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Marrakech, the so-called Red City, is actually many shades of dusty terracotta, a complex crossroads of a place within reach of cool high Atlas valleys and windsurfing Atlantic beaches. One of the furthest western extremities of the Islamic world, it is a surprisingly open city, it is many historical and social influences resulting in an air of tolerance and a sense of possibility. The tourist capital of Morocco, it has most of the country’s attractions in concentrated form, its markets, music and performers almost omnipresent to its palaces, museums and gardens. The city’s alleyways, tanneries and souks could keep explorers busy for months.
At the centre of the city is a wonderful juxtaposition of high religion and earthy populism: the elegant 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque and the hectic Jemaa El-Fna square. This is the setting for one of the world’s greatest cultural spectacles – a seething mêlée of musicians, snake-charmers, storytellers, water sellers, juggles, acrobats, henna artists, fortune-tellers, market traders, potion mixers and food vendors (selling everything from cinnamon tea to stewed sheep heads).Read more
Around them stretches the medina, a place of narrow streets, minarets and the beautiful hidden courtyards of flat-roofed riad houses. And the souks, overflowing with brightly coloured leather slippers and battered old teapots, with caged chameleons and the orange woollen expanses of Chichoua carpets. Beyond is the Siki Ben Youssef Mosque, the city’s main mosque after the Koutoubia. Also here is the ancient Almoravid structure of the Koubba, the Medersa ben Youssef, and the Museum of Marrakech. On the eastern side of the medina are the smelly but colourful tanneries at Bab Debbagh. South of Jemaa El-Fna, down Riad Zitoun el Kedime, is an area of palaces, the Saadian Tombs and an ethnographic museum, the Maison Tiskiwin. Around the edges of the medina are various lush gardens, including the artistically colourful Jardin Majorelle, the Menara, with a large square pool set in a vast olive grove, and the Agdal olive grove.
The ville nouvelle, Marrakech’s new town, is about as stark a contrast to the medina as it’s possible to imagine. Guéliz, the centre, is well dressed and organized, with European cuisine in its smart restaurants and Western clothes in its chain shops. There are bars and cafés, modern hotels and contemporary art galleries.
The city has a memorable beauty that has attracted European visitors since at least the 1920s and is one of the great historic cities of North Africa.