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MESMERIZING MARRAKECH
by Margaret Deefholts
(For Travel Writers’ Tales)


Photo1. Djemaa-el-Fna Square, Marrakech

The sun brazens down from a steely sky, shadows sharp-edged. Small dust devils whirl and die. Horses neigh in the distance, the clop of their hooves and creak of carriage wheels drawing nearer. Then, suddenly the deep, sonorous call of the muezzin from the nearby Koutoubia mosque reverberates on the air.


Photo 2. Shop in Djemaa el Fna Square


Photo 2a. Tempting wares, Djemaa el Fna Square


Photo 2b. Baubles in Djemaa el Fna Square

This is the Djemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech and the scene in front of me, like a movie clip, is an ever changing panorama of movement and colour.


Photo 3. Women in the market square, Marrakech


Photo 4. Spices in the market


Photo 5. Musicians in the Square


Photo 6.Snake Charmer

Women in parrot-green and electric blue gowns thread through shifting crowds, dancers in scarlet robes, and beaded skull caps leap to the rhythm of a drum, a hooded cobra sways to the wail of a snake charmer’s flute; acrobats and astrologers entice audiences. On the fringes of the square, stalls display clay terrines, bamboo woven baskets, cotton kaftans and pyramids of powdered spices.


Photo 8. Peddler and his donkey emerging from the Souk


Photo 9. Street scene, Marrakech

Along with my group of fellow travelers, we stroll through the narrow lanes of the adjoining souk, pausing to look at displays of sticky-looking halva, perfumes, embossed leather slippers and handbags. Men pushing carts stacked with wooden crates bawl warnings as they make their way through the twisting corridors. The warm air is heavy with the smell of apricots and dates, freshly baked flat bread, and skewers of spiced lamb.


Photo 13. Majorelle Jardin pathway

In contrast to the surging energy of the souk, the Majorelle Jardin is a haven of tranquility. Moorish architectural design predominates, and buildings, ornamental pots, pillars and borders around a lily pool are painted a vivid “Majorelle Blue”.


Photo14. Memorial: Yves Saint Laurent, Majorelle Jardin

The gardens, bought in 1980 by Yves Saint Laurent (and his partner Pierre Berge) are laced by avenues of bamboo and palm trees and the earth smells fresh and cool. A riot of orange and scarlet bougainvillea creepers cascade over walls and trellises, but the thing that halts me in my tracks is the collection of cactus on display: some of them spiny explosions standing on end like a rock star’s hairstyle, others as gnarled and twisted as a knuckled fist, or splayed like the talons of a bird of prey.


Photo 15. Cactus display, Majorelle Jardin


Photo 16. Rock-star’s hairstyle cactus, Majorelle Jardin


Photo 17. Knuckled fist cactus, Majorelle Jardin

Nothing prepares me for the extravagant decor of our next destination – the El Bahia Palace. Set in a fragrant garden of roses, cypress and orange trees the palace was built in the latter decades of the 1800s and took fifteen years to complete.


Photo 10. Stone carvers, El Bahia Palace


Photo 11. Dazzling ceiling El Bahia Palace


Photo 11a. El Bahia Palace ceiling

Mouth agape, I stare at ceilings decorated with zouak woodwork, with designs of flowers, birds and stars in bright natural pigments derived from saffron, poppy and mint. Intricate zellij geometric mosaics line walls of passageways, arched carved screens embellished with designs as delicate as white lace overlook shady courtyards, and verandahs with tiled floors dazzle the eye.


Photo 12. Carved alcove, El Bahia Palace


Photo 12a Ornamentation, El Bahia Palace


Photo12b Lace-like wall ornamentation in El Bahia Palace

Our group assembles for dinner in a restaurant that conjures up romantic images of clandestine trysts: flickering candlelight in a palm-fringed courtyard, tables set among flowering bushes of jasmine, a lute and tambourine playing softly in the background, shadowy servers, goblets of rich red wine and tagines heaped with aromatic herbed Moroccan cuisine. Exotic, bewitching.


Photo 18.Romantic restaurant courtyard

Dinner over, we emerge from the restaurant onto a small cobbled lane leading to the Djemaa el-Fna square. The square by night is transformed into a world of mystery and seduction. Street lights elongate the shadows of magicians dressed in flowing robes as they dazzle audiences with strange, almost macabre, wizardry; strolling troubadours and belly dancers, sinuous and seductive, perform to the sound of metallic castanets, drums accompany the whizz of fireworks that shoot into the night sky and kids whoop and clap their hands with each new explosion of light and colour.

The central area is now an open-air kitchen with lantern-lit food stalls, plank benches and tables. Above the sound of laughter and conversation from the food tents, the rich aromas of sizzling kebabs, thicken the night air. A water-seller with an enormous feathered hat, his gown draped with bells and gongs offers to pose for my camera – after which I drop a few dirham into his outstretched palm.


Photo 7. Water seller in the Djemaa el Fna Square

“There are certain places on the surface of the earth that possess more magic than others,” said Paul Bowles, the American writer who lived in Morocco for fifty-two years. “And one of those places is Marrakech.” I agree.

_______________________________

PHOTOS: by Margaret Deefholts unless otherwise attributed

1. Djemaa-el-Fna Square, Marrakech

2. Shop in Djemaa el Fna Square

2a Tempting wares, Djemaa el Fna Square

2b Baubles in Djemaa el Fna Square

3 Women in the market square, Marrakech

4. Spices in the market

5. Musicians in the Square

6. Snake Charmer

7. Water seller in the Djemaa el Fna Square

8. Peddler and his donkey emerging from the Souk

9. Street scene, Marrakech

10. Stone carvers, El Bahia Palace

11. Dazzling ceiling El Bahia Palace

11a El Bahia Palace ceiling

12. Carved alcove, El Bahia Palace

12a Ornamentation, El Bahia Palace

12b Lace-like wall ornamentation in El Bahia Palace

13. Majorelle Jardin pathway

14. Memorial: Yves Saint Laurent, Majorelle Jardin

15. Cactus display, Majorelle Jardin

16. Rock-star’s hairstyle cactus, Majorelle Jardin

17. Knuckled fist cactus, Majorelle Jardin

18. Romantic restaurant courtyard.

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

 


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