Marrakech was one of the final cities we visited on our trip through Morocco. We visited the Medina in most of the cities we visited. It was interesting to see how different each medina is. Near Erfoud, it was like a rural farmer's market, in Fez, the winding streets and alleys were a labyrinth to navigate, in Marrakech, the medina had a circus-like atmosphere.
Our first trip to the medina was at night. We were heading into the medina for dinner. The medina has a large square that seems deserted during the day, but transforms into a festival of sights, smells and sounds at night. One section of the square is set aside for dining. In the evening, this vacant area springs to life with wall-to-wall tents featuring a variety of food. You can find anything from fresh seafood to traditional Moroccan favorites like tajine. The rest of the medina quickly fills up with snake charmers, merchants and entertainment.
We didn't venture into the alleyways the first night because it was already late in the evening and we hadn't eaten yet. We navigated the fair-like food tents before checking a few of the brick-and-mortar restaurants that surround the square. We decided we wanted to be in the midst of the din of the square and headed back to the food tents. My travelers rule-of-thumb is to hit the place that looks busiest, particularly with the most locals. Following that queue, we stopped in to one of the tents and ordered dinner.
Even though we were in a tent, we were given the standard appetizers of olives and bread after we were seated. I ordered tajine, but it was too late in the evening and they were already sold out. The tajine was significantly cheaper than other places we had eaten, but appeared to be a smaller portion as well. Instead, I opted for mixed skewers which included beef, chicken, goat, vegetables and, I think...camel. The skewers were seasoned well and delivered to our table in short order. The place was bustling with a mixture of tourists and locals. We were seated at the end of the table, which was not ideal. While it offered an uninhibited view of the square, it also meant that our meal was constantly interrupted by beggars, merchants and musicians.
The following morning we returned to the medina. The merchants in Marrakech were a bit more aggressive than other places we visited. The prices were pretty good, but there were a couple of merchants that pushed things a bit too far. During the time we spent in the medina with our guide, we were treated a bit differently. He was able to politely diffuse the aggressiveness of the merchants who followed us as we navigated the medina. When we were alone, it was a bit different. Like all of Morocco, the majority of the people we met in Marrakech, whether at the medina or elsewhere, were incredibly friendly. So this is a case of a few aggressive merchants making the rest look bad. It is generally the merchants who do not have a shop that are the rudest or most aggressive, but my wife and I did have one particularly shocking run in with a shop keeper as well. Had we been in the United States, I probably would not have been as polite as I was in the face of his incredibly rude approach. This is not indicative of the majority, but there are enough in the Marrakech market that you are bound to run into the aggressive merchants if you visit.
The shops off the main square are along alleyways that form a rough grid, but are not perfectly square. The alleys were not confusing like Fez, but not entirely intuitive like Rabat. I would not expect anyone to get lost in the alleyways if you have a reasonable sense of direction. Between the cacophony of the square providing an audible cue, and the layout of the market along the edge of the square, it should take much to get oriented if you find yourself wandering aimlessly through the many shops.
There was plenty to be found in the medina. We were near the end of our vacation, but we could easily have found everything we purchased already had we forgotten something. The shops carried leather goods, spices, argon oil, tajines, artwork, clothing and even a section that featured a variety of fresh olives. The olives in Morocco were delicious. I wish I had brought some back with me.
The photos of our evening dinner give a bit of insight into what the tents looked like in the evening. Imagine those tents covering half of a large square at night. During the day time, the plaza is nearly a ghost town. It is amazing how quickly they get things set up for dinner. The photo below shows what the plaza looks like during the day. The red area to the right is where the food tents will be set up later in the day.
I enjoyed the Marrakech medina. With the exception of several aggressive merchants and aggressive panhandling, it was the most interesting. While each of the medinas is interesting in its own way, you really have to visit the one in Marrakech to fully appreciate the chaos. Your senses will be bombarded from every direction. As you walk from the minret towards the plaza, horse-drawn carriages line the route waiting to take passengers on a tour of the city. Merchants selling toys and small items crowd this area waiting to make eye contact with an unsuspecting tourist. As you enter the plaza, musicians fill the air with joyful sounds that create the carnival like environment. Snake charmers add to the din with their pipes while the food tents saturate the air in the smell of barbecued meat and fried fish. Ice cream, coffee, and fresh-squeezed juice are also popular stands that form an outer ring around the food tents. If you are looking for a meal or an evening snack, there is plenty to choose from. It is an experience that you don't want to miss.
Al photos are my own. They may be reproduced with prior permission.