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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrMorocco is situated in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Its capital city is Rabat and the largest city in the country is Casablanca while Marrakech is one of the largest cities in the country. Marrakech is like no city in the world, it’s a paradox of calm and sheer madness, from the busting medina to the quiet back alley Hammans.
Its name is thought to have come from the Berber words “Mur Akush”, meaning “Land of God”. The city, up until the beginning of the 20th century, was know as ‘The Kingdom of Marrakesh” as historically the city was the capital.
History of MarrakechBerber farmers from the Neolithic times first inhabited the area surrounding Marrakech and it’s estimated that the city was founded in 1062. Thanks to the Almoravids who inhabited the city, Marrakesh was transformed into a trading center for the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa region.
For centuries Marrakesh was believed to be the home of the tombs of the seven patron saints. The city, thus, attracted pilgrimages associated with the seven saints, which is still a firmly established tradition.
From 1900 onwards, the city was plagued with unrest. France had had its eye on Marrakesh for quite some time and after the murder of a French doctor, they attacked in 1907. Five years later the French Protectorate in Morocco was established.
Morocco gained independence in March 1956.
Since independence, Marrakesh has thrived as a popular tourist destination. During the 70s, the city became a popular destination for the hippies and with the hippies came the rock stars, musicians, artists, film directors and actors.
The Old Town area of Marrakesh became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, which further lifted awareness of the city to the rest of the world.
The TanneriesThe tanneries in Morocco’s Marrakech don’t feature on many visitors' agendas, however this makes them even more appealing to the intrepid explorer.
The tanneries have been producing leather since the city was founded and despite the pungent smell, it’s a real eye-opener.
It’s believed the techniques used to treat the leather date back to medieval times. The skins are firstly soaked in quicklime and water to remove any remaining hair or fur. To soften the skin, they are placed in vats using traditional and all natural treatments, a mixture of water and pigeon poo.
To color the skin, they use natural dyes including pomegranate, saffron and poppy. The whole procedure takes 20 days per skin. The tour around the tanneries is fairly short and pictures are not allowed during certain points of the tour.
Jemaa el-FnaaThis is the main square in Marrakech, used by both the locals and tourists located in the medina quarter (the old city). The square in the daytime is filled with fresh juice sellers, men with monkeys and snake charmers who encourage and charge for photographs. But the square really comes to life at night when the snake charmers leave and the Chleuh dancers emerge (usually young boys as it would be against custom for girls to be dancing). Berbers arrive telling stories in both Berber and Arabic and food stalls appear multiplying by the minute.
Koutoubia MosqueThis is the largest mosque in Marrakech and located very close to the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. Its an eyesore and was completed in 1199. The name of the mosque is based on an Arabic word for bookseller. At one time up to 100 booksellers worked in the streets at the base of the mosque. The mosque is not open to non-Muslims but can be admired from afar.
ShoppingShopping in Marrakesh is not for the faint-hearted. The souks (an Arab market) are bursting with leather, jewelry, food, spices, homeware and clothing. These items don’t usually have a price displayed and this is where the art of bartering comes into play. The key is to let the seller name a price, the buyer then halves the price and the dance begins. Look to settle on at least half the original asking price. Seasoned barterers can usually get it down to less than half, but you should bear in mind how much the local paid for the item and how much profit they need to make.
Food and DrinkWhen visiting Morocco it is absolutely essential to try a tajine (a Berber dish cooked in an earthenware pot). It’s a slow cooked stew, made with meat, poultry or fish with vegetables, nuts and dried fruit. They are available in almost every restaurant, traditionally cooked over coals and served with seasoned couscous.
Tea culture in Marrakesh is like the coffee culture in the West and it’s taken very seriously. Tea preparation is a fairly complex process and for an authentic tea experience you will need to allow at least 20 minutes from the brewing to the pouring.
Morocco is a Muslim country so don’t expect to find alcohol readily available, you can buy it in certain bars and hotels but it will be expensive.
Where to StayMarrakesh is brimming with hotels but seek out a Riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden) for a true Moroccan experience. Riads are usually located in the back alleys so if you are partial to getting lost easily, perhaps stay in one of the newer hotels.
Getting AroundThe best way to get around Marrakesh is to walk. As long as you aren't afraid of occasionally getting a little lost, it’s the best way to see the back alleys and real Moroccan life. Taxis are not expensive and should you stay in a Riad they can arrange for a private driver.
SafetyAs with all big cities, the most important you’ll need to be armed with is common sense. Keep handbags close to you and ensure you don’t leave any belongings unattended. Avoid making eye contact with the snake charmers and monkey owners. Even if its just a glance, they will assume you would like a snake placed on your head and have your picture taken for a nice tidy fee.
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Author: Holly Walden. Last updated: Sep 03, 2014