Anyone who has visited Marrakech will probably tell stories of the cats and kittens that inhabit the streets of the ancient medina. Every derb (street) you walk down you see family of cats resting in the shade, a cute kitten lapping up some water or a lone cat sneaking around the corner. Even some of Marrakech’s main tourist attractions – such as El Badi Palace, Saadian Tombs or the Menara Gardens – are inhabited by lots of furry felines.
However, unlike our household friends, the cats of Marrakech are street cats. Although they are fed, watered and cared for by the locals, yet don’t entirely exist as pets in the way we consider cats. (Indeed, our riad staff often give the street cats water and leftovers!!) In this way the Marrakech cats are a lot more independent and more carefree than the cats we know and love.
Just as everywhere in the world, the cats and kittens of Marrakech divide opinion. Some love the cats and find them cute and adorable, while others aren’t so interested and would rather keep their distance. This rule applied for both tourists and locals alike. Yet, due to the independent nature of the cats of Marrakech are not used to attention and will probably shy away from a loving hand. Similarly, if cats aren’t your cup of tea – or rather, your cup of mint tea – then it is quite easy to avoid them.
Ultimately, whatever you think about them, the cats and kittens of the medina are genuine Marrakchi locals and are just one of the many things which makes the red city such a unique and interesting place to visit. Why not book at stay at our luxury riads today?
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All around the world Morocco is famous for it’s carpets and many travellers land in Marrakech in search of a quality piece of authentic craftwork. But it is rare to find a carpet seller who sells quality products, at fixed prices, without the tourist-spiel. However, the El Wifak Carpet Cooperative, located in the Ensemble Artisanal in Marrakech’s Medina, is one such place.
Located just a five minute walk from the Koutoubia Mosque and Jemaa el-Fna, the Ensemble Artisanal is the antithesis of the Souks: the atmosphere is relaxed and the prices are fixed, so no haggling!! Whilst looking through the many shops at the Ensemble Artisanal, we stumbled across the El Wifak Carpet Cooperative and were welcomed by Mustapha Alaoui; who happily spent over half an hour with us talking about carpets, the cooperative and his life.
Mustapha told us that he used to work in the government’s department for Artisanal craftwork, checking the quality of carpets and grading them based on various criteria. It quickly became clear that this man had a strong passion for and a large knowledge of traditional Moroccan carpets; a passion and knowledge he was enthusiastic to share. He explained that, the historic isolation of rural communities meant that peoples of different areas developed very individual styles. He continued to explain that El Wifak sold three kinds of carpet: Berber ‘Kilim’ carpets, used for throws, rugs or hung on walls, Tapestry carpets, made from wool and Arabic carpets, also made from wool, which tended to be bigger in size. Where the ‘Kilim’ carpets were made in the Atlas Mountains in Berber villages, both the Tapestry and Arabic carpets are made by the El Wifak Cooperative.
El Wifak, Arabic for sharing equally or a group of people in agreement, consists of around 70 women who make the carpets sold in the shop. (Traditionally, in Morocco, women make carpets and pottery whilst Men make jewelry and metal utensils.) The most important this about the cooperative is that everyone profits from all these sales are shared equally and everyone benefits. So, if you are looking for a quality product from a reputable source, if you are looking for an ethically sourced souvenir, or even if you are just put off by haggling in the Souks then this is the place for you.
The Ensemble Artisanal and the El Wifak Cooperative is located at the start (or the end, depending which way round you walk) of the ‘Needle and Thread’ Medina Walk available for free MarrakechRiad app. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Woodworking’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
In the North-Eastern reaches of the ancient central square of Marrakech between Souk Semmarine and Café de France you will discover Souk el Bahja.
Meaning literally ‘up and down’ in the Moroccan Darija dialect of Arabic, Souk el Bahja gets its name from the three floors of iron stairs that allow you to traverse through the labyrinthine market district.
Souk el Bahja is ancient and traditional market district which specialises in female clothing and jewellery. Everything from bracelets to wedding rings can be found here, and the vast amount of jewellery on offer has earned the Souk the nickname the ‘place of lovers’ amongst locals.
Lose yourself in Souk el Bahja and the many others like it on a trip to the red city today by staying in any one of our four luxury Riad Hotels, all located in the very heart of the Marrakech Medina.
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!
We are grateful to our guests at our Riad hotels who have been wonderfully supportive recommending us to family and friends. With so few rooms at each Riad we have, more often than we would have liked, had to explain that we were fully booked for returning guests preferred dates. It seems our Marrakech Riads are not such a well kept secret as they used to be.
It was not easy finding for the right Riad to ‘join the family’ a painstaking process since, as one of our Moroccan friends puts it, ‘you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince!’ Eventually, after years of searching we were thrilled to find a beautiful light spacious Riad in the Central Medina with delightful features including intricately carved plaster decoration and Cedar woodwork in an Art Deco style. We instinctively loved the blend of European and Moroccan architecture and it was impossible to miss a quality of craftsmanship the full significance of which was only to become clear later. Of course the house needed more than a little TLC after years of neglect but there was no doubt about it we had found a STAR so the day we got the keys we lost no time registering the name Riad Star with the Marrakech authorities.
Our central medina district is full of history. Guests at Riad Cinnamon enjoy the luxury of staying only a few hundred metres from three of the most important monuments in Marrakech, the Almoravid Kouba (believed to be the oldest building in the Medina), the Koranic School or Medersa attached to the Ben Yussef Mosque and the Marrakech Museum.
The history of the Museum is fascinating, built as a Palace in classic Andalusian style (the history of North Africa and Southern Spain being inextricably intertwined) it was only recently restored as a museum which opened in 1997. In fact the Palace complex extended further to the north than the current museum and included what are now a number of elegant independent dwellings accessed from Derb Alilich our newly discovered Riad Star being one of them.
Meeting our new neighbours was a delight, they were kind enough to show us inside their homes, atmospheric Riad courtyards with elegant proportions and suites of rooms decorated with zellige of Fez tiles under cedar wood ceilings. It was talking to a neighbour that we made an amazing discovery. ‘Did you know that a big star used to live in your house?’ Our new friend, born in the street but now retired explained that in the 1940’s when Pachah Thami El Glaoui was at the hight of his powers the Palace that is now the museum belonged to the Pachah’s family and the renowned Josephine Baker lived in the Palace complex. Miss Baker’s life story is truly remarkable, she rose rapidly from humble beginnings in St Louis, Missouri to superstardom in Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s becoming a French national and distinguishing herself in the French Resistance as well as the American civil rights movement. Fame and status notwithstanding it is for her human warmth that Josephine is remembered in Derb Alilich. The following short film dating from many years later in 1974 gives a glimpse of possibly why.
The Marrakech Dyers Souk is located in the central medina just a few minutes walk from our Marrakech Riads. Traditional natural dyes are prepared by hand each day by skilled craftsmen using ancient techniques handed down through the generations.The souk is bright and colourful as the hot Marrakech sun drys freshly dyed yarn hanging overhead. A Riad in the ancient medina is the perfect base for your Marrakech break. Reserve accommodation today!