Saturday, October 04, 2014

Marrakech, Morocco: Medina

Sat 16/8/14

After a well rested night, we were treated with a lovely and filling breakfast by the Riad prepared by Sanaa. Breakfast is included in the room rate.


Medina of Marrakech

A little excerpt of the Medina from Unesco World Heritage site and Wikitravel:

The name Marrakech originates from the Amazigh (Berber) language which means "Land of God." Marrakech today is divided into two distinct parts: the Medina, the historical city, and the new European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle.

Marrakech was founded in 1070–72 by the Almoravids. The Medina of Marrakesh contains an impressive number of masterpieces of architecture and art, maze of narrow streets, houses, souks (markets), traditional crafts and trade activities. Marrakech was a major political, economic and cultural centre of the western Muslim world, reigning in North Africa and Andalusia.

What exactly is a Medina? According to Wikipedia, Medina is a distinct city section found in many North African countries with walled,  narrow, maze-like streets. Because of the very narrow streets, medinas are generally free from car traffic, which is fabulous! But they can be crowded with people, of course.

We would be venturing the Medina of Marrakech today which includes of Koutoubiya Mosque, Bab Agnaou, Kasbah,   Bahia Palace, and Ben Youssef Madrasa among others. All are within the vicinity of our riad, so we would be doing our trip on foot today. What better way to save on Moroccan cash after being ripped off big time yesterday. Or so we thought.

Our first destination today was Koutoubiya Mosque. With the help of googlemap using the free wifi in our room, we saved the route to our destinations today on our phone before venturing out since we weren't subscribing on data roaming plan.

Berber market....not!

Coming out from our Riad, we were approached by a local guy who spoke good English, referring to us as 'neighbours'. He told us today was a special holiday for the Berbers where they will 'come down from their village in the mountains' to display their handicrafts and 'there are many tourists' there and we should come with him. It seemed believable, as he directed us to a corner then passed us to his friend to bring us there. Seeing that the first guy did not ask us for money and immediately left, we thought the young men were just trying to help tourists voluntarily. The second guy brought us for quite a distance and then came a third guy where we were passed along to. Again, the second guy did not ask us for money. So we didn't suspect anything amiss.

But where was the market / square where the Berbers were supposedly doing their trade? The third guy then brought us to a tannery. There was no market at all. But somehow we continued following him into the tannery. He allowed us to take photographs and explained a bit on the tanning process of treating animal skin with chemicals to produce leather. The smell of rotting skin and dung used to soak the skin was pungent so guy # 3 gave each of us mint leaves to sniff on. We saw a group of European tourists there at the tannery wearing tags. But still we didn't suspect anything.

This is Guy # 2. Please be aware!
Sidi Yaakoub Tannery

goat hair

sprig of mint: symbol of deception

Guy # 3 later brought us to a leather shop just in front of the tannery and passed us to the shopkeeper, an older man. The shopkeeper showed us the end product of the leather processed at the tannery. Again he allowed us to take photographs. We didn't plan to buy any leather so after looking around and taking photos, we asked for directions to Koutoubiya Mosque and then excused ourselves. The elder man just said OK and waved goodbye. So no tricks this time?

Wrong! As soon as we left the shop, out of nowhere Guy#3 came to us asking to pay MAD 100 (RM37) for bringing us around the tannery. It was ridiculous! We didn't buy anything, and the explanation was just brief. I told him we only have small change and would only pay him MAD50. He became angry, raised his voice and told us they have a family to feed and was adamant to have that MAD100. I was still stubborn, but Partner in Crime just paid him what he wanted, pulled me away and quickly made our way back to our riad. We were ripped off yet again! I have read about boys / young men trying to act as guide for tourists  then asked for money. Yet I fell into the trick. It was an organized scam with a group of people involved. Those young men seemed honest, but they most definitely are not, such a shame! So please be aware and decline any offers from the local people.

