A brief glimpse of the city

 

What to know about Marrakech, Morocco

While Marrakech is not the largest city in Morocco (that title belongs to the port city of Casablanca), it is the most popular destination for tourists.

The city is geographically located near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and a few hours away from the Sahara Desert. The contrast of landscapes is as distinct as the two parts of the city.

The Medina is the old historical city, with endless labyrinths, narrow passageways, and alleyways filled with local shops and souks, or bazaars. The Djemaa El-Fna is the main square that is the highlight for many tourists and photographers.

Outside the Medina walls is the Gueliz, or Ville Nouvelle – the European district with modern restaurants, fast food chains, and internationally branded stores.

 

Personal story with a lesson learned

A new destination can overwhelm a traveler, especially in a place known for scamming tourists and even locals themselves. Private city tours are a stress-free resource which bring tourists to the main attractions and landmarks.

Story time:

I booked a city tour through my hotel’s concierge to see the highlights of Marrakech. Trusting the quality and standards of the hotel, I expected a luxury tour experience. Unfortunately, it was anything but luxurious.

Our private tour guide was contracted by the hotel. It started out well in a hotel car driving us to the Marjorelle Gardens and then to the Medina. Once in the Medina, we walked into the depths of dust and mud, soot and filth, stray cats, and beheaded goats bleeding and hanging from bike handles. Definitely not a luxury tour. I wish the hotel and guide had forewarned us of the details of the Medina.

Our guide was more interested in name dropping clients, such as Bill Murray and Tom Cruise. As much as I love pop culture, Groundhog Day, and Top Gun, I am more impressed with guides who share their passion for their city rather than how they climb their way up the society ladder.

Moral of the story: if you want to explore Marrakech with a decent tour of the city, the hotel and guide must be explicit about the grit of the Medina as not all luxury guests want to experience that side. And if your hotel and guide fail to do so, explain to them your preferences for luxury over dark, wet alleys and stray cats.

Lesson learned.

 

Highlights from a city tour

While the tour ended horrifically, there were photographic moments and cultural education from the museums.

Ben Youssef Madrasa is one of the largest madrasas in North Africa. A madrasa is an educational institution that can either be secular or religious. The school was closed in 1960 and reopened in 1982 as a historical site for public viewing. The school is attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque, and it is also known as the Museum of Marrakech showcasing local art and architecture.

Dar Si Said Museum, also known as the Museum of Moroccan Arts, is set in an old palace. The museum holds artifacts from Morocco through the ages, including wood carvings, musical instruments, and weaponry.

Outside of the Medina in Gueliz, the Majorelle Gardens is a famous destination because of the French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent.

The gardens and park were designed by its original owner, Jacques Majorelle, in the 1920s through 1930s. A small portion of the garden is open to the public, including a small Berber Museum briefly detailing the history of the Berbers in Morocco.

In 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge bought the property after falling in love with Marrakech. Following his death in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the public garden, while his body rests in his private estate.

 

 

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Ben Youssef Madrasa. One of the largest madrasa in North Africa. Madrasas are secular or religious education institutions. After closing in 1960, the madrasa reopened in 1982 to the public as a historical site
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The historical site of Ben Youssef Madrasa is a landmark and attraction for its art and architecture. The shapes and intricacies can be so minute that you must take your time to appreciate all the fine details
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Art and color. The city is full of life and color as seen through their architecture and art. The colorful tagines and mosaic patterns contrast the whites and shades of brown found throughout the Medina, the city’s old history center
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Intricacies. Look closely as the dust-stained white walls and the wooden ceilings. Every inch is completely filled with details of art, patterns, and writings
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“Allah” written on the walls. Among the carvings on the white walls and wooden ceilings are also religious markings, such as this carving of Allah, meaning “God”
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Mosaics and patterns. The beauty of touring museums and landmarks in Marrakech is the details found everywhere. Everywhere you look, there is artful beauty looking left, right, up and down
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Along columns and through doors and passageways. Even as you walk under doorways, the artful mosaics and patterned carvings continue to impress
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Don’t forget to look up. You must take your time and look at every detail, even above you will be thoughtful patterns to bright in design and art
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The standard color of Marrakech. Driving and walking through the city, you will notice the buildings are of a similar color and there are no high rises. This clay-like color is fitting under the intense desert heat and the cold winter nights
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Dar Si Said Museum. Set in an old palace and also known as the Museum of Moroccan Arts, the museum houses artifacts from Morocco through the ages including wood carvings, musical instruments, and weapons
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Like the other museums in the Medina, the Dar Si Said Museum also has impressed art and architecture on its walls with the intricate details and patterns on the walls up to the ceiling
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Berber Museum in the Majorelle Gardens. Today, this shade of blue is known as “Majorelle Blue”. This small museum featured a glimpse of the Berber history in Morocco, including artifacts of textile and jewelry
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In 1980, Yves Saint Laurent purchased the Majorelle Gardens. He loved the plants from around the globe as he believed the cacti had healing properties which would lessen his ailments toward the end of his life
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The garden’s bench. A quiet break in the garden away from the chaos of the Medina. Prior to Yves Saint Laurent’s visits to Marrakech, he designed in black and white. Finding beauty in the city, he was inspired to include colors and patterns into his designs
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Yves Saint Laurent passed away in 2008. He is buried in his private garden, and here in the public garden his ashes were scattered on his memorial structure. Today, his gardens are a fond attraction for tourists, with over 700,000 visitors a year

 

Ben Youssef Madrasa
Kaat Benahid
Marrakech, Morocco
+212524-44-18-93
Daily 9am to 6pm

Dar Si Said
Derb Si Said
Marrakech, Morocco
+212-524-38-95-64
Wednesday to Monday, 9am to 4:45pm

Majorelle Garden
Rue Yves St. Laurent
Marrakech, Morocco
+212-524-31-30-47
Daily 8am to 6pm

 


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