Marrakech – Part 2

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This map is courtesy of Journey Beyond Travel, a Morrocan Travel Company.  More information can be found at journeybeyondtravel.com.  To date, I have blogged about Casablanca and now, Marrakech.  This is a good time to note that Marrakech/Marrakesh can be spelled both ways.  The “kech” is the French way and “kesh” is the English way. 

We were fortunate to find a tour guide who spent 3 hours with us.  He showed us places, in Marrakech, that we might have missed walking around on our own.  Here are some highlights of places he shared:

Ben Youssef Madrasa

A madrasa is a college for Islamic studies.  The Ben Youssef Madrasa was started in 14th century by the Marinid sultan Abu al-Hassan and was considered the largest in Morocco.  In the 1500s, the Sardinian ruler, Abdallah al-Ghalib Billah reconstructed the school.  The renovations were finished in 1565.

Young men began their studies around the age of 13.  Today, a boy might begin at a younger age.  They learned theology, geography, history and math.  They studied in a beautiful, artistic environment.  Upon graduation, they may aspire to teach at a madrasa, become an imam of a mosque or began their own school.   img_3664

This is the courtyard of the Ben Youssef madrasa.  The pool in the courtyard is for cleansing before entering the prayer hall, through the archway at the top of the photo.  The walls are made out of stucco and carved or decorated with tiles.  The wood is cedar and carved as well.The marble was imported from Carrara, Italy and sugar was traded to purchase it.

The artwork is geometric patterns and calligraphy of verses from the Qur’an.  Images of humans and animals is forbidden for fear of worshipping a “false idol.”  Some of the artwork resembles the art of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and there is speculation that artisans from the Andalusia region of Spain were brought to Marrakech to work on the school.

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Inside the prayer room.

On the second floor, the windows that look out onto the courtyard are the dormitory.  There are 130 rooms in all and at one point, there were 900 students who were attending school.

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One of the rooms in the dormitory.

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Small courtyard in the dormitory area.

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Looking into the dormitory courtyard

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This is the beautiful archway just outside of the Ben Youssef Madrasa.  One of the prettiest in Marracech.

In 1960, the school was closed down and after restoration in 1982, it was opened to the public and is now considered a historical site.

Riad

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house that was mostly owned by the wealthy.  The building usually has two floors that is centered around a courtyard with a fountain or garden and there are no exterior windows.  This design was used to protect the family from the Moroccan weather and to give them privacy….especially for the women.

Muslim women practice hijab, which has a variety of meanings.  It can refer to the scarf that they wear to cover their head and chest whenever they venture outside of their homes.  Hijab can also refer to seclusion or modesty from any male who is not a family member.  With no outside windows and the protection of the walls, women are free to go without their head covering while in their home.

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This is an example of a riad that we visited in Marrakech.  It is now the Foundation of Culture and houses exhibits and is used as a place for lectures.  Over the recent years, there has been a renewed interest in these traditional homes.  Many have been purchased and restored to their former glory and are now used as restaurants or hotels.  We were going to stay in one but unfortunately, it didn’t happen.  Maybe on our next trip to Morocco!

Almoravid Koubba

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The day before we took this tour and were wandering around, we passed this structure.  I remembered seeing it but had no idea that it was of historical value.  I don’t seem to remember seeing any signs indicating that it was a special site.

This building was originally built in 1117 and was renovated in the 16th and 19th centuries. It was a reservoir of water used for ablution (cleansing before prayers).  This water arrived by an advanced (for the time period) canal system and also supplied toilets, showers and drinking water.  When it was first built, it was part of the Almoravid mosque that is no longer standing.

Eventually, when the Ben Youssef mosque was built, this structure was covered over.  It was discovered in 1948 and renovated in 1952.

Saadian Tombs

These tombs were a well-kept secret by the locals.  Originally built by Sultan Ahmed el Mansour (1578-1603) to bury his father, Shaykh Muhammad, the founder of the dynasty. Over the years, other family members were buried here.

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It is estimated that 200 people are buried here.  The royal family are buried in beautifully decorated chambers and the outside graves are for loyal servants and soldiers.

