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Marrakesh has been a thriving city for almost a thousand years. The Red City was founded in 1062 by the Almoravid dynasty, and its mosques and medersas quickly became a cultural and intellectual epicenter of North Africa. The Almohads destroyed much of the city upon succeeding the Almoravids, but rebuilt Marrakesh using Andalusian artisans, who instilled the city with its characteristic Spanish flare. Marrakesh subsequently served as Morocco’s capital under various sultanates, and today is, without a doubt, one of the nation’s most beautiful big cities. As a hybrid of old world mysticism and new world momentum, Marrakesh will remain so for many years to come.
The famed Pl. Djema’a al-Fna is right at the heart of things; to the west of Djema’a al-Fna, past the horses of the calèche stands, is the landmark Koutoubia Mosque. Put this action-packed plaza at the center of your mental map. There are several important thoroughfares that radiate from Pl. Djema’a al-Fna. To the west, Av. Mohammed V is the main avenue out of the Djema’a al-Fna and the medina to the ville nouvelle. To the south, the central Rue Bab Agnou leads to budget hotels and the Kasbah. Rue Moulay Ismail runs roughly parallel to rue Bab Agnou and hosts the post office and a series of banks. To the east (opposite the mosque), two main streets exit the Pl. Djema’a al-Fna: Rue Riad Zitoun El Kedim, which is right by Restaurant Toubkal, and Rue Riad Zitoun El Jdid, which is by Chez Chegrouni. Finally, at the north end of the plaza is Rue Souq Smarine, which winds through the medina’s bustling markets and arrives at museums and worthwhile sights. With Pl. Djema’a al-Fna and the Koutoubia Mosque as your landmarks, you can tackle the medina.
The ville nouvelle is 30min. by foot, 10dh by petit taxi or 4dh on bus #1 away from the medina along Av. Mohammed V. The cosmopolitan neighborhood you’ll want to visit is called Guéliz.This is where many of the city’s eclectic restaurants, night clubs, and bars are found, in addition to essential services like hospitals, banks, car rental agencies, the principal post office and a Mickey D’s. The center of Guéliz is the traffic circle Pl. du 16 Novembre on Av. Mohammed V. The Gare Ferrovière is several blocks down Av. Hassan II off of Pl. du 16 Novembre. The Gare Routière is just beyond the medina outside of Bab Doukkala gate.
If you ever get tired of exploring Djema’a al-Fna (trust us: you won’t), Marrakesh has more old palaces, medersas, monuments and museums than it knows what to do with. When you’re finished learning about Marrakshi history, escape the heat and turn off your brain in one of the city’s lush gardens.
The possibilities are endless in Marrakesh. Here are our favorite destinations in Marrakesh. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
From decadent sweets to succulent meats, opportunities for epicurean adventurers in Morocco abound. Upon entering the country, you can banish “bland” from your culinary vocabulary – Moroccan cuisine incorporates a wealth of spices; turmeric, cumin, coriander, and saffron just scratch the surface of the aromatic delights to be found. The most widely known staple of Moroccan fare is couscous, a semolina-grain pasta, roughly the size of sesame seeds. While couscous is usually served with either beef or lamb, a great vegetarian option is couscous aux légumes (couscous with vegetables). Other popular dishes include tajine, a meat stew with vegetables and olives, harira, a chickpea soup, and pastilla, a sweet and savory meat pie comprised of pigeon or chicken, onions, almonds, eggs, butter, cinnamon, and sugar. If these options leave you looking for something slightly more, shall we say, unfamiliar, than sheep’s eyes might be right up your ally. While the eye of the sheep is originally an Arabian delicacy, rest assured, cooked sheep’s eye can be part of your Moroccan adventure. A more conventional sheep-based specialty is mechoui, lamb spitted over an open fire. Typical snacks and on-the-go eats include roasted almonds, dried chickpeas, and cactus buds.
In the realm of desserts, fresh seasonal fruits are a typical concluding treat for a meal. This is not to say Morocco suffers from a lack of baked goods. To the contrary, sweet-lovers will find themselves amidst honey-soaked pastries, including halwa shebakia, a fried, honey-infused sesame cookie. A perfect accompaniment to such treats is a cup of Moroccan mint tea, or green tea steeped in mint leaves and saturated with sugar. Those looking for something slightly stronger need not fear the Islamic prohibition against alcohol: Moroccan, French, and Spanish wines can be found in supermarkets and restaurants.
Looking for the perfect Moroccan memento to commemorate your trip? From ceramics to woodwork, Morocco offers an abundance of cultural crafts. Known for its luxurious carpets, Morocco also has a long tradition in the leather industry; to this day leather tanners throughout the country continue to use medieval techniques. According to local legend, tanners are descended from demons whose spirits inhabit the tanneries. Even without the omnipresence of demons, tannery work can be quite unpleasant. In the process of creating salable leather, the hides are softened in pigeon droppings and later immersed in vats of water and blood. From start to finish, the tanning process takes around twenty days. Other traditional crafts include the colorful glazed tiles that make up a zellij, or mosaic. Often mosaics will incorporate calligraphy, particularly elegant illuminations of Qur’anic verses that meld religion with high art. Islamic mosaics portray rich geometric designs rather than people, animals, or plants. Moroccan souqs (markets) are brimming with local handicrafts. Bargaining is a serious business approached with vigor; a reasonable final price should be about 50% of your seller’s original quote. If you hit a standstill, don’t be afraid to simply walk out the door—the owner just may chase after you with a better offer.
Modest clothing for both men and women is highly recommended, especially in rural areas. Even properly dressed non-Muslims are barred from entering many of Morocco’s active mosques. Taboo topics to avoid in conversation with Moroccans include sex, Israel and Palestine, the royal family, and the Western Sahara.
Tourists in larger areas are susceptible to the advances of Moroccans offering to guide them. If you refuse, be polite but insistent. Western women tend to attract attention from Moroccan men. In general, the best way to react is not at all. Toning down public visibility is always smart.
A traditional Moroccan meal begins with hand washing. Dinner may be served from a communal dish at a low, round table. Avoid directly using your left hand when eating, as this hand is traditionally reserved for personal hygiene. In more personal settings, such as in a Moroccan home, vocally praising the food is important.