Marrakesh Medina

Picture of marjoram We spent four days in Marrakesh which resulted in enough pictures that we've split it up somewhat arbitrarily into the central Medina area (this page) and everything else (the other page). We stayed in the Dar Soukhaina Riad which is located down progressively smaller alleys somewhere north of the souks. That qualifies it for this page. This is most of our small but comfortable room (named 'marjoram' in the spice-theming of rooms). We highly recommend Soukhaina.
Picture of medersa_cyard A bit north of central Marrakesh is a trio of tourist attractions. The Medersa Ben Youssef, the Koubba and the Museum of Marrakesh are all located more or less on the same plaza and there is a joint admission ticket which is far cheaper than buying all three separately. The medersa probably has the most to see. This is the central courtyard which admittedly looks much like the central courtyard of other medersas elsewhere in Morocco.
Picture of medersa_melanie The difference here is that the entire medersa is open to the public. That means you can spend an hour or so wandering through all the individual rooms around the courtyard. Most of these were living quarters for students so they were generally small and dark. There is however a remarkable variety of shapes and layouts. Several of them have loft structures for sleeping.
Picture of museum_of_marrakesh The museum of Marrakesh is located in a former palace and in many cases the rooms themselves are more impressive than the displays in them. It's a relatively small museum mostly focusing on the history of crafts in Marrakesh including carpet-making, pottery, weaving and jewelry.
Picture of koubia That brings us to the koubba (shrine) which is older than pretty much anything else in Marrakesh. It dates from the 12th century (that's 1100s in the western calendar). There's not a whole lot to see here but if you've bought the combined ticket it's worth climbing down to the base where there are also the ruins of an old cistern.
Picture of nuts_and_dates Unlike Fes, there is a clear focal point to all of Marrakesh and that would be the Djemma el Fna. Our first impression of this square while walking across it on our first night in Marrakesh was that it was the center of all things unbearably touristy. We kept coming back though, partially because it's easiest to learn your way around in terms of loops from the main square. Partially because all roads do sort of lead here sooner or later, and partially because it's the easiest place to sit at a café and take a break and watch the zoo. There are dozens of identical stands just like these which sell nuts, dates and dried fruit. In fact the apricots here are probably the best I've ever had.
Picture of djemma_el_fna This is an overview of part of the square. Specifically, this picture is taken from the Alhambra restaurant where we had pretty good pizzas and a spectacular view. The restaurants around the square are generally not the best of Marrakesh, but the view often makes up for that.
Picture of spice_shop Our favorite type of store in the souks of Marrakesh would be the spice stores. Those cones are piles of assorted spices. These shops also carry teas, oils and sometimes soaps. How many spice shops can you visit? Well there are several blends available commonly in Morocco that literally vary from shop to shop because each store owner makes his own variant. The most common of these are harissa and ras el hanout. In general you can taste, smell and visually pick out the ingredients in these blends before buying them.
Picture of cafe_view The ground floor of most restaurants around the Djemma el Fna are cafes which may serve sandwiches or ice cream. These are good places to relax, have a drink and avoid the chaos for a little while. The important travel tip here is not to sit in the first row of tables. Everyone out in the main square who is selling, begging for something, or performing assorted small tricks in the hopes of something feels obliged to include the first row of tables in their range. If they step past the barrier, they're usually chased away by café staff.
Picture of water_seller This is a traditional water seller's outfit. Once upon a time these men wandered through Moroccan cities selling water to travelers. The costume is distinctive so that it would be easy and obvious to find them. Nowadays they can be found near major tourist attractions across the country where they sell photo opportunities with themselves instead of water.
Picture of koutoubia
Picture of covered_souk The main section of souks in Marrakesh is north of the Djemma el Fna and is segmented into sections based on products offered. The two or three main roads through the souk don't follow the segmentation and you can find just about anything anywhere there if you can get through the crowd. The main streets (like this one here) are at least partially covered and shaded.
Picture of fabric_shop This picture was taken in the vicinity of the dyer's souk where Melanie was shopping for fabric and scarves. Selecting an individual shop once you've located the product you're interested in can be difficult. Once you've made eye contact with a shopkeeper, you've pretty much made your selection. We found it easiest to circle through a souk a couple times and try to pick out a favorite shop based solely on the look of the wares.
Picture of juice_guy This is a juice guy. There are dozens of them in the Djemma el Fna and there really isn't a lot to distinguish them. Melanie came up with the selection method based on straws as the hygienic state of the glassware is a little bit sketchy. For 3 dirhams, you can have a fresh squeezed glass of the citrus juice of the season. 3 dirhams is practically nothing. We had juice nearly every time we crossed through. At night, there are other options besides juice and dried fruit. There is a line of snail vendors for instance. Restaurants set up shortly before dusk sell just about everything and it's a very cheap way to eat. It's also a good way to order just as much food as you want if you're not in the mood for a 23 course Moroccan feast.

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