Post -trip reading via wikitravel:
The tanneries are at the east end of Avenue Bab El Dabbagh. That 'main' tannery, Dar Dbagh, where they seem to channel all the tourists is near the Bab Debbagh gate. You'll be quickly approached by a guide who'll give you a sprig of mint and tell you that the tour is no charge. At the end of the tour you may be asked for as much as MAD100 for a "tip". This is far too much. Give no more than MAD10-20 (RM 3.70 - 7.40) and ignore the evil looks they may give you. If you hate or are bad at haggling, show them before the tour how much you will pay them. Ouch, we paid way too much!

that leather shop

Koutoubiya Mosque

Trying to forget that second episode of being cheated in Morocco, we tried to focus on our next destination. It was easy to find as it is the landmark of Marrakech with its distinctive rectangular minaret tower clearly visible from afar. We walked about 500m from our riad to the mosque and took some pictures outside. Too stricken by the cheating episode, we forgot to go inside the mosque!

To make it easier to take photographs of both of us together, we brought along a tripod. I cannot bring myself to use a monopod as I cannot stand seeing the monopod handle visible in pictures! And the pictures would focus more on the person rather than the background.

Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia:
Koutoubiya, from the Arab word koutoubiyyin, means bookseller. This mosque was built between 1147 and 1154 and completed in 1157 by the Almohads on the grounds of the former palace of Ali ibn Yusuf, the leader of the Almoravids, which are the Almohads' enemy. The mosque is made of red stone, formerly plastered, and has six rooms in succession, one above the other. It was designed so as to prevent anyone gazing in from the minaret to the harems of the king. Go here for more facts.

the many angles of Koutoubia mosque

garden next to Koutoubia mosque

Bab Agnaou / Kasbah

Next we wanted to go to Bab Agnaou. Bab means gate in Arabic and Bab Agnaou is the entrance to the kasbah in the Medina of Marrakech. Now, what is a kasbah? A kasbah is a type of fortress with high walls, usually without windows. Btw, have you heard of the song Rock The Kasbah by The Clash? It's a really catchy song with a hillarious video.  (Nothing to do with Marrakech's kasbah though) Just taking pictures of the gate and kasbah here.

Bab Agnaou
storks nest up at the kasbah
walls and gates of the kasbah

Bahia Palace

Then we walked to the nearby Bahia Palace, which means brilliance. It was built at the end of the 19th century by Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan, for his personal use. It has beautiful intricate wall tilings, doors and ceiling carvings; courtyard, lovely garden and sunbathing cats. Entrance to Bahia Palace is MAD 10 (RM 3.70)

Bahia Palace main entrance

garden at Bahia Palace

beautiful ceiling decor

the interior

beautifully decorated arches and tiles

courtyard with fountain

garden of Bahia

From Bahia Palace, we walked back to our Riad using a different route, via the canopied narrow streets accessible only on foot / by motorcycle with shops along the way. We followed the signage to Jemaa El-Fnaa, which turned out to be not too far away and provided us respite from the scorching sun. We rested at the riad for a while before proceeding to Ben Youssef Madrassa.

Ben Youssef Madrassa - Marrakech Museum

The madrassa is very near to our riad. A bit of excerpt from Wiki: It was an Islamic college built during the period of the Marinid (14th century) and named after the Almoravid sultan Ali ibn Yusuf (1106–1142). There are 130 student dormitory cells centered around a patio with a pool; its ceiling and walls are richly decorated with intricate carvings and geometric patterns. The entrance fee is MAD 50 (RM18.50)  for the madrassa only or MAD 60 (RM 22) for the madrassa and the next door Marrakech museum. The museum is housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace, built at the end of the 19th century by Mehdi Menebhi.

beautiful decor
patio with pool
patio view from above
beautiful walls and arches

wood balcony
balcony view from below
dorm door
dorm window

Marrakech museum

Marrakech museum

Marrakech museum

We were then starving and ready to find dinner. We decided to go to the food stalls again, but to a different stall from yesterday (all the stalls serve the same menu). We tried the couscous and tagine (MAD 60 or RM 22) . Again, they tasted so-so, possibly they were  pre-cooked and re-heated upon order. After dinner, we went for shopping at the Jemaa, buying souvenirs, mini tagines and lanterns for decoration. Then it was time to retire for the day

Tagine beef
cous cous
smoke from the food stalls, not fire



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