Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech was founded in the 11th century as a campsite for nomads. This exotic and often chaotic city reflects Islamic, Berber, Saadi and French cultures. Many parts of this bustling time capsule are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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1 Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco

The 253 foot, red sandstone minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is not only the visual anchor of Jemaa el Fna but also Marrakech’s most iconic landmark. The Bookseller’s Mosque reflects the architectural style of the Almohad Dynasty. This Berber Muslim movement reigned over Morocco from 1121 through 1269. Shortly after seizing power in Marrakech in 1147, they destroyed the palace of their Almoravid predecessor and constructed their first mosque. This replacement was finished around 1190. The minaret features scalloped arches, two glazed pottery borders (faience) and is crowned with a gilded dome plus three orbs. Interestingly, each side of the tower has a different design.

Avenue El Mouahidine & P2006, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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2 Jemaa el Fna at Dusk in Marrakech, Morocco

The largest and most famous square in Marrakech began in the 11th century during the Almoravid Dynasty. They were rulers of Morocco from 1040 until 1147. The name of Jemma el Fna loosely translates to “Meeting place of bliss or tranquility.” It does attract crowds but is far from tranquil. By day, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a menagerie of entertainers, musicians, belly dancers, acrobats, monkeys. henna tattoo artists and fortune tellers. At about 5:00 P.M., Djemaa el Fna transforms into a steaming banquet of cuisine served by food vendors.

Place Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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3 Snake Charmers at Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco

An unusual and exciting experience when visiting Jemaa el Fna is watching snake charmers. This trio of a drummer, flutiest and handler orchestrate a dance among Egyptian cobras. Yes, this species is poisonous. However, their venom has been drained and their fangs removed. Expect to pay somewhere between 5 and 20 DH to have your picture taken with the charmers while holding a snake or having it draped around your neck.

Place Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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4 Gnawa Musicians at Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco

These three costumed men are playing Gnawa music. This genre of African Islamic songs originated in West and Central Africa as part of a healing ritual. The large, iron, castanet-like instruments are called krakebs. Similar to all entertainers at Jemaa el Fna, they expect to receive pocket change after their performance. The Moroccan dirham is equivalent to about a quarter in U.S. currency. You should be aware it is illegal to remove dirhams from the country. So make sure to exchange them at your hotel or the airport before leaving. Or if you are careless, a pickpocket will be happy to take your money at Jemaa el Fna.

Place Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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5 Food Stall at Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco

The food stalls at Jemaa el Fna are a great way to sample Moroccan cuisine from the bland to the bizarre. These men are waiting for a bowl of couscous. This popular dish consists of small, steamed pellets of flour (semolina) topped with a stew of vegetables and meat. Other food vendors serve lamb, pastille (meat pie) and seafood. In the background is a cart filled with fresh Moroccan oranges waiting to be squeezed into juice. One merchant proudly displayed lamb heads. Although Lahem Ras is considered a delicacy, the charred skull with bulging eyes looks less than appetizing.

Place Jemaa el-fna, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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6 Chest of Moroccan Spices in Marrakech, Morocco

Moroccans love their food with spices. A well-stocked kitchen contains essential ingredients such as garlic, figs, ginger, pepper, paprika, cumin, saffron threads, turmeric, yellow coloring, nutmeg, sesame seeds and bay leaves. Also important to North African cuisine is Ras el hanout. This is a mixture of ground spices and means “head of the shop.”

103, Rahba Lakdima, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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7 Minaret of Kasbah Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco

The Kasbah Mosque is next to Bab Agnaou, one of the main city gates. Both were built in the late 12th century during the Almohad dynasty. They were commissioned by Sultan Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur. He was the Caliph of Morocco from 1184 – 1199. This former royal mosque is also called Moulay el Yazid. Although non-Muslims are prohibited from entering this place of worship, you can visit the adjacent Saadian Tombs.

