to supplement the space for teaching in the neighbouring mosque. Above them are some of the windows of the dormitory quarters, from which you can get an interesting perspective - and attempt to fathom how over eight hundred students were once housed in the building.
At its far end, the court opens onto a prayer hall, where the decoration, mellowed on the outside with the city's familiar pink tone, is at its best preserved and most elaborate. Notable here, as in the court's cedar carving, is a predominance of pinecone and palm motifs; around the mihrab (the horseshoe-arched prayer niche) they've been applied so as to give the frieze a highly three-dimensional appearance. This is rare in Moorish stuccowork, though the inscriptions themselves, picked out in the curling, vegetative arabesques, are from familiar Koranic texts.the most common, as in all Moroccan stucco and zellij decoration, is the ceremonial bismillah invocation: "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful...".

mercredi 23 mars 2011

The souks and northern Medina

The souks of Marrakesh sprawl immediately north of Dejmaa El Fna. They seem vast the first time you venture in, and almost impossible to navigate, though, in fact, the area that they cover is pretty compact. A long, covered street, Rue Souk Smarine, runs for half their length and then splits into two lanes - Souk El Attarin and souk El Kebir. Off these are virtually all the individual souks: alleys and small squares devoted to specific crafts, where you can often watch part of the production process. At the top of the main area of souks, too, you can visit the saadian Ben Youssef Medersa -the most important monument in the northern half of the medina arguably the finest building in the city after the Koutoubia Minaret.
If you are staying for some days, you'll probably return often to the souks - and this is a good way of taking them in, singling out a couple of specific crafts or products to see, rather than being swamped by the whole. To come to grip with the general layout, though, you might find it useful to walk round the whole area once with a guide (see below). Despite the pressure of offers on Dejmaa El Fna, don't feel that one is essential, but until the hustlers begin to recognize you (seeing that you're been in the souks before), they'll probably follow you in; if and when this happens, try to be easygoing, polite and confident-the qualities that force most hustlers to look elsewhere.
The most interesting times to visit are in early morning (between 6.30 and 8am if you can make it) and late afternoon, at around 4 to 5 mp, when some of the souks auction off goods to local traders, Later in the evening, most of the stalls are closed, but you can wander unharassed to take a look at the elaborate decoration of their doorways and arches; those stalls that stay open, until 7 or 8pm, are often more amenable to bargaining at the end of the day.

Towards Ben Youssef : the main souks

On the corner of Dejmaa El Fna itself there is a small potters' souk, but the main market area begins a littel furthen beyoun this. Its entrance is initially confusing. Standing at the Café de france (and facing the mosque opposite), look across the street and you'll see the café El Fath and, beside it, a building with the sign "Tailleur de la place" - the lane sandwiched in between them will bring you out at the beginning of Rue Souk Smarine.

Souk Smarine and the Rahba Kedima

Busy and crowded, Rue Souk Smarine is an important thoroughfare, traditionally dominated by the sale of textile and clothing. Today, classier tourist "bazaars" are moving in, with american express signs displayed in the windows, but there are still dozens of shops in the arcades selling and tailoring traditional shirt and caftans. Along its whole course, the street is covered by a broad, iron trellis that restricts the sun to shafts of light; it replaces the old rush (smar) roofing, which along with many of the souks'more beautiful features was destroyed by a fire in the 1960s.
Just before the fork at its end, Souk Smarine narrows and you can get a glimpse through the passageways to its right of the Rabha Kedima, a small ramshackle square with a few vegetable stalls set up in the middle of it. Immediately to the right, as you go in, is Souk Larzal, a wool market feverishly active in the dawn hours, but closed most of the rest of the day. Alongside it, easily distinguished by smell alone, is Souk Batana, which deals with whole sheepskins - the pelts laid out to dry and be displayed on the roof. You can walk up here and take a look at how the skins are treated.
The most interesting aspect of Rabha Kedima, however, are the apothecary stalls grouped round the near corner of the square. There sell all the standard traditional cosmetic - earthenware saucers of cochineal (kashiniah) for rouge, powdered kohl or antimony for darkening the edges of the eyes, henna (the only cosmetic unmarried women are supposed to use) and the sticks of suak(walnut root or bark) with which you see Moroccans cleaning their teeth.
In addition to such essentials, the stalls also sell the herbal and animal ingredients that are still in widespread use for manipulation, or spellbinding. There are roots and tablets used as aphrodisiacs, and there are stranger and more specialized good -dried pieces of lizard and stork, fragment of beaks, talons and gazelle horns. Magic, white and black, has always been very much a part of Moroccan life, and there are dozens of stories relating to its effects.

