Marrakech is a ancient city which has acted as a hub of trade and commerce for nearly a thousand years. One of the most fascinating aspects of the cities rich and diverse history that is well worth your attention is it’s relationship with the arts and crafts.
From leather, textiles and especially metal, craftsmen and apprentices in Marrakech to this day use the skills that have been passed down generation through to generation in the various trades.
This is certainly true in the case of the ‘Tankkacht’, or copper workers of the Marrakech Medina. On or way down Rue Riad Zitoun Kdim, five minutes from Riad Dar Habiba and the cities central square, resident video blogger Jamie Horton and I encountered this Taankacht, whose name is Soufiane.
Soufiane explains that through years of practicing this traditional craft, he is able to inscribe any kind of pattern, lettering or symbol onto various designs of copper with his hand tools. Soufiane goes on to explain to me that to get to his level of expertise, it took him 3 years to learn to inscribe in Arabic, then a further 3 years to master the technique in the Latin languages.
After only 5 minutes Soufiane had inscribed my name into both English and Arabic onto a copper design shaped into the hand of Fatima. For only 30 Dirhams (2.35) this is the ideal souvenir which will allow you to take a piece of Morocco back home with you!
The Ensemble offers the same wide selection of handcrafted goods that you could hope to find in the Souks, however the prices are at a fixed rate so it’s the ideal destination if you would prefer not to haggle.
The atmosphere inside the complex is relaxed and tranquil and the Ensemble is not only used as a market but also as a space in which to train young apprentices in traditional Moroccan crafts.
There are a colourful selection of items to browse through, from leather jackets to Moroccan rugs and slippers so it’s an ideal way to lose yourself for an afternoon.
Upon my first visit to the Ensemble Artisanal, I discovered a small section of the closed market which specialised in calligraphy where I was able to have my mothers name hand drawn onto parchment. I think it might have been the first time anyone had asked the calligrapher to have the Irish name, ‘Breda’ translated into Arabic which lead to some initial communication difficulties!
But a few smiles and only 20 Dirhams (£1.57) later I was able to take away something unique from morocco to have sent home to the UK.
Overall the Ensemble Artisanal is a unique experience in Marrakech. Ideal for those desiring a change of scenery from the bustling hive of activity that is the souks, or even just for those seeking some respite from the intense Moroccan sun, there is certainly something on offer for all.
Established 3 years ago, the photography museum set its aims to founding a cataloged archive of Moroccan history in which the memories of these times gone past could be brought back to life for the general public.
Exhibiting a comprehensive selection of 5000 original original photographs covering from the 1870’s up to the 1950’s, the Maison de la Photographie provides a unique and fascinating field of insight into the lives of those who inhabited Morocco during this time.
Once you’ve enjoyed the remarkable collections the museum has to offer, you can round off your afternoon by enjoying a pot of traditional Moroccan mint tea on top of the roof terrace pictured below. As well as showcasing astounding sights inside the museum, the Maison de la Photographie also has a higher roof terrace than most Riad’s in the surrounding area which offers astonishing views of Marrakech Medina and the Atlas Mountains.
Entrance to the Maison de la Photographie only costs 40 Dirhams (£3.10) and remember to keep your ticket! As you can return as many times as you like to enjoy the museum and its stunning views as long you as hold onto it during your stay in Marrakech.
Although there are a huge variety of crafts being practiced in Marrakech, one that you’re path will definitely cross as you discover what the souk’s have to offer is the Moroccan tin work. After a short walk to Jemaa El Fnaa, I come across some of the striking pieces the Marrakshi craftsmen have to offer.
To become the finished product, strips of of tin must first be decorated. The process begins by cutting out the traditionally styled designs and shapes on the sides of the ornaments such as in the photo above. This is a painstaking process as each sequence of the pattern must be performed one at a time. However as you journey through the souks and see the craftsmen at their work you will be astonished at their speed and efficiency.
Once this is complete, then comes the process of soldering and welding the tin into the finished ornament. Below is footage of the craftsman Abdel Moniim and his partner using tin to create a striking collection of lamps ready for sale in the Belaarif souk’s.
The skills that go into creating these astounding pieces go back generations and are usually passed down through families. However despite handmade craftsmanship of the highest caliber, these tin pieces are relatively inexpensive and a small lamp as pictured above can be purchased for around 20 Dirhams (£1.55).
