Morocco is most widely known for Casablanca due to
the success of the film, and Marrakech which was part of the hippy trail in the sixties. Things
have changed since then, but parts of the country are still as they were in the 15th century.
Bargaining and haggling are the order of the day, as are faux guides and other scam artists.
It is a very colourful country, the people are very friendly and welcoming and it is a world
apart from Europe, which is only 9 miles away at the closest! And wait a minute I hear you
say...Morocco isn't in the middle east!...well geographically it's not really although some
would say the culture is middle eastern, but I have only been to two places to Africa and
it wouldn't be sensible to rearrange the website to accomodate just that!
We went to Morocco in April 2003 for just four nights, crossing by the straits of Gibralter, yet
managed to pack in a lot into that short time. We couldn't visit the Sahara unfortunately
but time was spent in the imperial cities of Fes and Marrakech and also Casablanca. We travelled
mostly by train which was very adequate, but quite wearing towards the end.
From the train we sat and watched Africa go by,
with little kids waving at us and occasionally throwing stones, it was a bit like being
on a Blue Peter expedition. Here is an old goatherd and presumably his son, looking
after his livelihood.
The tanneries in Fes are one of the main tourist
attractions, this is the largest one where leather garments are all naturally dyed using
an assortment of smelly ingredients. The workers plunge the hides into the vats all
day long, those that work in the white calcium and sulphur section have to take it in
shifts to avoid keeling over.
Old Fes, from the top of a carpet shop. The medina
(old city) was a fascinating place to wander around in, few tourists made it all the more
authentic, parts of it were quite like places Indiana Jones has been to.
All people who spend some time in Morocco will be
subjected to the carpet buying ritual at some stage in their visit. Our man here Mohammed,
versed in at least six languages, sat us in the poshest chairs in the place and had a servant
bring us mint tea while he laid carpet after carpet out in front of us. According to Lonely
Planet, the secret is to enjoy the ceremony and participate without feeling any obligation to
buy. So we did, and he must have laid down thirty carpets, all of which were very nice and
way beyond our budgets, until we thanked him kindly and made a swift exit.
In Marrakech there are many street vendors selling
all sorts of things from cous cous to sheep head. We sat and ate a many course meal
at this particular place in Marrakech's central square, the Djemaa el-Fna, which was
very nice indeed.
There were a few of these lads going around the
Djemma el-Fna indicating that they wanted you to take their picture then cross their
palms with silver, so we eventually succumbed and got four photos out of them for a
Euro. The gold cups they are holding are water containers.
Marrakech's Medina is where all the souqs and
weird shops are located. Although much cleaned up and touristified it is still
very interesting, although doesn't feel as authentic like Fes. Most of the narrow streets
are protected from the sun by shades built between the shops.
South of the Djemaa el-Fna is the Jewish quarter
or Mellah of Marrakech. It is painted generally reddish, the colour of the earth and
that which is synonymous with the city. Blue is the colour of Fes, Green the colour
of Meknes and white that of Rabat.
One of the peasant markets in Marrakech, food
being sold straight off the ground. Note the woman on the left covering her face,
and the man on the right in the traditional Berber hooded green cloak. This picture
sums up a lot of Morocco I think.
We stayed in the Hotel Central Palace, just near
the Djemaa el-Fna, which was neither as posh as it looks or sounds. It was cheap
though, 10 Euros a night, but you won't get toilets that flush for that price, or even
a toilet at all, save the hole in the floor. It doesn't cause any problems really, although
the shower stopping and starting was a bit of a drag, but there are water shortages in
From the roof of a pizza place next to the Djemaa
el-Fna all the commotion down below can be seen as the square gets into night-mode.
This is a smaller section of the decidedly not-square square round the corner from the
main section, but still full of vendors and hustlers.
Some time out being had by a fountain in the
mosque in Casablanca. These tiled designs are quite common across Morocco.
King Hassan the II had this mosque, the third largest
religious monument in the world, completed in time for his sixtieth birthday. It is all
Moroccan architecture and materials, and is built out into the Atlantic Ocean off of
Casablanca. The minaret is 200 metres high, about the same as a 50 storey office building,
and the prayer hall is said to be able to contain the cathedral of Notre Dame. The little
specks in the foreground are people.