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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Situated close to the Royal Palace, to the southern edge of the Marrakech medina, the Agdal Gardens exists as a superb example of the architectural and landscaping skill. Covering an area of approximately 400 hectares, the garden comprises of orange, apricot, lemon, fig, and pomegranate trees in rectangular plots, all conjoined by olive-tree lined walkways.
The productive orchards of the Agdal Gardens are irrigated using water brought from the Ourika Valley in the Atlas Mountains by an intricate network of underground pools, channels and ditches known as khettera. This network dates back to the 12th and was an amazing feat of engineering.
The gardens were created in 1157 by Abd al-Mu’min of the Almohad dynasty at the same time as the nearby Menara Gardens. As founder of the Almohad capital in Marrakech, Abd al-Mu’min undertook many significant building projects in the city between 1147 and his death in 1163. They were renovated by the Saadi dynasty and then enlarged during the reign of Moulay Abderrahmane in the 19th century. From 1985 the Agdal Gardens were listed as a World Heritage Site in 1985 alongside the medina of Marrakech and the Menara Gardens.
The name “Agdal” comes from the Berber language and means “walled meadow” as the gardens were once surrounded by a large pisé walls. Today, the Agdal Gardens are open to the public and free to visit from 9am to 6pm only on Friday and Sunday. It is possible to reach the gardens on foot, but our riad staff would be more than happy to help arrange transport if you would prefer to take a taxi or a calèche.
As they are situated to the South of the Marrakech Medina, they are closest to our Raid Dar Habiba. However, all our luxury Raids are located in the heart of the Ancient Marrakech Medina and function as perfect bases from which to explore the red city.
Across the Marrakech Medina, almost on every derb (street), there are many small stalls selling a variety of food from home cooked bread to dried fruit. Indeed, each stall specialises in a different food-type and many sell fresh fruit sourced from the local Marrakech area. It is undoubtedly true that the summer months (July to September) the Fig de Barbarie is the most popular fruit among locals. However during the winter months, when the famous fig is out of season, the Mandarin Orange reigns as the most popular fruit snack.
The mandarin is tender and is damaged easily by cold and can only be grown in tropical and subtropical areas. This is why the mandarin, and indeed most fruits, suits the warm Marrakech climate perfectly. The mandarin is part of the orange family, yet it remains smaller and easier to peel than a normal orange, making it the perfect street snack. Like all members of the citrus family, they provide a boost of vitamins, minerals and natural sugars, giving a healthy natural energy to fuel your walk around the Medina.
These small fruit stalls are used by locals and tourists alike and we highly recommend you take a visit. The local stall sellers are always friendly and happy to help you make your purchase and the fruit is always fresh, healthy and safe to eat.
Although you can also find fresh fruit on every street in the red city, our luxury Riads also serve fresh fruit at breakfast and for snacks during the day upon request. So, why not book a stay at one of our traditional Moroccan accommodation today?
Set off the famous Jemaa el Fna Square, Passage Prince Moulay Rachid – or Le Prince Street as it is known to the locals – is one of the most popular streets in the Marrakech Medina. The street connects the main square to the south of the Medina including the long distance taxi rank, the El Badi Palace and the Saadian Tombs and is a vital passageway for those exploring Marrakech on foot both during the day and after nightfall.
The atmosphere of ‘Le Prince Street’ is not dissimilar from Las Ramblas in Barcelona: the wide pedestrian is lined with affordable roof terrace restaurants, coffee shops and small trading stalls selling a variety of the less traditional Marrakech souvenirs.
At night, the street comes alive with locals and tourists flocking to the main Jemaa el Fnaa Square. Marrakchi Del Boys set up small stalls selling children’s toys, cheap clothes and yet more souvenirs. Indeed, although Passage Prince Moulay Rachid is more commonly functions as a passage rather than a destination in itself, it is still an interesting addition to the ever-evolving cultural history of Marrakech.