Before your visit to Morocco remember to leave some space in your luggage, as the remarkable selection of crafts that Marrakech has to offer will leave you wanting to bring a small slice of Marrakech back home with you!
Snake charming is an ancient skill in Morocco and those who practice this art can always be found in Marrakech’s central square, Jemaa El Fnaa. Although there are a myriad of remarkable sights to be discovered in the centre of the city, the small communities of charmers will perhaps be those you hear, before you see.
As I take the 2 minute stroll from Riad Dar Habiba with MarrakechRiad’s resident video blogger Jamie Horton in search of the snake Charmers, it doesn’t take us long to single out the snake charmers hypnotic melody from the roaring cries of Marrakshi tradesmen who inhabit the square by day.
After finding a group of charmers Jamie and I exchange nervous smiles (considering the proximity of a rather large cobra) and a few Dirhams so that we can film them practicing their art. However from somewhere between meeting the charmers and trying to learn more about their trade, I find myself sat with between them with a Moroccan water snake draped around my neck like an exotic scarf. “Nonvenomous” one of the charmers laughs at me through a grin, noticing my slight discomfort.
After handing back my new serpentine friend, I retreat back slightly and discover that the man in the green t shirt in the photo above’s name is Abdullah. He tell’s me that he and the other charmers are Berber, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. Abdullah explains that although he’s had other professions in his 54 years, he has been snake charming since he was 17.
I ask Abdullah if the snakes have names, to which he replies “of course! This one’s name is cobra and this is python.” Abdullah goes on to explain that wild snakes can’t be found anywhere close to the region surrounding Marrakech. He and the other charmers instead have traveled from the southerly reaches of Morocco to the Sahara deserts in order to catch them.
Seeing the charmers practicing their trade is arguably one of the most mystifying sights Marrakech has to offer. Just click the link below if you want to see what Jamie and I experienced before your visit to Morocco!
Situated in the middle of Marrakech, the central square (Jemaa El Fnaa) truly can be described as the beating heart of the city and a day spent wandering through the groups of performers, artists and musicians can indeed be thirsty work.
So when you’re ready for refreshment there really is no other option than to try a glass of orange juice from one of the countless street vendors that take up shop daily within the square.
All the oranges are freshly picked, sourced locally and have a richer taste compared to what you might expect back in the United Kingdom. So for only 4 Dirham (30 pence) a glass this is my first port of call when the Moroccan heat gets too intense for me.
In the picture above is my vendor of choice, whose name is Abdel. His stall was the first one I encountered in the five minutes it takes me to walk from the Riad I’m staying in to the central square.
As it’s currently the month of Ramadan in the Muslim world last night he shared some of his chebakia (a Moroccan sesame cookie shaped into a flower) with me after I enjoyed a glass of his orange juice.
This level of hospitality is commonplace in Marrakech, even though though I’m sure he doesn’t remember my name!
Anyone who has experienced Marrakech will know that unlike most Europeans, the Marrakshi are on the move 24/7. Be it by donkey, horse, motorbike or car you will see the local inhabitants speeding through the ancient city all through the day and night.
This does indeed give Marrakech a unique atmosphere. At times it feels as though the city is so completely charged with sound, smell, movement and energy that it almost seems fit to explode.
Taking this into account however it’s good to remember that Marrakech uses a right hand system in its winding alleyways and roads. Keeping this in mind will help you avoid a bump from a passing bicycle or mope.
So although you may want to have your headphones in to keep up with your Darija Arabic pod-casts, it’s probably better to have all your senses in-tune with the beat of the city in order to prevent a needless scrape!
Above is an example of the kind of street art that can be seen on a walk through Marrakech. This piece of art is the work of French street artist Christian Guémy who goes under the pseudonym of ‘C215’. Guémy has been described as being akin in style and popularity to British street artist ‘Banksy’ and his stencil art murals can be seen worldwide, from Marrakech to New York.
Guémy’s technique is to stencil close up portraits of the forgotten individuals of any given city, be it the homeless, street kids or refugees. In this way we remember their faces as we walk down the street.
I spotted this piece in the souk’s, on the door of a local tangia cooker only a few minutes walk from Riad’s Cinnamon and Papillon. I asked him how he felt about and the the image of the small girl being showcased on his front door and he told me was delighted.
