Morocco: West Atlas
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours
 
       
  Morocco flag Marrakech: "Red City" or "Ochre City"  
       
    Pink walls, new town, Marrakesh, MoroccoMarrakech gets its nicknames "Red City" or "Ochre City" from the color of  the clay or paint used to cover many buildings. The colors intensity blend nicely with the blue sky and is a neutral colored backdrop for the street trees and intense colors of the bougainvillea and other landscaping.

In contrast to the medina (old walled city), the new city has wide streets, straight lines, large traffic circles with fountains and no information street-side economic activity. in a way it is very harmonious and orderly, but can extend into unimaginative and boring.

Fountain, new town, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Theatre Royal, Royal Theater, Marrakesh, Morocco Entering Marrakech from the west, there are two prominent buildings a couple kilometers from the medina; the Royal Theatre (left) and the train station (right). The Theatre, especially, though new (2001) stands out against of the lack of particularly interesting architecture in the new parts of the city.

The new (2008) railway station seems to be designed to look massive. In the end, it is by-in-large a very large decorated shed.

Gare de Marrakesh (Railway Station), Morocco
       
  Garden, Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco Garden, Cyber Park, Marrakesh, Morocco Garden, Cyber Park, Marrakesh, MoroccoSouthwest of the medina there is a large expanse of connected gardens and parks; Koutoubia Garden, Cyber Park, Oliveraie and Menara Garden. At the center of Menare is an artificial lake dating back to the 12th century. It boasts the first known example of a system of canalization and water distribution. At one end of the lake stands an elegant Saadian pavilion, completely restored in the nineteenth century. At dusk the beautiful pyramid of its green-tiled roof, glimmers golden in the rays of the setting sun. Menara once served as a royal venue for romantic trysts and is still a great place a quiet stroll. Rose garden, landscaping, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  City Wall, rampart, Marrakesh, Morocco Girls bicycling, Marrakesh, Morocco Bike lane, Marrakesh, MoroccoOn some of the boulevards outside the ramparts of the medina  there  is some bicycle lanes and other bike infrastructure. The flat topography made for easy bicycling though there are not a great number of cyclists taking advantage of the facilities, climate, and topography. None the less, horse-drawn carriages get more attention from the tourists. Horse drawn carriage, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Spice merchant, Marrakech, Morocco Man using hand lathe, Marrakech, MoroccoThere are two halves of the media: the north part with its dozens of densely developed souks, residential neighborhoods, and workshops, and the southern part which is dotted with palaces and other relics of past ruling elite.

This tour starts in the north.
 

Men playing checkers, souk, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Ali ben Youssef Mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco islamic building, Marrakech, MoroccoThe center of the souk and residential medina is the majestic Ali ben Youssef Mosque, built in the 12th century in honor of Sidi Youssef Ben Ali, one of the seven patron saints of the city. Restoration work carried out in the 16th and 19th centuries has left virtually nothing of the original structure. But its stone minaret still towers 40 meters above the varnished tiles of the city’s rooftops. Roofs, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Street in old town around Douar Graoua, Marrakesh, Morocco

Street in old town around Douar Graoua, Marrakesh, MoroccoStreet in old town around Douar Graoua, Marrakesh, MoroccoWalking in the old town offers a variety of  elements to ponder and appreciate. The dominant color for walls in Marrakech is pink -- sometimes there are some variations. A well-crafted door is always worth a double take. Because they are so rare, a house with exterior windows is worth pondering. Around a butcher shop, it is not unusual to find a cluster of cats. In an ally, an artist has hung a dozen of their works. For our visit, the art stayed on the wall. A limitation of a bicycle tour is it discourages doing a lot of buying so you need be satisfied with looking and not owning.

