Thursday, February 7, 2013

MEANDERING IN MARRAKECH

Marla had that “Do you know where you are going?” look on her face on the way to Riad Kniza in the Marrakech medina. Passing through the ancient Bab Doukkala gate toward an entrance to the old city, you enter a wonderfully chaotic, noisy, and manic world of Marrakech life. Motorbikes, donkeys and bicycles fight for room in the dusty narrow lanes. Strange and exotic scents of spices fill the air and sounds of muezzins call the faithful to prayer.

On a tiny dirt lane we found the door to our hotel.  Upon entering, we encountered a beautifully restored 18th century riad, or Moroccan traditional home with an interior courtyard. The aristocratic owner, Haj Mohamed Bouskri, has been a VIP guide to many U.S. presidents and celebrities.  The riad is filled with Berber antiques from his wife’s antique gallery.

We loved the embroidered silk drapery, antique chandeliers and paintings.

Even though it was early January we had breakfast and evening cocktails on the roof garden.

Riad Kniza is known for its fine restaurant, and we enjoyed a spectacular Moroccan feast. Their tajines were incredible as were the local wines and service!

A donkey takes a break against a wall as women in niqab and hajib walk by. Morocco is unique for its mix of traditional and liberal Islamic traditions. In the neighboring new city of Gueliz, you find modern Marrakech women dressed like in Paris or New York, having wine in cafes.

Children dodge a donkey cart as they come home from school.

Marrakech’s souks are a labyrinth of tiny alleyways, loosely divided into specific commercial areas such as carpet, textiles, pottery, leather, metalwork, etc. We were hopelessly lost at first, but became old hands after venturing into the souks each day memorizing landmarks.

In the middle of the ancient medina is the fascinating Medrasa Ben Youssf from the 16th century.

Morocco is famous for pierced metal lamps.  Souk Haddadine is filled with shops selling metal lamps and sconces.

We wondered what lay beyond this beautiful tiled entryway.

Jamma El Fna is a vibrant square and marketplace. Hundreds of food stalls are set up in the late afternoon and by evening are alive with locals and tourists alike. Colorful water sellers, horse drawn carts, snake charmers, Berber merchants from the High Atlas Mountains and musicians create a unique atmosphere of commerce.

I purchased antique Berber pillow covers in the souks after exhaustive bargaining!

La Trattoria was a favorite restaurant of Yves Saint Laurent and Paul Berger in Marrakech. The design was by Bill Willis, the enigmatic expat designer who created wonderfully exotic interiors for his famous clients, including YSL. I will do a future blog on Bill Willis as he more than anyone represented the new Moroccan style.

***Great YouTube video visits the mysterious souks of Marrakech.

1 comment :

  1. Very nice! I'm going to have to add this to my travel list. One of my clients grew up in Morocco and now lives in Portland, OR with a southern accent.

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