This is not the only stencil mural ‘C215’ has publicly exhibited in Morocco and if street art is something that particularly interests you, then during a visit there are opportunities to see much more from this artist!
Herb shopping is a hugely important role in Moroccan day to day life and during a trip through the souk’s you simply have to get talking to someone in order to discover the fascinating culinary, spiritual and medicinal uses for the herbs you can buy in Marrakech. Here is a list of just a few remedies that are on offer:
Nigella Seed (Sanouj)
The guardian of the Dar Habiba Hotel Riad who accompanied me on this trip expressed that this herb was particularly important as the Prophet Mohommed testified that this seed can cure any illness except death. Ranging from everyday uses from healing toothaches to promoting contractions during labour, Nigella seed is also said to be to be composed of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant properties.
Water of the rose is a key ingredient in Moroccan cosmetics and cuisine. Used to flavour dishes and hydrate facial skin to stop anti-aging, Rose water is arguably one of the most popular holistic treatments used on a day to day basis in Morocco.
Lemon Verbena (Louiza)
This greenish herb is said to warm your very blood and is to be taken before and after birth for a smooth and safe delivery of a child. It’s also believed to be an effective holistic remedy for insomnia, asthma and stress.
Lavender’s unique smell makes it a popular candidate in cosmetics not only in Morocco but all over the world. Although the Dar Habiba’s guardian explains to me that in North Africa, Lavender is one of the key ingredients in a powerful aphrodisiac for men.
Whatever your ailment, if you don’t mind haggling then there is a holistic treatment to be found from one of the many herbs and spice salesmen during your visit to Marrakech.
Our team is split into two, on one side is Jamie Horton, owner of Chasing Safety Media and the resident video blogger. Jamie will be joining us for 2 weeks and he’ll be spending his time shooting footage from all corners of Marrakech.
My name is James Andersen and I will be joining the team as the resident travel writer. I’m an English literature student at Leeds University and I’ve previously worked in Oslo, Norway on an English speaking radio show and next year I will be joining Leeds University Student Newspaper as one of the editors.
From Jamie and myself we would just like to say how delighted we both are to be here and how we are looking forward to sharing some of the magic of Marrakech with you all.
There are 18 souk’s which employ over 40,000 locals of all backgrounds, ages and ethnicity in Marrakech alone. Although that makes for an almost uncountable number of wares to explore and choose from, no adventure in the Marrakshi souk’s is complete without a trip to the poultry market in Marché de Volaille, just a ten minute walk away from Riad’s Cinnamon and Papillon.
As you enter the poultry market the first thing that will demand your attention is that most of the wares on offer are indeed still very much alive. Scorching temperatures in the ancient city mean that the only way to trade in live goods is of course by keeping the produce this way up until the very point of sale. Not only does this entrench the poultry markets with a sense of realism that is somewhat lost to us in the commercial supermarkets of Europe, it also guarantee’s the buyer fresh, unadulterated and delicious produce.
Upon my first entry to the market the squawking of chickens, the constant flow of Arabic and the rich smells of spices and olives gave me a momentary overload of my senses. However once I re-composed myself and pressed on through the souk the defining feature that I took away from the market wasn’t the fruit and chicken that me and my colleague Mostafa had come to buy but instead was the overwhelming hospitality of the salesmen.
As Mostafa haggled prices the owner insisted I come behind the stall, offering me a chair, a fresh orange and a knife as I sat with the salesmen’s son. Although the young man didn’t speak English or French, I discovered his name was Abdullah and he was delighted when I asked if I could take his photo.
As we shared an orange our conversation was reserved mostly to hand gestures and smiles but was proud to tell me he was an avid supporter of Barcelona football club. When I pointed towards myself and said ‘Everton FC?’ Abdullah shook his head, laughing and let out a sigh.
It goes without saying that that some language barriers were made to be broken and that they should never put you exploring Marrakech!
As you explore the areas surrounding the central square (Djemma El Fna) of Marrakech you will come into contact with all kinds of the weird and the wonderful. From snake charmers to acrobats it’s easy to wonder how these individuals started and developed their own unique skills.