Door, Central Souk, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  House in the old town with exterior windows, Marrakesh, Morocco Cats at the butcher shop, Marrakesh, Morocco Artist work display, Central Souk,Marrakesh, Morocco Mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco Door to a mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco Riad, Marrakesh, Morocco
  Clothing Market, Souk, Marrakesh, Morocco Around Morocco, the reputation of Marrakech is it is all about business. Outside of Marrakech, it doesn't really matter what town, if you have come from Marrakech, they are proud to tell you that their town is friendlier. It is not that Marrakech is hostile, but money never seems to be very far from most interactions. This is manifest in its miles of shop-lined streets and dozens of market squares that are packed with goods and people from mid-morning until sunset. If crowds and aggressive vendors are not your cup of tea, an early morning stroll through the souk is very pleasant. Clothing Market, Souk, Marrakesh, Morocco
  Clothing Market, Souk, Marrakesh, Morocco Vegetable cart, Marrakesh, Morocco Central Souk in the morning before opening, Marrakesh, Morocco Central Souk in the morning before opening, Marrakesh, Morocco Marrakesh, Morocco Sub-Sahel Africa Art Merchants, Souk, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh, Morocco

Orange juice stand, Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh, MoroccoDish antenna, Djemma el-Fna, Marrakech, MoroccoThe hub of Marrakech is a vast plaza called Djemma el-Fna. It is surrounded by restaurants, cafés, and shops and the square is human kaleidoscope from mid-morning until midnight and beyond, 365 days a year. And the room tops are base for dozens of satellite dishes.

The crescendo for Djemma el-Fna is a couple hours after dark. About mid-morning the plaza comes to life with fruit and spice sellers, Guerrab (water sellers) with their leather water-skins and metal cups, barbers, henna tattoo artists, games of chance, magicians and a host of other hawkers, hustlers,Dancing cobra, Djemma el-Fna, Marrakech, Morocco and peddlers. Through the afternoon the square transitions into a carnival with the arrival Gnaoua (dancers of Guinean descent), musicians, storytellers, snake charmers and trained monkeys (each with a collection can), more food vendor and a growing crowd of spectators who are both local and foreigners. The snack menu includes snails, fresh pressed orange juice, pastries, dried fruit, and nuts. The entertainment takes place in dimly light clumps of people. The audiance is Moroccan and foreigner alike.

Woman walking in Souk, Marrakesh, Morocco
  Dried fruits and nuts, Djemma el-Fna at night, Marrakesh, Morocco Snails, Djemma el-Fna at night, Marrakesh, Morocco Orange juice, Djemma el-Fna at night, Marrakesh, Morocco Pastries, Djemma el-Fna at night, Marrakesh, Morocco Dried fruit and nuts, Djemma el-Fna at night, Marrakesh, Morocco Snails, Djemma el-Fna at night, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco

West of Djemma el-Fna is Koutoubia Mosque and it prominent minaret.  One of the values of the visibility of the minaret is if you get lost and can see the minaret, you get make you way back to it and then back to Djemma el-Fna -- day or night -- and hopefully from there, reorient yourself.  Unfortunately for the untrained eye, there are several other minarets in Marrakech that are not too dissimilar from Koutoubia so it can be confusing.

The Koutoubia is one of the largest mosques in the Western Islamic world and considered one of the most beautiful in the harmonious unity of its design. The "booksellers’ mosque" owes its name to the manuscript souk whose shops were attached to its walls during the Middle Ages, a practice common in Arab Muslim towns. It stands as a permanent example of the Hispanic-Moorish art of the Almohad era. One commentary notes, the builders "allying apparent simplicity with marvelous dexterity and discreet luxury. It's renowned minaret, a jewel of Hispanic-Moorish architecture, has cast its protective shadow over the city for more than eight centuries."

Koutoubia Mosque at night, Marrakesh, Morocco

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh, Morocco

       
    Stocks on the ruins of Badi Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Stocks on the ruins of Badi Palace, Marrakesh, MoroccoOne has to wonder where the storks nested before humans built and abandoned city walls. The don't seem to mind being near urban hustle and bustle, but the seem to be a calculation to keep themselves out of reach. This series of photos was taken with a telephoto lens. Stocks on the ruins of Badi Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
   

Bab Agnaou, Marrakesh, MoroccoBab Agnaou is one of the most imposing and beautiful of the city’s gates. It provides access to the Kasbah, the El-Mansour Mosque, and the Saadian Tombs. Local legend has it that in olden times the heads of executed criminals were displayed here. It once served as the main entrance to the city, through which the sultans gained access to the nearby palace.

