Walking Tour of Marrakech, Morocco
Marrakech is one of the Imperial Cities of Morocco and the name itself evokes exotic thoughts of intrigue and mystery. It lies along several major caravan routes and has been a center for trade and commerce for almost 1,000 years. The Medina, or Old Town, is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways, great for wandering. It is divided into souks or districts which are based on the particular craft or skill taking place. For instance, the carpet-making souk has numerous shops where material is woven into various types of materials, such as carpets, and then sold. Perhaps the most attractive of the souks is the wool-dyers, since this area may be the most colorful.
The central marketplace, Jemaa-el-Fna is the heart and soul of the city. My walk begins here, once the place where the condemned were publicly beheaded. All manner of product can be purchased (haggling is expected) and entertainment and other commercial enterprises, such as snake-charmers, water-sellers, money-changers, are ubiquitous (and all expect something, even if it is only for a photograph being taken). By mid-afternoon, the square begins its transformation, from market to open-air auditorium. The musicians begin to arrive for the evening entertainment and the food stalls are readied for the supper hour. Later, after the farmers and other sellers have gone home, the dancers will complete the metamorphosis into a block party.
Walk due west from the square to reach the city’s most prominent landmark, the Koutoubia Mosque, with its pink minaret, tallest building in Marrakech. The mosque dates to 1147 and is a quintessential example of Islamic architecture. Although non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque, they can wander the grounds and glimpse the fine artisanship which produced this structure.
Leave the mosque area by walking southeast on Ave El Mouahidine, and then bear right onto Rue Ibn Rachid, which leads to the Saadian Tombs, one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. Within the walls are two mausoleums, which house 66 members of this royal dynasty. The most important is the tomb of Ahmed el-Mansour and his family, known as the Hall of Twelve Columns. The rooms are decorated with exquisite stonework, incredible ceilings and pillars. The graves are embellished with mosaics.
Exit the tombs and turn right onto Rue Arset El Maach. El Badi Palace, on the right, now in ruins, was once one of the most sumptuous in the world, richly ornamented with gold, marble, ivory, and semi-precious stones, but it was looted and torn apart less than 100 years after its construction (which took the skilled craftsmen from all over the world seven years to complete). It is still interesting to wander among the ruins, imagining what it must have been like. It remains now the residence of storks.
Now walk out of the complex to Place des Ferblantiers, and then northeast to Rue Riad Ez Zitoun El Jedid. Ahead, on your right, is the Dar Si Said Museum, a collection of Moroccan Arts, housed in a beautiful palace. After your visit, continue northward, on this street, which leads back to the Place Jemaa El-Fna.
Next, walk north from the square, on Rue Souk Smarine, which leads into the Souks, the jumble of alleyways and shops described above, and a definite must-see while in Marrakech.
Try to continue northward as you negotiate the labyrinth, and you will eventually emerge at or near Place Ben Youssef, where you will find the Koubba Ba’Adiyn, the remains of an earlier mosque. Also on the square is the Marrakech Museum, housed in a palace with an exceptional courtyard. Just north of the square is the Ben Youssef Medersa, a former Koranic school from the 16th century. Now, head east on Rue Bab Ed Debbagh, past the Tanneries where leather is processed and cured, and out of the Medina, through the city gate. Turn right onto Route des Ramparts to view and appreciate incredible city, seven-feet thick in parts. At the next gate, Bab Aylen, walk back into the city on Rue de Bab Aylen, and then turn left on Rue Issebtiyne, and right again on Rue Sidi Boulabada, to Rue Dabachi, and, finally, left into Place Jemaa El-Fna, where the walk began.