Marrakech moonbeams and desert dreams - January 2014
Steve in Ait Benhaddou
Steve in El-Bahia Palace
On entering Marrakech you're immediately struck by the intensity of traffic, people, animals, all jostling for position amidst the market stalls. As Jo and I arrived there on New Year's Eve for a short break, we felt relieved to be welcomed into La Maison Arabe, a beautiful riad hotel in exotic Moroccan style. It looks just like something out of the Arabian Nights with its seductive lamps and ornate archways.
The following morning we braved the road outside on foot, and gradually became accustomed to its rhythm. As you weave your way through, dodging everything and everybody, it's a bit like getting your sea legs on a boat... The market place was full of stalls, acrobats, performing monkeys and snake charmers. We tried to avoid the poor snakes but one was draped over me from behind and before I knew it I was confronting cobras on the cobbles...
Music was everywhere, from haunting wooden flutes to hand drums and the oud (Arabian Lute). As we wove our way through the labyrinthine souk, we stumbled on a fascinating Aladdin's cave of musical instruments, many of which looked ancient and primitive. They sounded exquisite in the hands of owner Mustapha, who impressively seemed to be able to play every instrument. From the early morning prayer calls to street music and night time courtyard serenades with lutes and singers, the music was like an extraordinary endless dance.
Away from the bustling streets we enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere of the Saardian Tombs and El-Bahia Palace, both of which with their splendid rooms, courtyard gardens and fine carvings resembled the spectacular Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada. We also visited a synagogue which was like a little jewel within the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter.
Having heard so much of the desert's music we felt drawn to the landscape itself and travelled across the breathtaking Atlas Mountains to Ait Benhaddou, an old yet often filmed settlement in the Sahara. It rises beside a small oasis as if built out of the desert sand itself. You feel transported in time back to somewhere from the dawn of civilisation, the time of ancient Ninevah. The strains of a lone bowed stringed instrument wafted through a dark archway as we climbed up to the top of the settlement.
Berber mud brick houses in the rural area are very poor, as are many streets in Marrakech itself, with shopkeepers eking out a living selling anything from live snails to spare motorcycle parts...
It all felt like a tapestry combining the extremes of both poverty and paradise. The Moroccan world is well worth experiencing. It's like an altered universe. The crescent moon at night is at a different angle to the European view. It looks like a human smile. The sun beats down on New Year's Day. Colours, sounds and fragrances hit the senses and you feel you've touched a part of your soul you didn't know before. It's a place you'll want to return to.
Steve and Jo in Ait Benhaddou with Sahara desert behind
Musician in Ait Benhaddou | Exotic lamp shop in souk
The Atlas Mountains