 
       
  Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, MoroccoSaadian Tombs, In 1591 work was begun in the south of the Kasbah on the Marrakech Necropolis with the building of the first koubba (dome), which was to contain the tombs of the ancestors of the Saadian Sultan, Ahmed El-Mansour. Saadian princes had been buried here as early as 1557, mausoleums were built in the 16th century to house the sepulchers of thirteen sovereigns. The delicacy and elegance of decoration, and variety of treatments, in harmony with the purity of its architectural lines, and secret garden, makes the mausoleum an exceptional work. When Moulay Ismael took the city in 1677, and want to obscure his predecessors, had a wall built around the tombs. It worked for 240 years when the mausoleums were rediscovered in 1917 from an aerial photo. Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco
  Garden, Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco Detail, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
    El-Mansour Mosque, Marrakesh, MoroccoAdjacent to the Saadian Tombs is the El-Mansour Mosque (apparently also referred to as the Moulay el Yazid Mosque and Kasbah Mosque). It was built in the 12th century during the reign of Sultan Yacoub El-Mansour. Following the explosion in 1569, the mosque was restored bit by bit and was renamed the Mosque of the Golden Apples in the 16th century. Legend has it that, like their counterparts atop the nearby Koutoubia, the globes crowning the lantern of its minaret, were fashioned from the jewelry belonging to Sultan Yacoub El-Mansour’s wife. Beautiful and grandiose at the same time, the layout and decor of this majestic mosque have remained a model of classical architecture down the centuries.  
       
  Kasbah street, Marrakesh, Morocco Kasbah street, Marrakesh, MoroccoSkyline old town, Marrakesh, MoroccoSkyline old town, Marrakesh, MoroccoViews of some streets and a rooftop perspective of the Kasbah section of Marrakech, between the El-Mansour Mosque and El Badi palace. Marabout, Kasbah, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Badi Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco

Badi Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco

Courtyard, Badi Palace, Marrakesh, MoroccoThe building of the vast and opulent El Badi Palace was ordered by the newly anointed sultan, Ahmed El-Mansour, in 1578, following the Moroccan victory over the Portuguese at the famous and pivotal Battle of the Three Kings*.  El-Mansour would go on to prove himself to be one of the strongest leaders in Moroccan history.

Designed to host magnificent receptions and banquets, it counted three hundred and sixty rooms arranged around a large inner courtyard adorned with a pool and blooming flowerbeds. The interior decorating featured abundant trappings were made of gold, crystal, and turquoise. Now, to visualize this takes a vivid imagination. The palace was pillaged in 1696 by order of Moulay Ismael to provide decoration for his royal palaces in Meknes, only the shell of this once resplendent edifice remains. The line of a dozen storks hanging out on the top of the ramparts are making the best of that.

* The battle took place near Ksar el Kebir (110km south of Tangiers and 160km north of Rabat). The three kings involved were King Sebastian of Portugal, the ruling sultan of Morocco, Abd el-Malik and the deposed sultan, Muhammad. Sebastian's aim was to start a crusade in Morocco, in order to bring the country under Christian rule. Al-Mutawakkil hoped to be returned to reestablish himself as the Sultan.  It was a route for the Moroccans, but all three kings, including Abd el-Malik, died in the course of the battle.

Badi Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco

Storks, Badi Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco

       
    Mellah, Marrakech, MoroccoMellah, Marrakech, MoroccoWorking our way counter-clock-wise around the southern end of the medina is the Mellah -- the tradition Jewish quarter of a Moroccan town. Mellah generally features very narrow streets and Marrakech's has particularly high buildings.

About the only indication that it was once a thriving Jewish community is an old Synagogue and a few streets that are named after Rabbis, that have kept there names.

 
       
    Spice market, Mellah, Marrakesh, Morocco Apothecary shop, Mellah, Marrakesh, MoroccoApothecary shop, Mellah, Marrakesh, MoroccoMost of the Jewish community emigrated in the decade after independence. The most interesting feature that still remains is the spice and herb market, apothecary shops, and artisans market, just outside the Mellah. Apothecary shop, Mellah, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
  Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco
  Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace is sumptuous residence built at the end of the 19th century by order of Ba Ahmed. Set in an immense eight-hectare garden, the property contains a haphazard succession of luxurious secret apartments opening onto gardens and patios. A thousand craftsmen, for the most part from the Fez region, took part in its construction which took over seven years. The building of the palace reintroduced the techniques and decorative materials of traditional architecture. As for the elite of centuries earlier, carved wood and sculpted plasterwork and stucco adorn its interiors and exteriors. The craftsmanship of almost every detail from floor to ceiling, in every room, is impressive.

[The background border on this section is from tile work at Bahai Palace.]

Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco
  Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco
       
   

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