Article: Visiting the Magical Red (Pink) City Marrakech in Morocco
You look outside the airplane as it takes off. The window is covered with raindrops and the sky is grey. It is a typical Northern European day in November!
After 4 hours you are sitting inside a taxi on the other end. The sky is blue and the mild winter’s sun is beautifully highlighting the pink walls of the city.
The contrast is crazy. In fact as another taxi driver stated some days later, Marrakech is crazy.
As you can tell from the pink anchor in our logo, I (Kristin) love pink and we are a bit crazy so in a way Marrakech made us feeling normal.
Follow this link to see our first video about things to do in Marrakech here.
Hotel Suite Novotel Marrakech
We stayed at the Hotel Suite Novotel Marrakech in the New Town, Ville Nouvelle, which is where most of the big hotels (as opposed to smaller riads) are. The quirky purple coloured room was good. We also had a microwave in the room which was very useful for us. The hotel had a basic gym and a good sized pool. It even had a Nomadic bar which was pretty cool. Next to the hotel is the Sofitel Hotel, the public areas of which seemed very nice.
Click here to visit the website of the Novotel Hotel
Follow this link to visit the website of the Sofitel Hotel
Ville Nouvelle was founded in 20th century when the French arrived in Morocco. Staying there is a good way to rest and escape from the craziness of the medina (which is the old town). The traffic at the square Place de l’Hivernage, where our hotel was located, was not so bad and the most noise we heard was click clack from the Caléches (horse-drawn carriages) as they passed through the square carrying tourists.
For me this is the most beautiful sound in the world. It captures your imagination and takes you back in time.
From the hotel until the pink city walls which surround the medina it is only 5 to 10 minute walk.
The City Walls
The city walls originate from the 12th century due to threat of an attack by the Almohads. Within the walls are around 20 gates which have different names and in the past they were used for different purposes. For example some were used by the rulers and others by the normal population. The mixture of building material used for the walls is called Pisé made out of mud, straw and lime. The pigments in the earth of the area create the beautiful reddish/pink colour.
Although the walls were ineffective in defending the city, their charming sight is undeniable.
The Koutoubia Mosque
As you enter the old town, you can soon see Marrakech’s main landmark which is the Koutoubia Mosque. Its minaret is towering the entire city because of an old law that was introduced by the French. It states that no building in the medina should be higher than a Palm Tree and no building in the new town should be higher than the minaret.
The mosque dates back to the 12th century and its name means Booksellers Mosque because there used to be a Booksellers Market in the area. Outside the mosque are some gardens and the ruins of the Almohad Mosque that had to be taken down because the prayer niche was not facing to Mecca.
Non-Muslims cannot visit the mosque or its minaret. However you can also find a great view of the city from the roof of one of the cafes at Jemaa El Fna Square.
The Jemaa El Fna Square
This giant square is Marrakech’s main market square. The name means Assembly of the Dead which originates from the time when executions were being carried out there.
Nowadays it is the place where the magic happens.
One moment you can see the water sellers (called Gerrab) which are dressed in colourful clown like costumes and the next moment a self-proclaimed dentist is smiling at you. In front of him is a table where he proudly presents numerous pulled out teeth. There are also the monkey trainers, the herbalists and the famous snake charmers. Apparently the snakes are harmless, however, after we heard that some tourists might have gotten salmonella from them, we decided to stay away from them.
Be Aware: The snake charmers and other entertainers expect a tip which is in their point of view never enough.
Even if you don’t get too close to the action, there is plenty left to see.
I loved watching small groups of people sitting underneath umbrellas listening to their future predictions by the fortune tellers. Especially at night time there are big groups of people in a circle listening to the story tellers. The story tellers leave the end open so one has to come back to hear the outcome. This is a beautiful sight in a world that is packed with all kinds of modern entertainment gadgets.
In the morning the first sellers out are the orange juice sellers. You can buy fresh orange juice from them. At night time the main food stalls are being set up and with them seating facilities. The stands sell different kinds of food. As we are constantly on the road we were a bit more careful and didn’t eat there. Apparently you should get there early in the evening so the food is fresher and because the cutlery and plates are being washed in the same water during the evening.