La Criée Berbére

At the end of Rabha Kedima, a passageway to the left gives access to another, smaller square - a bustling, carpet-draped area known as La Criée Berbére (the Berbere auction) aka Souk Zrabia.
It was here that the old slave auctions were held, just before sunset every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, until the French occupied the city in 1912. They were conducted, according to budgett Meakin's account in 1900, "precisely as those of crows and mules, often on the same spot by the same men ... with the human chattels being personally examined in the most disgusting manner, and paraded in lots by the auctioneers, who shout their attractions and the bids". Most had been kidnapped and brought in by the caravans from Guinea and sudan; Meakin saw two small boys sold for £5 apiece, an eight-year-old girl for £3 and 10 shilling and a "stalwart negro" went for £14; a beauty, he was told, might exceptionally fetch £130 to £150.
these days, rugs and carpets are about the only things sold in the square, and if you have a good deal of time and willpower you could spend the best part of a day here while endless (and often identical) stacks are unfolded and displayed before you. Some of the most interesting are the Berber rugs from the High Atlas -bright, geometric designs that look very different after being laid out on the roof and bleached by the sun. The dark, often black, backgrounds usually signify rugs from the Glaoui country, up towards Telouet; the reddish-backed carpets are from Chichaoua, a small village nearly half way to Essaouira, and are also pretty common. There is usually a small auction in the criée at around 4pm - an interesting sight with the auctioneers wandering round the square shouting out the latest bids, but it's not the best place to buy a rug - it's devoted mainly to heavy, brown woollen djellabas.

Around The Kissarias

Cutting back to Souk El Kebir, which by now has taken over from the Smarine, you emerge at the Kissarias, the covered markets at the heart of the souks. The goods here, epart from the many and sometimes imaginative couvertures (blankets), aren't that interesting; the kissarias traditionally sell the more expensive products, which today means a sad predominance of Western designs and imports. off to their right, at the southern end of the kissarias, is Souk des Bijoutiers, a modest jewellers'lane, which is much less varies than the one established in the Mellah by Jewish craftsmen. At the northern end is a convoluted web of alleys that comprise the Souk Cherratin, essentially a leather workers' souk (with dozens of purse makers and sandal cobblers), though it's interspersed with smaller alleys and souks of carpenters, sieve makers and even a few tourist shops. if you bear left through this area and then turn right, you should arrive at the open space in front of the Ben Youssef Mosque; the medersa is off to its right.

The Dyers' Souk and a loop back to the Djemaa El Fna

Had you earlier taken the left fork along Souk El Attarin - the spice and perfume souk - you would have come out on the other side of the kissarias and the long lane of the Souk des Babouches (slipper makers) aka Souk Smata.
The main attraction in this area is the little Souk des Teinturiers - the dyers' souk. To reach it, turn left along the first alley you come to after the souk des Babouches. Working your way down this lane (which comes out in a square by the Mouassin Mosque), look to your right and you'll see the entrance to the souk about halfway down - its lanes rhythmically flash with bright skeins of wool, hung from above. If you have trouble finding it, just follow the first tour group you see.
There is a reasonably straightforward alternative route back to dejmaa El Fna from here, following the main street down to the Mouassin Mosque (which is almost entirely concealed from public view, built at an angle to the square beside it) and then turning left on to Rue Mouassin. As you approach the mosque, the street widens very slightly opposite an elaborate triple-bayed fountain. Built in the mid-sixteenth century by the prolific Saadian builder, Abdallah El-Ghalib, this is one of many such fountains in Marrakesh with a basin for humans set next to two larger troughs for animals; its installation was a pious act, directly sanctioned by the koran in its charitable provision of water for men and beasts.
Below the Mouassin Mosque is an area of coppersmiths, Souk des Chaudronniers. Above it sprawls the main section of carpenters' workshops, Souk Chouari - with their beautiful smell of cedar - and beyond them the Souk Haddadine of blacksmiths - whose sounds you'll hear long before arriving.

mercredi 5 janvier 2011

Jardin Majorelle

The subtropical Jardin majorelle (or Jardin Bou Saf) is one of the most delightful spot in Marrkech: a small, meticulously planned botanical garden, created from the 1920s on by the French painter, Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962). Now superbly mature, it is owned and splendidly maintained by fashion designer Yves Saint laurent, and is open daily to visitors (8am-noon and 2-5pm winter; 8am -noon and 3-7pm summer; 15dh; no children or animals allowed).The entrance is on a small side street off the jacaranda-lined Av.Yacoub El Mansour.
The garden-twelve acres in extent-has an amazing feeling of tranquillity, an atmosphere enhanced by the verdant groves of bamboo, dwarf palm and agave, and the various lily-covered pools. its keynote colour, used as a wash on the walls, is a striking mauvish-blue-the colour of French workmen's overalls, so Majorelle claimed, though it seems to have improved in the Moroccan light. This brilliantly offsets both the plants -multi-coloured bougainvillea, rows of bright orange nasturtiums and pink geraniums-and also the strong colours of the pergolas and concrete paths-pinks, lemon-yellows and apple-greens that look straight out of Yves Saint Laurent's collections. The garden's enduring sound is the chatter of the common bulbuls, flitting among the leaves of the date palms.
The pools also attract bird residents such as turtle doves and house buntings.
In majorelle's former studio, a Museum of Islamic Arts (a further 15dh; closed Mon) exhibits Saint Laurent's fine personal collection of North Africa carpets, pottery, furniture and doors; Saint laurent was himself born in Algeria. It also has one room devoted to jacques Majorelle's engravings and paintings- mainly of interest for the local scenes (fifty years ago ),which include the fortified village of Anemiter and the Kasbah of Ait Banhaddou, near Ouarzazate.