A Morocco vacation takes the visitor to ancient walled cities like Essaouira, the famous square, Jemaa el Fna, in Marakesh, and Touradant with its 13th-century ramparts.
Jemaa el Fna is a famous square, which is the hub of Marakesh. The square wears many different faces throughout the day. Early afternoon and evening, it fills up with acrobats, sword swallowers, musicians, fire eaters, storytellers. Veiled women are offering henna tattoos and water sellers in traditional red costumes. It’s an exciting place that has not changed much in centuries.
As night falls, the entertainers leave, and the food-sellers move in. Dozens of wooden benches are set up, lanterns are lit, the grills are heated, and the cooking begins. We got there in time for a late supper of grilled sardines, tomato salad, bread, fried aubergine – very tasty, very cheap.
The Jemaa el Fna and the souks of the ancient medina are the face of Morocco that visitors expect to see. Old movies like ‘Casablanca’ and ‘The Road to Morocco’ portrayed veiled women moving swiftly through the souks, men in long robes sitting at cafes drinking mint tea, donkeys moving through the crowds carrying old men, and souks owners constantly calling out to passers-by. This is still what you see today.
Storks nest in tall chimneys, there are beautiful gardens to explore, palaces to visit, glasses of wonderful freshly squeezed orange juice to drink. Many cafes and restaurants offering traditional tagines and couscous dinners, and overall is the presence of the mosques and the regular calling of the faithful to prayer.
There are other things to see and do in Marakesh- although you will probably find yourself being drawn back to Jemaa el Fna.
Morocco is truly a land of sharp contrasts, as you will see if you take a trip to Essaouira, a beautiful 18th-century town enclosed by battlements. En route, we stopped to take pictures of a very strange sight indeed: goats climbing trees. They scramble up into the high branches of the Argan trees, seeking the nuts from which Argan oil is made, used widely for cooking.
Essaouira is known for its wood carving and built into the ramparts of the town are a number of workshops where craftsmen produce exquisite marquetry work from the local Thuya trees, a mahogany-like hardwood. There’s also a souk here, but compared with Marakesh, the merchants are rather unbusinesslike. They make an effort, but they don’t seem to have the heart for the real hard sell – which makes a nice change as in some places, the haranguing to buy can be a bit nerve-wracking.
Another place worth a visit is Touradant – a beautiful city, said to be one of the most elegant in the country. It is famous for its 13th-century red-ochre ramparts, which seem to stretch for miles. Most of the city lies behind these walls, and the areas around them are lush with banana trees and orange and olive groves.
The souks here are pretty lively, and again, the hassle is low-key compared with many places. Limestone carvings are the local specialty. Another local aspect is the “blue women” who wear flowing full-length indigo blue veils. They take great photos if you can catch one walking by the red walls. (If you wish to take close-up photos of people to remember to as permission).
Be aware of their culture and beliefs.
Culture and Religion
Morocco is a safe, fascinating place. Although it is a Muslim country, they are used to foreigners. Having said that, scanty clothing is frowned upon, and it shows respect for their culture if women don’t walk around in halter tops and shorts. Tops that cover the upper arms and loose, longish skirts are both comfortable and respectful. Men have no worries in this area – and this is still very much a male-dominated culture.
It is relatively easy to get around in Morocco, and there’s a lot to see. Marakesh Riads, which are traditional houses or palaces with an interior garden, are often expensive, but ordinary hotels in Morocco can be reasonable. Riads are also found in other cities.