islam

Marrakech – Part One

Marrakech is a very do-able short break. In fact, such is the pollution from the scooters and cars that infest every little lane, your sinuses couldn’t probably withstand anything more than a short break. Ours was four nights. Just right. Let me show you around ‘our Marrakech’. First stop, the main square, Jemaa El Fna. It’s a hive of juice sellers, vendors, horse drawn carriages, traditional (one presumes) singers/musicians/dancers/acrobats and performers. And, sadly, those who try and squeeze a few tourist dollars our of their performing animals.

It’s possibly the only place in the world you can be approached by men asking you to touch their snake or spank their monkey with a genuine degree of innocence being involved. Okay, I made up the spanking bit. But I was offered some freshly vajazzled chicken one evening, when the food stalls starting serving up. I declined. It sounded dangerous. But I did eat at the open air food market, and if you choose the right place, it’ll be a tasty eat at decent prices.

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Be aware that wherever you go, someone is likely to try and sell you something. And if you take a photo of it (or even point your lens in their vague direction), touch it, hold it or let it climb on you, or even listen for too long then you likely owe someone some money. That you didn’t want the product or service is, in their minds, utterly irrelevant. You need to be on your guard at all times. The chap who’s been talking drivel in your ear the last five minutes might actually be following you, not guiding you, but he’ll expect recompense at the destination.

And for the record, whilst I took one photo of a cobra in the square, I did so ever so discreetly, with a long lens. I’m not contributing cash to an industry which is based on the imprisonment of wild animals. I like snakes. They’re just turtles who lost their shells. Even cobras. They like me too. The cobra that bit my foot many years ago was decent enough to keep its venom to itself.

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Let’s move on to a more general view of the city’s architecture and art. Islamic design has always fascinated me. It’s intricate, colourful, often symmetric to the extreme, unique and instantly identifiable. I tire of hearing morons drivel on about the wondrous superiority of the white man and the barbarism of Islam. This sort of cynical simplification says so much more about themselves than it does about the rest of the world. Islamic societies have contributed a lot to the modern world. When Newton spoke of standing on the shoulders of giants, he referred in part to a broad pair or two of Islamic shoulders.

There are a number of specific sites around the city where famous examples of design and architecture exist, and a plentiful supply of tiny museums offering up bite sized doses of the city’s Islamic past. Many of them are state owned and are dirt cheap to enter. But you might find quaint interiors behind any door you happen to pass, if you dare open it or peek through the cracks. There is, of course, a huge French influence in the city too, being a former colony of our European neighbours.

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Let’s move away from religion and on to the souks. Marrakech is a great place to shop. Be prepared to barter, educate yourself as to what sort of value you should get and then set yourself free in the markets of the city. You’ll get lost in a labyrinth of leather, pots, pans, fabrics, carpets and spices. And much more. Expect the vendors opening quote to be double what he’ll accept. Or more than double. Hit him with a pitifully low counter. You can’t offer too little. Always start walking away. You’ll get a deal acceptable to both parties in the end. It just takes longer than in Wal Mart or Asda. And if you’re in a rush, it can be a pain. But such is life.

I wasn’t on much of a shopping trip. Mrs P, on the other hand, has returned with a plentiful supply of bartered for trinkets and trussles. I came back with just one item. A magical potion, the merits of which I will save for another day.

DSCF9877 I managed to come back with nearly nine hundred photos in all. Most of which I’ve binned. But I still had nearly two hundred left to publish on Flickr. In a number of sets. For Marrakech, click here. Marrakesh Design, click here. Marrakech Souks are here.