On the south-western side of the central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa you will discover a large post office (Poste Maroc).
Sending a postcard or letter is usually cheap, but in Morocco it is especially so. For less than 10 Dirham (around 70p) you can send a postcard to anywhere in Europe. The yellow post boxes are also found out of the front of the building; a top tip from us is that there is no international postbox, so no confusion.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is the beating heart of the Marrakech Medina and is but a 10 minute stroll from the newly opened luxury Riad Star.
Lamp’s have held a hugely high value in Moroccan architecture and design for hundreds of years and are used in all four corners of Morocco to decorate shops, restaurants and houses. Hand-crafted Moroccan lamps come in all shapes and sizes and often take a painstakingly long time to complete.
In Jemaa al-Fnaa many lamp salesmen can easily be found among the street shops that line around the edges of the central square. Though these boutiques are nameless, there is one however which specialises in traditional Moroccan lamps which is nearly impossible to miss.
After a 10 minute walk from the Riad Star towards the centre of the red city, I spot the lamp boutique and immediately images of Aladdin’s cave are conjured in my mind. I have to stoop under the array of Moroccan lanterns hanging from the shop’s ceiling, all of which are designed using different patterns, sizes and materials.
I talk to the shop keeper, who introduces himself as Omar. He explain’s that he and a friend have been in the trade of collecting lamps in Marrakech for around 10 years. He goes on to explain to me that traditional Moroccan lamps are used in the interiors and exteriors of homes and that their unique design is important to many Moroccans.
I would recommend returning to the lamp shop after the sun sets. From then it is easier to get an understanding of the unique ambiance that the Moroccan lanterns create. As the flames dance within their casings the unique patterns of each lamp are illuminated on the surrounding walls, giving the boutique a stunning and truly mysterious feel.
The Marrakech street ‘traffic’ whizzes by as young plaster carver Yussef works on a piece in his boutique in the Souk Sidi Isshak near to the Ben Yussef Medersa in central Marrakech just around the corner from Riad Cinnamon.
Youssef is a 17 years old, since he left school he has been learning this craft from his father a master plaster worker or ‘mellem gubs’.
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.