Avenue El Mouahidine & P2006, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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8 Saadian Tombs in Marrakech, Morocco

Abu Abdallah was the first Saadi ruler over southern Morocco beginning in 1509. By 1549, the dynasty’s power extended over the entire country. Marrakech was their capital during most of the first half of the 17th century until the empire ended in 1659. In 1917, a mausoleum of Saadian sultans and their families were unearthed. The highlight of the Saadian Tombs is this Chamber of 12 Pillars. This lavish room is decorated with colorful tilework (zellij) and carved woodwork. In the center are burial chambers made with Carrara marble. The most famous grave is Ahmad al-Mansur’s. The sultan died in 1603.

Tombeaux Saadiens, Rue de La Kasbah, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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9 Man Wearing Purple Djellaba in Marrakech, Morocco

Many of the people in Marrakech are of Berber descent. Therefore, you commonly see men and women wearing a traditional djellaba. The material tends to be wool in wintertime and cotton during the hot summer months. The pointed hood is called a qob. The color in these Berber robes often creates a stark contrast against the city walls.

Place Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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10 El Badi Palace in Marrakech, Morocco

In 1578, the Portuguese lost the Battle of Three Kings in northern Morocco. An outcome of this Battle of Alcácer Quibir was Ahmad al-Mansur became the sultan of the Saadi Empire and Morocco. He used the spoils of his victory to begin building the El Badi Palace. The name means “The Marvelous.” As you tour the ruins, it is hard to imagine its former opulence. The 360 rooms were once decorated with gold, marble, ivory and other riches. Today it is a shell and a residence for storks.

El Badii Palace, Ksibat Nhass, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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11 Dromedary Camel Rides in Marrakech, Morocco

If riding a camel is on your bucket list, then there are plenty of options in Marrakech. You can opt for a half-day excursion or a quick jaunt followed by a photo opp. Frankly, I recommend the latter. Although dromedary camels are domestic, they are also big, often temperamental and an uncomfortable form of transportation. Soon after your selfie is snapped, the novelty begins to wear off as you are jostled and swayed.

N 120, Daoudiate, Unite 4, Rue Samia, Marrakech 40070, Morocco
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12 Dromedary Camel Calf in Marrakech, Morocco

The dromedary or one-hump camel is indigenous to the Middle East. Since 3,000 B.C., they have been raised as a source of milk, meat and transportation. Although this camelid can tolerate heat above 120° F, it might lose up to 25% of body weight through perspiration. When given the chance, they will lay down in this sternal recumbency position. This calf will stand about six feet and weigh 650 to 1,300 pounds when full grown. He is one of 14 million domestic camels in the world. They have not existed in the wild for over 2,000 years.

N 120, Daoudiate, Unite 4, Rue Samia, Marrakech 40070, Morocco
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13 Mules Pulling Carts in Marrakech, Morocco

In many tourist-centric cities around the world, a common attraction is a horse-drawn buggy ride. But in Marrakech, a common site is mules pulling two-wheeled carts. This symbiotic relationship between workers and their beasts of burden has functioned for generations so many Moroccans maintain the tradition. Besides, navigating donkeys and horses through the narrow, winding streets is a lot easier than driving a car or truck.

Place Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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14 Medersa Ben Youssef Main Courtyard in Marrakech, Morocco

Marinid ruler Ali Ben Youssef founded a madrasa in Marrakech during his reign over Morocco from 1488 through 1458. The primary mission of the theological college was to teach the Quran but other subjects were also taught. The current Medersa Ben Youssef structure was commissioned by Sultan Sidi Abdallah al-Ghalib and finished in 1564. The building’s architectural highlight is the 49 by 65 foot, central courtyard. At the south end is this entrance to the prayer hall. The doorway is decorated with several horseshoe arches, zellij tiles, marble columns, mashrabiya screens, etched plasterwork and carved cedar.

