The heart of Marrakech, the centre of mayhem – the medina

Marrakech is rightly called the Red City.

Medina, the heart and soul of Marrakech and the centre of city life. Its streets calling to be explored. Its restaurants beckoning with appetising smells. Its shops catching your eye with colourful displays and very eager shopkeepers. This is where you will find Jemaa El Fna, the most famous square in all of Morocco, the busy souks, the beautiful Koutoubia Mosque and the two palaces I wrote about in an earlier post, Bahia Palace and Dar el Bacha. The medina is a profusion of smells, people and noise. You will either love it or you will hate it.

There is so much that can be said and written about the centre of the Red City. The fact that I have already written two posts about different things which can be done/seen in the medina and have more to say tells you all. But I promise, this is the last one 😀 So let’s start with the famous Jemaa El Fna.

Jemaa El Fna

As for many tourists with an accommodation in the medina, Jemaa El Fna was the first place we saw once we arrived from the airport. This big square is the main market place in Marrakech and a starting point of the souks. During the heat of the day it is taken over by juice stalls, water sellers, snake charmers and chained Barbary monkeys (for more on this, please read my post here). Once the sun goes down, the situation changes and the market becomes much livelier. Food stalls spring into life. Story tellers and male dancers attract attention of the crowds. Lamp sellers put their wares on the floor, lighting them so the warm light shines through the intricate latticework.

Jemaa el Fna in the evening. The cooking smoke is clearly visible against the night sky.

The crowds gather in mass numbers as the food stalls open. There are many of them but they quickly fill up. This is the place to go to if you are into street food. From BBQ to couscous to cooked snails, many Moroccan delicacies can be found here. We were thinking of having something to eat there later on in the evening, but as soon as we approached the food stalls, in a matter of seconds we were surrounded with several different men from different stalls, each dragging us their way. This might sound harsh, but they were like vultures! It took ages to break off and if you show any interest at all, there is no hope of escaping them. In the end we decided to grab some food from a smaller stall on the main souk street which was an excellent choice as it was cheaper and the food was really good.

As you can see, the square can easily become a bit too much. On every turn there is someone pulling at your sleeve trying to get you to eat at their stall or buy from their wares. Women doing the henna tattoos have been known to pull tourists down on the stool and start drawing before any agreement has been reached. With this many people, it is easy to get pickpocketed. Women especially should be a bit more cautious as men will use the cover of the crowds to try and grope the unsuspected tourist.

We spent only one evening at the square and that was more than enough for us. One thing I really enjoyed was sitting on a roof terrace of one of the bars/restaurants at the square and watching the world go by, seeing little groups of people eagerly drinking in the stories told, seeing a group dancing to the rhythm of the drums or just catching a person miles away from the mayhem, deep in thought. Just FYI, these could be seen with my short telephoto lens, not with the naked eye. Yes, yes, I know, that is what stalkers do…

Koutoubia mosque

From Jemaa El Fna, down a wide road lined with horses and carriages waiting for their passengers, is the Koutoubia Mosque, an elegant example of Moroccan mosque architecture. Its 77m high minaret is a symbol of Marrakech and makes for excellent sunset photos (see featured image). The height of the minaret is helpful for orientation if you get lost as it can be seen from most places inside the medina. Trust me, it helps to see the general direction of the main square and figure out if someone is trying to “guide” you in the wrong direction.

I can’t go into too much detail as we didn’t go inside (not possible for non-Muslims) but the grounds are a nice place for a walk and a good escape from the busy streets. However, it’s not the best place to hide from the sun as shade is scarce. All in all, definitely take at least half an hour to admire Koutoubia and see it from different angles.

Saadian Tombs

On the bottom photo – part of the queue for the Chamber of 12 Columns.

Lastly, I would like to mention the Saadian Tombs. They are located in the south of the medina. The entrance is somewhat hidden between the stalls by the wall of Moulay el Yazid Mosque. The husband really wanted to see it so we went even though the reviews online are not the best. I can see where the other people were coming from. The entrance fee is 70MAD per person (like everything else in Marrakech) and once you arrive, you will most likely stand in a queue and wait to see the Chamber of 12 Columns through an open doorway. That is the main attraction and there is not much else to see, but as we were in two, we used the time wisely. While the husband was waiting in the queue, I was walking around seeing the rest of the place and then we swapped places! That way it was actually fine and the queue did not feel that long.

Are the tombs worth the money and the wait? They have historical value and the chambers are the most decorated out of the palaces we saw. The bottom half of the wall has a 16 sided star pattern, while the upper half has very well kept, high quality stone carvings. The ceiling is Moroccan woodwork frame with geometric arrangements. The tombs look very grandiose and won’t take up too much of your time. If you enjoy history and want a quick peak into some of the best interior architecture without visiting the palaces, then you should give them a go.

I really hope you enjoyed the series of our Marrakech posts! I have been trying to combine my style with all I learned during the travel writing workshop I attended in February so the posts might seem a bit different or inconsistent but I am working on refining my writing. If you have any feedback or advice, I’d love to hear it in the comment section below.

While you wait for the rest of the posts about other places we visited while in Morocco, I will leave you with last of our Marrakech photos that will go on the blog. You can find more of them on our Instagram account. Enjoy!

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