Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Marrakech Part One: Chaos Vs. Tranquility

So here we go, finally something a little more interesting for you to read and not me making fairly useless ramblings about daily life. Last week I finally had my last day at work and embarked upon a little trip to Marrakech with a friend of mine, her family, and two other couples who were friends of her parents. Needless to say I was on top of the world at the thought of heading out to a new destination, particularly Morocco as it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

A gem of Marrakech; some
bloody good leather.
After having been there a couple of days, I started to think about my first impressions of Marrakech, and also asked a few of the people I was with of theirs. It was safe to say we all had the same picture; busy and chaotic. Due to Marrakech being such a tourist spot with markets and stalls around every corner, during trade hours there was never a quiet moment without a shopkeeper trying to get your attention and encouraging you to spend.

A few of the people I was with had never experienced anything quite like this before, and I myself was very happy I’d been to India and had therefore anticipated the same kind of vibe. Even the bartering shopkeepers aside, there was never a moment where a moped beeping its horn, a shabby looking donkey shuffling along or a tradesman shouting ‘Attention!!’ wasn’t trying to get past you.

It struck me however that nothing seemed too rushed or hurried, other than the incomprehensible Arabic language. These people seem to thrive and feed off the chaotic energy flying around the place, and it only seemed overwhelming to us because there’s just so much packed into these tiny streets. The cramped little shops, deeper than they are wider with more trinkets and treasures in than you can imagine, are certainly not built for gentle perusal.

Even though the hustle and bustle is what first hits you about this city, there are several little hotspots of tranquillity that can ease your addled mind and your probably tired feet.

The Palace el Bahia offers a labyrinth of regal chambers and greenery springing from its courtyards, and some quiet away from the busy roads, only a few metres away from its walls. A second palace, The Palace el Badii, presents more sparse and desolate surroundings as it dates back to the 16th century. If you use your imagination hard enough you could attempt to build a picture of what it may have looked like. If not, go on the terrace and soak up the view, along with some mammoth and gravity-defying stork nests.

A crunchy looking tree
in the Majorelle Gardens.
The Majorelle Gardens also boasts a spot of heaven, owned by Yves Saint-Laurent and also the place where his ashes were scattered, and I certainly don’t blame him! As you stroll through the towering foliage, the bedlam of inner Marrakech seems like a lifetime away.

One final place I would recommend is the Mederssa Ben Youssel, a religious school which has not been used since the 1960’s but is available to the general public to look around and is located right next the Marrakech’s busiest scene, the souks. To say the carvings and architecture are beautiful is an understatement; the intricacy of it all is mind-blowing. It once housed over 800 students, and there are only around 130 rooms. Regardless of how cramped it may have been, you really get a sense of the solitude and basic lifestyle these people lived.
One drawback to all these little safe havens amongst the uproar of the markets is that they are tourist spots, and therefore, full of tourists. I myself am not one too keen on falling into those traps, but sometimes there are things you just can’t afford to miss.

Some tiles my father would
appreciate in the Mederssa
Due to this however, it has to be said that the essence of Marrakech must be that chaos that you either love or hate. The city delights each and every one of your senses. Smells of spices, metal, leather, chocolate and oils creep into your nostrils at any given moment, along with sewage, which nips in from time to time. The vivid and bright colours make it hard for the eyes to focus on any one thing at a time. Shouts, beeps, hoots and clucks flood your ears.

Two things stand out for me when writing this piece. We saw around 50 live chickens strapped to a motorbike speeding past us in the main square, all bobbing their heads at the same time. On another occasion, a man in a wheelchair very bravely took one look at a huge roundabout (forget the highway code, the cars just do what they want!) and decided to just wheel his way right into the traffic and eventually made it over to the other side. This madness is the real Marrakech. 

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