Rue Hart Essoura & Souk Ahl Fes, Marrakesh, Morocco
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15 Medersa Ben Youssef Small Courtyard in Marrakech, Morocco

This is one of seven inner courtyards of Medersa Ben Youssef. Behind the elaborately carved balconies are the former student dormitories. The rooms were so small and sparse that they resembled cells. The school closed in 1960. After an extensive restoration, the madrasa reopened as a tourist attraction. Medersa Ben Youssef is one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in the city.

Rue Hart Essoura & Souk Ahl Fes, Marrakesh, Morocco
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16 Menara Gardens Pavilion in Marrakech, Morocco

The Menara Gardens were established in 1130 by Abd al-Mu’min while he was the leader of the Almohad Movement. In 1147, he became the first Caliph of Morocco and the Almohad Empire. By the end of his reign in 1163, he ruled most of northern Africa and parts of Spain. This botanical garden has been maintained since his residency in the 12th century. The pavilion was added by the Saadi Dynasty in the 16th century and restored in 1869. On the right is an artificial pond used to irrigate the gardens. The water has been supplied from the Atlas Mountains using an underground system named a qanāt for over 700 years.

Menara Gardens, Marrakech Les Jardin, De La Menara, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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17 Menara Gardens Succulents in Marrakech, Morocco

Most of the Jardin Menara’s acreage is devoted to olive groves. Over 40 varieties are grown. The botanical garden also displays succulents. They thrive in climates with high heat and low rain. That perfectly describes the weather in Marrakech. During the summer months, the average temperature is in the low to high 90’s° F. Spikes over 110° F are not uncommon. Between June and August, rain is typically less than .2 inches a month.

Menara Gardens, Marrakech Les Jardin, De La Menara, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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18 Dar Menebhi Palace Chandelier in Marrakech Museum in Marrakech, Morocco

The Dar Menebhi Palace was built in the late 19th century by its namesake, Mehdi Menebhi. In 1997, this former grand residence was restored and transformed into the Marrakech Museum. In the atrium is a stunning chandelier surrounded by exquisite checkerboard tiles, mosaics, carvings, columns and a fountain. At times, the beauty of the intricate Andalusian architecture overwhelms the museum’s Moroccan art. The collection also contains works by Jewish, Berber and Arabic artisans.

Marrakech Museum, Place de La Kissariat Ben Youssef, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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19 Woman Balancing Bread on Head in Marrakech, Morocco

Expect to see almost anything unexpected in the exotic city of Marrakech. An example is this Arabic woman balancing bread from the souq on her head while walking home. But just as the French go to a bakery almost daily for a baguette, the Moroccan’s enjoy fresh khubz with their dinner. The ingredients of this round flatbread are typically durum wheat semolina baked in a brick oven or on a griddle. This form of pita or pocket bread is ideal for creating wraps or dipping in hummus.

Souk el Haddadine, Rue Fehl Chidmi, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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20 Metal Lanterns Displayed at Souk Haddadine in Marrakech, Morocco

On display in numerous stalls of Marrakech’s souks are ornate lanterns and scones. Their material ranges from bronze, brass, silver and sometimes tin. Historically, souqs served caravans of travelers. The open-air markets of Marrakech date back to the early 12th century when it was walled-in to protect the early northwestern Africa settlers. Today, this remnant of medieval times is a maze of narrow streets, ancient buildings and traditional trades. The word “souk” was a French spelling from the 19th century.

Souk el Haddadine, Rue Fehl Chidmi, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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21 Metalworkers at Souk Haddadine in Marrakech, Morocco

Souk Haddadine is the metalworking section of the Medina of Marrakech. It is a unique experience in sensory overload. Finished merchandise dangles everywhere. They clang together in the hot breeze like out-of-tune wind chimes. Young men squat on the ground pounding new creations with archaic mallets on simple anvils. The chaotic environment is a gawkers dream.

