Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Boxing, chocolate and tombs: Marrakech days three and four

I'll try to wrap up my last two days in Marrakech this time. On Tuesday our first port of call was the Bahia Palace, built in the late 19th century by one of the Sultan's Grand Viziers and dedicated to one of his wives. As with the Museum of Marrakech, it seems like there's going to be more to see than there actually is. As with all the other buildings we visited, the elaborately-decorated walls and ceilings are beautiful, but there wasn't anything else in there to see.

The courtyard of the Bahia Palace - hard to photograph due to all the greenery

Ceiling in the palace

More ceiling
So again, it was pretty early when we left the palace and set out for the Saadian tombs. First we stopped off in a shop where I wanted to buy a little present for Jules. In another of those trademark magic Marrakech moments we've all come to know and love, Liz and I had a whispered conversation as to whether the shopkeeper was watching porn on his laptop. We couldn't see anything, but some of the noises going on where a little explicit. In the end, we decided it was probably a sex scene in a movie rather than porn, as the background noises changed to something else, but it was still a bit dodgy.

For some reason, we still persisted with the transaction, and here was my chance to bargain. There are no price-tags or anything, so I just fixed an idea in my head of how much I wanted to pay and was surprised when the guy's opening offer came in well below that. I still bartered him down a bit for form's sake, but I didn't bother pushing too hard. It wasn't until after we left the shop and Liz remarked I'd given in easily that I realised it was actually ten times what I thought I was paying. D'oh! You'd think I'd be able to keep in my mind a (rough) exchange rate of 1 euro to 10 dirhams, but apparently not.

We then proceeded to get pretty lost in the Mellah and Kasbah neighbourhoods trying to find the Saadian tombs. One guy was very insistent that we turn left down a certain street, but with the help of a map, we were sure we should go right. Right turned out, as he had said, to lead not only to a dead-end but also a large refuse heap. And then we had to go back past him to get out again, giving him the opportunity to say "I told you so". Ironically, however, he was *still* lying about the way to go - the tombs were actually hidden away back the way we came.

The 12th Century Bab Agnaou gate, near the Kasbah mosque and Saadian tombs

The Kasbah mosque

Me, rocking it
First, a quick lunch break at the trendy-looking Kasbah café directly opposite the tomb entrance:


Liz and me at lunch

I was a little obsessed with the storks we could see from the roof terrace

View from the roof terrace where we had lunch. The Saadian tombs are back there
And then on to the tombs themselves. Again, smaller and less interesting than you might have thought, but with some pretty decorations. They date to the 16th century but were only rediscovered and restored in 1917. About 60 members of the Saadi Dynasty are buried here, although there certainly aren't 60 tombs on display.

Inside the Saadian tombs

Now home to kitties

The 'room with the twelve columns', the most beautiful of the tombs, houses the grave of the sultan's grandson

Shortly after taking this photo, this turtle totally bailed off the side of the tomb and then tried to style it out by eating grass with his bum sticking up in the air

Full disclosure, this is where it gets mildly embarrassing. Remember how before I said we stumbled across a supermarket selling Galaxy chocolate out near the Jardins Majorelle? Well, we just saw the little bars they keep by the checkout to tempt you with, and for whatever reason, we just grabbed one milk and one caramel bar each. (I don't know what Liz was thinking, I'm pretty sure I just didn't want to grab a hundred bars and look like a massive pig in front of an actual thin person.) But when it came to eating the chocolate back in the hotel, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that we missed the chance to get more. So it was that we ended up spending a pretty big chunk of the rest of the day trekking back out to the suburbs to go in search of more Galaxy chocolate.

Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer sues the all-you-can-eat seafood place and then Marge breaks down on the stand describing how they drove around looking for somewhere else to eat and finally went fishing? Yeah, it was pretty much like that.

(Can't find the whole clip, unfortunately.)

We walked back into the city from the supermarket, in the Guéliz district. This was where we got the most hassle, and it was even more disturbing when the guys were following us because it was just a non-descript suburban area with no clues as to where we were or where we were going. Eventually, though, we did end up back walking through the souks to Jemaa el Fna. We ended up in one shop where the guy had a whole wall of photos of famous people who had visited his shop. For some reason, the three he pointed out to us in particular were John Major, Jimmy Carter, and... Michael Stipe. Well, why not?

By the way, as well as being stalked by random men, everywhere I went in Marrakech I was also stalked by shoe-shine men. They ignored Liz's trainers of course, but were drawn like catnip to my admittedly slipshod boots. They would clap their brushes together and call out to you, starting out with the innocuous call of "shoe-shine, shoe-shine" but then progressing on to "your shoes are dirty!", "you need to clean your shoes!" which would just crack Liz and me up. It was true, my shoes were dirty, and I'm a disgrace to my family. But I wasn't about to get them shined in Marrakech where the next minute they'd probably end up filthy again. It did have the effect of making me buy some shoe polish for once in my life when I got home though!

Nut seller in the souks
As evening drew in, we grabbed a drink on a terrace with a great view of the square down below. As night falls, it gets ever livelier, with everything from acrobats to amateur boxing going on, and best of all, being up on the terrace means you can watch it all without being accosted or having to cough up money for the privilege.
View of Jemaa el Fna from the roof terrace (roof terraces are big there)

At night you could really see clouds of smoke rising up over the square

A taste of the atmosphere in Jemaa el Fna (sorry, they get pretty blurry when Blogger compresses them, but it's mostly for the general noise and so on):

Acrobats performing in the square:

The amateur boxing match - which lasted about two minutes, as opposed to the hyping of the event which was about twenty. Liz and I had much discussion about whether one of the fighters was a woman. I think yes, on video evidence, right? I'm not sure who won, but the whole thing seemed a lot flailier than a professional bout.

Liz went home early on Wednesday, and as I said, I'd had enough of the hassle by then, so I spent my day getting a massage in the morning (the woman spent a disappointingly large proportion of the time massaging my legs - outside of a sports massage, surely everyone just wants back? - and threw in a bit of gratuitous boob-touching, but otherwise it was okay) and then just sitting in the sun on the terrace at the hotel, reading and drinking wine. Frankly, I needed a bit of R&R (and sunshine!) at this stage.

Action donkey shot from when I ventured out in search of food

A glimpse of the mountains behind the markets on my last full day

Then on Thursday, it was time to wend my way home, not too sorry to see the back of the place, as you will have gathered, but with lots of stories to tell!


  1. My friend and I were planning to go to Marrakesh this April, but it turned out that the flights were really expensive, so we're going to Portugal instead. I was a wee bit disappointed, but reading your posts has made me think that maybe we weren't in for the relaxing holiday we thought we would be having anyway. As you say though, good stories to tell!

  2. Are you sure that the "lunch" wasn't something one of those storks left on the plate?


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