In the year 1912 the French government officially annexed the majority of the kingdom of Morocco via the treaty of Fes. This treaty was the culmination of creeping European influence over what was for a time one of the only non-European controlled parts of Africa at the time, it laid out in direct terms France and Spains control over the country of Morocco.
Marrakech found itself in the French part of Morocco, one of the primary things this meant of course that Marrakech developed a link with the French language that can still be seen today and indeed in the vast majority of Morocco as all signs are in both French and Arabic and the fact that a high number of individuals speak both Arabic and French in most of the service sector as well as in general, indeed the Moroccan dialect of Arabic has been said to be a mixture of Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish, reflecting Morocco’s rich heritage.
French colonial influence is not only seen in the language used by Moroccans but by the actual city of Marrakech itself, the primary example of this is the area of Gueliz which was built by the French and the name is thought to originate from a corruption of the French word eglise, meaning church. This was due to the fact that the French new town was based around the church and therefore the area was associated the locals used the building to refer to the area in general. This area in particular shows particular influences from French architecture with large boulevards and French style cafés, restaurants and bars.
Particular examples of a French style café in Gueliz is the Grande Café de poste and in the medina Café France. Both are old colonial buildings that as businesses have decided to retain the colonial aesthetic in order to attract customers and achieve a certain ambience. To summarise although Morocco became independent in 1956 the cultural heritage of French colonial rule is still very much evident from the fact that the language is still dominant to the fact that one can sit down in a Continental style café and have a café au lait. Consequently Marrakech has a very interesting mixture of ambience as one can in a 10 minute walk go from the archetype of North African towns that the Medina represents to European style boulevards and Cafés that would not look completely amiss in Spain or the South of France, in the shape of the area of Gueliz. This contributes to making Marrakech one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in the world.
If you are planning a visit to Marrakech don’t miss the opportunity to stay in a Riad hotel in the vibrant old town, just minutes walk from the celebrated Jemma al Fnaa Square.