Marrakesh The imperial city that, at the dawn of its history, gave Morocco its name
As eternal as the snows on the highest peaks, as impressive as the Atlas mountains, as steeped in history as the palm trees are rooted in the Earth, Marrakesh stands as the finishing touch to a picture of timeless beauty.
The mightiest kings fought for it, a line of dynasties inherited it, sages, craftsmen, architects, painters and sculptors of all ages built magnificent palaces, mosques, gardens and Koranic schools.
The Berbers and the Arabs come together here, to mingle with the nomads and the mountain people. Every imaginable commodity abounds, craftsmanship flourishes, and there are palaces, hotels, restaurants, golf courses and a casino: Marrakesh is the unchallenged capital of Southern Morocco.
For all the beauty gathered here in one thousand years, for the sheer joy of the senses, you cannot miss Marrakesh.
MARRAKESH, CITY OF FASCINATION
Carts overflowing oranges and roasted grains. Women from the Anti-Atlas coming to sell their baskets, storytellers, musicians, dancers, public scribes with their black umbrellas, fortunetellers, potion vendors, healers and apothecaries all contribute to the unreal spectacle that in Marrakesh, is commonplace.
Then, as dusk approaches, the showmen make way for the hot food stalls. One after another, acetylene flames spring into life.
And then, in the starry night, the moon comes out to play the role it was designed for: to be the most magical of the thousand and one lanterns lighting up the Jemaa el Fna Square.
Just as it has done every morning for more than 800 years, with the same inflected intonation, the call of the muezzin going out from the 70 meters high Koutoubia, the spiritual beacon of Marrakesh.
Sunrise over Marrakesh.
A multicolored crowd invades the winding streets of the medina. Groups of men jostle towards the Ben Youssef mosque, nestling against the Medersa, the vast and superb Koranic school founded by the Merinide sultan Abou el-Hassan (1331 - 1349) and one of Marrakesh's most remarkable monuments.
The sun bathes Marrakesh in light.
Its rays show up the pink marble of the fountains, spread across the tiled courtyards, are reflected and then bring warmth to the turquoise, greens and whites of the mosaic, to finally be lost amidst the stucco of the Bahia Palace and the Dar Si Said, now a museum housing the finest masterpieces of Moroccan art.
The legendary sun of Marrakesh adds a note of accentuated contrast to the imperious splendor of the Saadian tombs. It illuminates the remains of the Badii Palace where a shimmering mirage may reveal the wonder of these former glories to the dazzled visitor; the gold, the marble and the onyx which were traded for their weight in sugar by the most celebrated Saadian ruler, Ahmed el Mansour (1578 - 1603).
The sun sets over Marrakesh.
Then, against a sky blazing with evening fire bounded by the eternal snows of the Atlas mountains, the perfect proportions of the Menara pavilion may be contemplated, mirrored in the quiet, still waters that stand before it.
Time has passed you by.
In the copper souk perhaps, where the metal is worked by craftsmen following age-old tradition, their faces set in profound concentration. Or perhaps it was in the Laghzal Souk, home of the wool merchants. Or in el Btana with its sheepskin. Or even in the hubbub of the Zarbia souk, where carpets and caftans are sold to the highest bidder...
You are in another world.
Where the smell of saffron, cumin, black pepper, ginger, verbena, cloves and orange flower enchant the nostrils. Among sacks of almonds, ground nuts and chick peas piled high like mountains, with baskets of dates, casks of olives and, on the apothecaries' shelves, pots of henna, ghassoul, flasks of rose extract, jasmine, mint, khol, pieces of amber and misk...
You are in the souks of Marrakesh.
Outside the ochre-colored ramparts, the rhythm is broken, the colors change. The sound of the wind in the foliage, chirping birds, the heady odors of jasmine and honeysuckle and the persistent perfume of the famous Marrakesh roses.
Here, nature is a haven of peace, beauty and contemplation. No doubt it is grateful to man for having watered it since 1106 by means of an ingenious system of collecting and channeling spring water.
13 000 hectares of vegetation, 180 000 palm trees, a world class golf course; this is the renowned Palmeraie (Palm Grove) of Marrakesh.
Further away, behind the Royal Palace, stretch the Agdal orchards, the setting for lavish festivals and celebrations.
The trees weigh themselves down with exquisite fruit as the seasons advance; oranges, figs, pomegranates and olives...
And hear Bab Doukkala stands the Majorelle garden with its abundance of giant bamboo, yucca, papyrus, palm, cypress and banana trees, philodendrons and bougainvilleas, and amazing cacti with natural colors that contrasts vividly with the bright blue facade of the villa.
THE WONDERS OF THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
Seen from Marrakesh, the vast, imposing mass of the snow-capped mountains seems unreal and unbelievable.
And yet the splendor, other - worldliness and imposing might of the constantly changing Atlas landscape are only 20 kilometers away.
Just head out South East of Marrakesh, through the friendly Berber villages of Aghmat and Dar Caid Ouriki. Follow the road bordered with terraced gardens along Wadi Ouriki until you reach Arhbalou.
From there on, the choice is simply limitless!
Bear right towards Oukaimeden (2,600 m), the famous winter sports resort only 74 km from Marrakesh.
Or else admire Setti Fatma and its hundred-year-old walnut trees and dive into the invigorating coolness of its seven waterfalls.
Or possibly go on to Annameure, village of the Ait Oucheg tribe where you can hire a mule and climb up as far as Djebel Yagour, centre of Moroccan prehistory which boasts over 2,000 cave paintings.
To the South, another change of scene
47 Km from Marrakesh, on the road to Taroudant, in the typically Berber village of Asni, people come to barter in the souk which is held every Saturday.
Towards Ouirgane, the landscape is reminiscent of American canyons. Magnificent gorges lead to Imlil, a charming mountain hamlet. This is the starting point for hikes through Toubkal national park, climbing to the summit (4165 m), North Africa's highest point or, at 3800 m, the Tazaghaght plateau, a stone strewn desert at such an altitude that it looks down upon the clouds.
East of Marrakesh, water, water, everywhere!
The Ouzoud Falls, where the water plunges for more than 100 meters. Wadi Mehasseur, spanned by the natural Imi-n-Ifri Bridge, the "gateway to the abyss" in Berber, which cascades through vast rock formations to end in the artificial Ait-Aadel Lake surrounded by bare, red-colored hills.