This is arguably one of the most alluring aspects of the city of Marrakech but the mysteries don’t stop with the people themselves. After travelling north of the central square towards the direction of the souks, we came into contact with a series of bold and almost threatening murals.
A local caught us looking bewildered as we tried to figure out whether the murals held a political message but when we asked if this was the case he just laughed at us and told us we were reading too deeply into it. The local, whose name was Rachid told us (after promises to visit his local Hamman with him next week) that this was the emblem for the ‘Ultra Crazy Boys’ who are the cities most die hard supporters of KAC Marrakech, a local football team.
After a short walk back to the Riad Habiba I asked the hotel’s guardian (who is a local expert on all things Marrkaksi) for some more information about the UCB. He told me that although many Moroccan’s support European teams from England, Spain and Catalonia there is still a huge fan base for local teams.
The difference that separates the Ultra Crazy Boys and the football fan’s that I’m used to back in the United Kingdom is that UCB practice choreographed song and even dance routines for public demonstrations in the stands every time their football team plays.
If you decide to go see KAC Marrakech play during a visit to Morocco, take into mind that there the Ultra Crazy Boys have a strict colour scheme and all their songs are in the Moroccan dialect of Darija Arabic, you might want to consider brushing up your language skills before joing!
If, during your stay you find yourself wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh for a few hours, by travelling just a few miles from the city outskirts you can not only take a pause to gather your senses but you can also get hands on with a unique aspect of Moroccan agriculture.
These are the Argan tree’s that soon transform the rocky desert that surrounds Marrakesh into an astonishing sea of green after only a half an hour’s drive out of the city. Argan trees have only ever grown in Morocco and are they have become a hugely important resource as the nuts harvested from the trees are composed of a natural variety of beneficial properties which has led to widespread culinary and cosmetic usage
As we venture outside of Marrakech to discover what it is that makes Argon nuts and the oil that comes from it so important, we come across one of the many Argon production co-operatives. Greeted straight from our car, we are ushered into the co-operative in a relaxed and inviting manner that contrasts the intense sales techniques of the Marrakesh souk’s.
Once inside the ladies currently working take a moment’s pause to sing us a traditional Moroccan welcome before our guide starts to explain the step by step process in which the Argan nut is collected and harvested into oil. But this is Morocco and an interesting explanation soon turns hands on as we are guided into the work shop to help the ladies at their work at each stage of production.
The real significance of this process soon becomes apparent as we learn that these production co-operatives provide employment for women in the area which support entire families. Organisations such as this which promote employment are thriving outside and in Marrakech where the charity, Henna Café provide’s quality henna tattoo’s from resident artist Fatimah whilst also offering educational classes in a number of subjects free of charge.
Take note however! We aren’t the only creatures to enjoy the delicious tastes of the Argan tree. As you drive out through the desert you may just come across the local goat’s who seem to have acquired a greater taste for the Argan oil than we have!
Although there are a myriad of restaurants, cafes and food stalls to choose from in Marrakech, your visit won’t be complete without eating out in the central square of Jemaa El Fnaa at least once. As soon as you approach the food stands don’t be surprised to see waiters competing with one another to get your attention. Those who work at the food stalls speak a host of European languages and once they’ve figured out your nationality they’ll call out TV catchphrases and news headlines from your country in an effort to put a smile on your face and entice you onto their stall. Whenever I take a five minute stroll down to the square, it usually doesn’t take long before I’m being seated by one of the salesmen, ready to try something new. Also, much like the vendors who sell orange juice, the food stalls are numbered so that once you discover your favorite location you know where to return to.
Part of what makes eating in the square of Jemaa El Fnaa different from other districts of the city is that you are directly in the heart of it all. As you sit down and choose from couscous dishes, tajines and salads you can expect to encounter salesmen weaving in and out of the stalls selling everything from traditional Moroccan confectioneries to local artwork. Eating in the very centre of Marrakech will also only set you back on average about 50 Dirhams (£3.87) making it one of the most affordable locations in the city. So when it comes to soaking up the essence of Marrakech, it’s hard to suggest somewhere that surpasses Jemaa El Fnaa. All the food on offer is cooked before your eye’s and the atmosphere within the square becomes electric as soon as the sun starts to set. Although I know the number of my favorite open air stall, I couldn’t tell you what it is! As the best and indeed only way to experience Marrakech is just to completely immerse yourself and try something new!