Fragments of Marrakech

I really didn’t enjoy Marrakech at all.

It had nothing to do with being tired from being on the road (and my feet) for two whole weeks, or having spent double my budgeted spending money by then, or the garish pink hotel room (yep, bright pink from floor to ceiling), or the chaos that is the Place Djemaa el-Fna – the marketplace and square renowned for its’ snake charmers, acrobats and story-tellers.  Nor the exorbitant entrance fee for Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle, within easy walking distance of my hotel. Perhaps it had a bit to do with the Medina where you are harassed more than anywhere else in Morocco, as by then I really was fed up of being harassed.

But more than all of that, I really felt that Marrakech had no soul compared to the rest of Morocco.  Days later, in a taxi ride to the airport in Casablanca, my taxi driver surprised me by agreeing with me.

And so my photos of Marrakech are not an all-encompassing view, but rather a tiny glimpse of a city whose name alone has fascinated travelers for centuries and I do wonder about that train ride from Casablanca that inspired Graham Nash to pen a psychodelic pop song about the hippie trail in Morocco that would become a massive hit for Crosby Stills Nash.  I love the song* by the way, if not the city 🙂

The photos were all taken inside the hurly burly crazy souk.

Chicken doesn’t get fresher than this.  Note the egg laid in the crate despite the confined space.

The local dentist advertising his wares …..

A trip to the local laundromat.

The local taxi rank.

And finally a shot taken from a rooftop restaurant where I sadly discovered a man living on a neighbouring rooftop in a makeshift tent.

* Marrakech Express

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The Leather Tanneries of Fes

They hand you a sprig of mint to take the edge off the odour as you enter the building, but nothing, in my view, can disguise the smell of Fes’ tanneries.

You first get a sense of the magnitude of this industry as you approach the tannery complex – literally hundreds of damp and recently dyed hides laid out to dry in the sun wherever there is free space.

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But the real action is in the dyeing pits in the Medina, the subject of many photographs from travel books on Morocco, where dozens of men stand knee deep in the pits of pigeon poop and natural colors in the hot sun, dyeing hides before they are fashioned into jackets, handbags and other commercial products.  Work in the tanneries hasn’t changed for centuries and this is the place to go if you want to experience the real authentic Fes.  Be warned though – the stench really does take your breath away.

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And all around the tanneries, that all too familiar sight – the satellite dish 🙂

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“Balak, balak” in Fes

Said to be the spiritual heart of Morocco, Fes is one of the world’s best preserved and captivating medieval cities.

Our walk started at the Gates of the Royal Palace located by the Jewish quarter.  Built in the 17th century, this palace is still used by the king of Morocco when he’s in town, but it’s closed to the public, so visitors have to be content with the outside.  There is plenty of detail to photograph, from the ornate metal doors, arches and delicate mosaic work.

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Equally intriguing was the Bab Sammarine, a gateway into Fez el-Jdid (New Fez), dating back to the 13th century.

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And then on to the souks in Fes’s ancient Medina…..

In short they are exhausting. A winding labyrinth of damp and dark alleys that never seems to end,

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with laden mules and donkeys passing by where you can barely swing a scrawny cat, their owners yelling balak, balak” – move out of the way or “watch out”.  The first two balak’s are a caution – on the third “balak” you are practically bowled over as the stream of traffic through the narrow alleyways forges ahead.

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Inside the souk, the harassment and banter alone leaves you feeling like you’ve done a triathalon. The camel’s head dangling from the eaves in a butcher’s shop took my breath (and appetite) away and, and so did the strench of the leather tanneries where pigeon poop is used to fix the dye. And then a co-traveller ordered pigeon pie for lunch, can you believe?  (I didn’t photograph the camel’s head by the way – I hurried past as fast as the oncoming stream of jellaba-clad merchants with carts of oranges or heavily laden donkeys would allow).

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Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world, about 1.1 million people live in Fes, where the ancient Medina has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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