Souk el Haddadine, Rue Fehl Chidmi, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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22 Undyed Leather Merchant in Marrakech, Morocco

Aficionados of leather will be enthralled with the souks in Marrakech. Follow your nose – literally – towards the smelly tanneries to see how hides are soaked in lime, then cured in bird excrement and colored in dye before drying. Merchants like this one sell bolts of undyed leather primarily to local craftsmen. Countless other vendors offer a dizzying display of finished goods such as handbags, belts and clothes. The best price comes through unrelenting bargaining. But also purchase away from other tourists and while wearing nothing flashy or expensive.

Souk Cheratin, Souk Smati, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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23 Babouche Slippers Displayed at Souk Smata in Marrakech, Morocco

Babouches are Moroccan pointed slippers typically made from leather. They have no heels or shoelaces and are incredibly comfortable. The footwear is available in a rainbow of colors as seen in this vibrant display at Souk Smata (shoe souk).

Souk Smati, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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24 Moroccan Man Spinning Thread on Forehead in Marrakech, Morocco

The Souk Sebbaghine (Souk des Teinturiers) is devoted to yarn. The craftsmen purchase raw wool that is typically sheered from sheep in the springtime. Then they wash it, pull it apart into strands and “card” it in order to remove dirt and give it fluff. Next, the wool is spun into skeins (spools) by wheel or, in this case, by attaching an end of the thread to their head. Finally, the wool is dyed in natural colors in a nearby section. The best place to purchase fabric and textiles is in Souk Semmarine.

Souk des Teinturiers, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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25 Rows of Fireplace Billows at Souk in Marrakech, Morocco

I was surprised to see displays of fireplace billows in the souks. Marrakech’s temperature rarely dips below 45° F in the winter. Then I was told they were predominately used to stoke the fires in kitchens while cooking and by tradesmen like metalworkers. They are also a popular souvenir among tourists who must return home to a cold climate. What a great way to blow the ambers under burning logs on a very cold, winter evening.

Souk el Haddadine, Rue Fehl Chidmi, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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26 Rows of Spices at Spice Souk in Marrakech, Morocco

Spices in Marrakech souks tend to be displayed in pyramid-shaped mounds. The bright colors include black and white pepper, yellow turmeric, red paprika, brown cinnamon and golden cumin. Each has a unique aroma and taste. While most are used as staples in Moroccan cuisine, a few are also used for medicinal purposes. For example, saffron is supposed to cure asthma. Some people also claim it is a sexual stimulant. But saffron is also very expensive (can be several thousand dollars a pound) and frequently counterfeited. So choose your spices carefully.

103, Rahba Lakdima, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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27 Row of Candy at Souk Kchacha in Marrakech, Morocco

Like most cultures, Moroccans love their candy. The temptations often incorporate dates, figs and nuts. From what I saw among several souks in Northern Africa, these sweets rarely are topped with chocolate. This candy display at Souk Kchacha is typical of the mouthwatering treats. They are delicious and inexpensive to sample.

Rahba Kedima, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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28 Confections at Souk Kchacha in Marrakech, Morocco

Moroccan confections at Souk Kchacha tend to be figs and dates covered with cinnamon or other sweeteners. They are often served as a form of hospitality along with a glass of Maghrebi mint tea. This is a green tea prepared hot in a teakettle and very sweet with fresh mint leaves floating in it and sometimes tobacco. Traditionally, the men make a ritual out of brewing and serving the tea. When offered, it is rude not to drink it.

Rahba Kedima, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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29 Woman in Djellaba Hurries from Market in Marrakech, Morocco

Many of the streets and alleys of Marrakech are adorned by colorful doors, walls and windows reminiscent of a paint wheel from a hardware store. Equally colorful are women’s robes such as this one called a djellaba or kaftan. She seemed to be hurrying home with a package from the market.

Souk Smati, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
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30 Sleeping Street Vendor in Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech is a city of contrasts … from attracting rich tourists who seek luxury hotels to some city residents who have no electricity or water. It has 18 souks or markets. They are noisy, often dirty and busy. Street vendors are also commonplace. This one was taking a nap during his unsuccessful day.

103, Rahba Lakdima, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco
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