Our Sunday morning in Marrakech began with us awaking just in time for breakfast on the terrace of our riad (yup, if that place wasn’t already gorgeous enough, it also had a beautiful terrace!) This time breakfast included a different assortment of pastries and breads, yogurt, orange juice and another unknown type of creamy cheese. We definitely lounged around a bit more on Sunday and didn’t actually leave the riad until around noon, despite having a very full schedule of sightseeing planned. We really wanted to concentrate on the sites located in the southern part of the medina, especially the palaces and tombs. So instead of weaving our way through the tangled souks, we just took one of the larger streets that rings the old town and goes directly to the Djemaa el-fna square (the one with the monkeys and snakes, which I unfortunately got a better view of in the daylight…)
But before that, we swung by Marrakech’s most famous mosque, the Koutoubia Mosque. The mosque was built in the 12th century after the original had to be torn down (it didn’t align properly with Mecca, but the ruins are still there!) The spire at the top was apparently once made from gold – specifically from the melted-down jewelry of the sultan’s wife, her punishment after she was caught eating during Ramadan. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed inside mosques in Morocco, except for the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which I highly recommend visiting if you ever find yourself there (it can fit more than 25,000 people inside AND it has a retractable roof!) But peering at the outside and walking through the gardens was a nice way to start our morning…errr afternoon. 😛
Then we thought we’d give the Djemaa el-fna square another chance in the daylight, and I have to admit we enjoyed some very nice juices from one of the stands. I asked for an avocado juice and instead of saying, “Sorry ma’am, I don’t have any avocados”, the guy literally went and bought some avocados for me! So that was great! Once I got my avocado juice though, I was somewhat accosted by a henna tattoo artist, who, when I said “No, thank you” to her offer of a tattoo, grabbed my arm and, bringing the henna needle towards me, said, “It’s a gift!” GAH! :O I wiggled away and there was no harm done obviously, but still, not so sure how I feel about that square!
Anyway, from there we headed further south, where the souks are a bit less crowded, with the goal of visiting a few of the palaces there. Along the way, we munched on some fried meat and vegetable pastries, before discovering that the first palace on our list was closed. We were then chased around by a blind cat, who nonetheless was very drawn to Rémi. 😛
But, finally, we made it to the Bahia Palace, which lived up to its name – “The Beautiful” – in every way! Built between 1866 and 1900, the Bahia Palace was designed for the personal use of the vizier to the sultan and his wives, and was considered the most luxurious palace of its time. Inside, it is an absolute explosion of mosaic tiles, intricate wood carvings, fountains, and stained glass (the first time stained glass was ever used in North Africa was here!) It was all so unexpectedly beautiful that I’m a bit sorry to spoil the surprise with my photos (but I took a LOT of photos, so I might as well make good use of them! :P)
We were absolutely shocked when a guard started herding us out at 3 o’clock, the time had flown by so fast! Luckily we really took our time to leave, and the fact that the palace was a bit emptier afforded more time for photos. 🙂
After experiencing all this beauty, we were pretty hungry, so we went to a nearby restaurant that was listed in my guidebook called Dar Chef. We had the place entirely to ourselves and very much enjoyed resting our legs and eating some very nice couscous and some incredible egg and meat tagine! (I believe it’s called Kefta Mkaouara.) Whatever it was, Rémi’s dish was my favorite thing I ate in Marrakech!
As we were eating and plotting our next move, we realized that a lot of the historic sites close fairly early in Marrakech. The Saadian Tombs, which were next on our list, closed at 4:45pm and the Badi Palace, which sits next door, closed at 5pm! Although there was no way we’d make it in time, we thought we would explore the surrounding area and eventually get a cold beverage of some sort. Maybe we were just getting used to it, but I think we felt a bit less harassed in the souks in this part of town; we actually had some nice conversations with a few shop owners and got an impromptu tour of the crazy restaurant where they filmed the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much. However, everyone still called me “gazelle” (which I guess is the Moroccan equivalent of “chick”?) And everyone tried to sell Rémi hashish. So some things stayed constant. 😛
Although closed, we had a great time walking around the perimeter of the Badi Palace and the Saadian Tombs, especially because we could see the giant (and very dusty-looking) storks that lived there! I don’t think I had ever seen a stork before and they are absolutely massive in real life, like (I imagine) pterodactyls! Luckily, our next stop was the Kasbah Cafe, which sits just across the street from the tombs, so we had the perfect vantage point to rest and enjoy more stork watching. Plus, they had chocolate milkshakes!
As the sun began to set, we decided to make our way back to the riad, and along the way we passed several groups of people who had set up tables full of food outdoors, patiently waiting for the sun to set so they could break their fast, which seems like such a fun way to do it! The sun officially set just as we reached the mosque at the Djemaa el-fna square, and as we got closer to the riad, things got strangely quiet as all the shopkeepers pulled out their dinners and ate together. We ate our dinner on a terrace a few minutes away from our hotel, and I thoroughly enjoyed my merguez sausage and fries.
With our trip almost over, I was definitely starting to look forward to certain aspects of “home”, especially seeing and speaking with more women again. At least for me, I found it a bit tiring to interact almost solely with one gender for that amount of time. (I wouldn’t have done very well in an all girl’s school either, I guess!)
But that aside, I was beyond excited to see one last sight before we left: the Majorelle Garden, i.e., the former Moroccan crib of Yves Saint Laurent! Located about 20 minutes away from our riad in the New Town, we spent the morning here before departing for the airport at 1pm on Monday, and it was the perfect way to cap our trip to this wildly beautiful city. (I had to take all these photos on my iPhone because my camera ran out of battery, but I think they still turned out pretty good!)
The Majorelle Garden was actually constructed by the French Orientalist painter Jacques Majorelle beginning in 1923. He devoted the next 40 years to growing his elaborate garden and constructing his home, whose electric blue was so striking that the color was named after him (“Majorelle Blue”). Majorelle was eventually forced to sell the property and it fell into disrepair, until it was bought by a little-known French designer named Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980s. 😉 Yves and his partner Pierre Bergé restored and expanded on the gardens, and today it houses both the Berber Museum and the brand new Musée Yves Saint Laurent.
We only had time to explore the gardens, but I suspect that they are the highlight of any visit here. I probably took about a hundred photos of the cacti alone, there were just so many different varieties and they were arranged so beautifully! And that blue! Sigh. Basically, I wouldn’t mind having a home and garden like that one day. 😉
And just like that, we were in taxi on our way back to Paris! It was hard to say goodbye knowing that my life of drooling over elaborate palaces and luxurious gardens had come to an end (at least for now). But I was so grateful to have experienced so much concentrated beauty and history in such a short period of time, and particularly to share it all with Rémi. 😊 Marrakech is only a 3 hour and 20 minute flight away from Paris, so if you’re in Europe and you want to experience something completely different and unforgettable, I suppose Marrakech is always an option. 🙂