Cars are not allowed at the square so if you are staying in a nearby hotel or a riad, then you might need a porter to help you with your luggage. The porters are everywhere and hotels often provide this service for their guests. They carry the goods in wheel barrows around the old town.
What is the best time to visit the square?
This depends on what you are comfortable with. We enjoyed visiting the square during the day and a bit at night. In the daytime it is less busy and the atmosphere is more relaxed, however, you can see much more drama at night time. Be careful there at night, because the darkness is a perfect cover for pickpockets.
The Marrakech Film Festival
We were very pleased that the Marrakech Film Festival was being held during our visit at the end of November and beginning of December 2013. The festival is usually being held around that time. Various films were presented at different locations. The organizers even showed free movies on a giant screen at the square. Some of them were also in English language and we saw the famous movie producer Martin Scorsese on stage before his movie Hugo was shown.
On the one hand the festival brought some of the Hollywood glamour to the dusty wild city and on the other hand it gave us a safe place to film at the square. This is also when we had the most surreal experience there. In the middle of it three young men approached us. They looked similar to the locals but spoke with London accents and asked us “Do you know where KFC is?” We could not believe it and started to wonder where the hidden camera was. We didn’t know and so referred them to a nearby hotel but they simply wanted KFC, they were scared to try anything new!
The 2014 Marrakech Film Festival is being held beween the 5th and the 13th of December. You can find more details on their official website here
At the square are several entry points to the souks which are the main trading stalls. They are mostly undercover but you can still see these picturesque streams of light shining through the wood panels of the roof.
You can buy all kinds of stuff there, from carpets, slippers to magical ingredients and the Djellaba’s. Djellaba’s are those loose robes one can see women and men wearing, They protect against the sun and as used for in the past against sand. Those robes often have a hoody attached to them which reminded me of a robe of a magician.
As Christmas was only some weeks away, we were really hoping to be able to buy some special Christmas presents. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case because the sellers would not actually haggle! In the end, we got a few things but the fun of haggling was lost in excessive tourism.
The Saadian Tombs
Near the end of our trip, we visited the Saadian Tombs in the medina. It is the burial place of the late 16th/early 17th century of the Saadian Dynasty. It is a superbly decorated mausoleum which was only discovered in the 1920s.
The lighting inside the burial chambers gave it a mystical vibe. The attraction is not too big and so it is worth a short pass by.
Address: Rue de la Kasbah, Marrakesh, Morocco
Entrance fee: Dh 10
La Mamounia Hotel
Still in the old town but closer to our hotel was the La Mamounia Hotel. This is one of the grand old hotels in the world. It opened in 1923 and since then it had many famous guests. One of them was the UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill who loved this hotel and he described it as a wonderful place. He used to paint there and some of his works of art are presented in the hotel.
Marrakech is a very inspirational place and you can imagine stories behind every corner. The Mamounia Hotel is no exception. As you enter the hotel grounds, you are suddenly taken from the dusty and polluted streets into a little paradise within the city.
The garden is amazing because you really don’t hear much from the street. If you have time then you should visit it. We had an afternoon tea in the bar adjacent to the garden and the atmosphere felt really special.
Click here to visit the website of the Mamounia Hotel
Another place to wander and relax within the busyness of the city is the garden Jardin Majorelle. It is located in the New Town. We actually took a taxi to it because it was a bit further out. The garden was created in the 1920s 1930s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle.
In the sixties the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berget discovered the garden and they fell in love with it. When they heard that some years later there were plans to build a Hotel there, they decided to rescue it and purchased it in 1980.
It is a miniature botanical garden with a variety of plants. The cobalt blue of the structures inside like the house that was the villa-studio of Jacques Majorelle gives it the perfect contrast to the greenery. It doesn’t take long to visit it but it is worth to just sit down and relax for a while. The best time to visit is early in the morning or in the late afternoon when the big tourist groups are gone.
Address of Jardin Majorelle: Rue Yves Saint Laurent , Marrakech, Morocco
Standard entrance fees per adult: DHS 50.00
Standard entrance fees per adult of Berber Museum: DHS 25.00
Follow this link to visit the official website of the Jardin Majorelle