When Moulay Ismail (1672-1727) ruled Marrakech, he destroyed the Badi Palace which was next door to the tombs.  For whatever reason, he didn’t demolish the tombs but sealed up all entrances to them except for an unnoticeable one from the Kasbah Mosque.

It wasn’t until 1917 when a French surveyor, General Hubert Lyautey, noticed the green tiled rooftops and asked to be taken to the buildings.  Upon this discovery, a passageway was built from the side near the Kasbah Mosque and the tombs were fully restored.

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The Kasbah Mosque near the tombs.

The most significant chamber in the tombs is the Hall of Twelve Columns. Here rests the Sultan Ahmed el Mansour and his entire family. img_3524

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This is another chamber of tombs of the royal family.

Fundouks (foon-douk)

What on earth is a fundouk you ask?  Well, I think this is how it is spelled.  A google search didn’t help much except for other bloggers who had written about their fundouk experiences.  A fundouk is where artisans work to produce their handicrafts.  According to our guide, fundouks are being revived and are supported by the government.

We visited extremely nice ones….img_3704

For example, this one was a rug weaving fundouk.  It was housed in a lovely building.  The looms were in rooms but unfortunately, it was a Friday and we couldn’t see them at work.

Other fundouks were in need of some more funds and tender loving care.  img_3706

I believe that this was a woodworking artisan center.  I am sorry but I can’t really remember.  We visited several throughout the day.  It is good to know that the government is support the artist so the skills will continued to be passed on to the next generations.

Tanjia and the Musician

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Notice the clay pots sitting in the coals.  This is a local dish of Marrakech call tanjia.  It sounds similar to the Moroccan dish, tajine, which I wrote about in part 1.  Remember?  Tajine is cooked in a clay coned-topped dish and can have a variety of meats and vegetables or just vegetables.  For tanjia, sheep meat is regularly used.

People bring their pots to this man and he cooks them overnight.  He needs hot coals and  demonstrated throwing, what appeared to be, sawdust on the fire.  It  would “explode” when he threw it on.

Then, he entertained us……  img_3691

He is playing a gimbri, which is a lute that has 3 strings.  The base can be made out of wood or stretched goat skin.  It sounds like a bass guitar.  This man was very entertaining.  He started playing the gimbri, then began swinging his head around so the tassel on his hat was spinning.  Next, he began to sing.  It was kind of like a chanting song that you would hear from Africa.  I have a video but it won’t seem to upload.

Mellah – Jewish Neighborhoods

Mellahs were the neighborhoods where the Jewish people lived inside the walled city or medina.  There used to be a large Jewish population in Morocco but with the formation of Israel in 1948, most immigrated to their new country.

One distinguishing trait of the Mellah is the balconies.  Most often, the muslims would not have an open balcony in order for the women to have privacy and not be seen.

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Notice the Star of David at the base of the balcony used for decoration.

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This Star of David decoration was around a door in the Mellah.

 

Odds and Ends…..

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This is a photo of the wall around Marrakech’s medina.  We were never really near it while walking, so I took this from the window of the taxi!

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The Marrakech UPS….the streets are so narrow in the souks and medinas that they still use donkeys to make deliveries.

Morocco has some of the BEST mint tea!!!!  They serve fresh mint leaves that have steeped in hot water.  It is delicious and refreshing after wandering around all day.

Morocco has some of the BEST mint tea!!!! They serve fresh mint leaves that have steeped in hot water. It is delicious and refreshing after wandering around all day.img_3561

This is how they pour their tea….img_2548

They do this to create a foam to protect the tea from getting any foreign particles in it, like sand for example – especially when you are in the desert!

I clicked this photo from the window of our apartment.  It was the afternoon call to prayer and this taxi driver took out his prayer mat, faced Mecca and said his prayers. img_3710

This wraps up Marrekech.  Next stop is Fez….

Thank you for your time and wishing you blessings……

2 thoughts on “Marrakech – Part 2

    • At times, it was “sensory overload” it is such a beautiful country with incredible artifacts! Thanks for your lovely comment!

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