The Berbers are a people ethnically indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. The Berber’s rich cultural history dates back to prehistoric times, over 4000 years ago! Their long recorded influence affected commerce by establishing trading routes between the West African and the Sub-Saharan region where they transported goods from beyond the Sahara desert to the Northern Moroccan cities. Indeed, the Berber identity is usually wider than language, craft and ethnicity; it encompasses the entire history and geography of North Africa and Morocco.
Today, it is still possible to still find many traditional Berber settlements in the mountains of Morocco. Although the Berber people do not live exclusively in rural settlements, these communities offer an interesting insight into the Berber tradition and history. So, when we were invited to visit a traditional Berber Village during our excursion to the village of Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains, we just could not pass on the opportunity.
It had taken us around an hour to reach the village from Marrakech, but the two were worlds apart. The village we had arrived at stood as a cluster of pisé homes carved into the hillside, set to the backdrop of the majestic Atlas Mountains. The Berbers call the Atlas range idraren draren, “The Mountains of Mountains”, and it is easy to see why. The Atlas Mountains stood tall as an unmoving monument, towering over dozens of small Berber communities. The scene was marked by a prevailing silence and an overwhelming stillness; two luxuries rarely found in the vibrant medina of Marrakech.
As we ascended up the narrow pathway lined with clay houses, our tread was delicate as if not to disturb the ambience of scene. That is not to say that we were not or did not feel welcome; instead, our silence was partially a feeling of awe and amazement, and partially an attempt to witness the everyday Berber life unnoticed, so to capture a glimpse of the local community in a way that was as pure as possible. Indeed, the Berber people are renowned for being their hospitality and we were invited into a small home and offered to share a glass of famous Moroccan mint tea. After, we were given a tour of the settlement and had an opportunity to ask our hosts any questions about Berber life. We only visited the village for around 20 minutes, but this experience will stay with us for a lot longer.
When you visit the Souks of Marrakech, you will find many examples of Berber craftsmanship from the stunning silver Tuareg and Amazigh jewellery to handmade Berber rugs. However, if you want to learn more about the authentic Berber way of life, we highly recommend a trip to a traditional Berber village as part of an excursion to Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains.
Our experienced Riad staff are on hand to organise any trips or excursions you wish to take. Our luxury Riads act as the perfect base to explore the Marrakech medina, the Atlas Mountains (including Imlil and the Berber Villages) and beyond.
Running from the 15th January 2015 to the 10th February 2015 Marrakech’s world famous Jemaa el Fnaa square hosted a book exposition hosted by ‘Club Culturel Mohamed Abed Al Jabal Marrakech’.
The late Mohamed Abed Al-Jabri (1935-2010) is a popular Moroccan philosopher who specialised in considering the convergence of tradition and modernity in the contemporary Muslim world. It is fitting, then, that his legacy shall be cemented in celebrations of knowledge and the sharing of knowledge in events such as this Book Exposition. Similarly, it is also apt that such an event be held in the central square in Marrakech; the Jemaa el Fna square is historically a place of oral storytelling, an art still practiced today.
The ‘Club Culturel Mohamed Abed Al Jabal’ book exposition runs until the 10th February. However, if you are traveling to Marrakech after this date then fear not, you have not missed out. There is always so many unique things to do and interesting things to see in Marrakech and, as always, we highly recommend a visit to the world famous Jemaa el Fnaa square
Calligraphy, known as Khatt in Arabic, is very much part of the Arab identity. On your trip to Marrakech, you will see that it is all around you: on shop signs, newspapers, books and advertising. It has become a way of communicating through art. We met up with Nour-Eddine Boukheir, a traditionally trained calligrapher, who revealed some of the secrets of this historic artistic practice.
Nour-Eddine Boukheir explained that calligraphy is often still taught in the traditional way; there is a master and pupil relationship. The apprentice learns with the master, who is part of a long line of calligraphers that goes back many centuries. He went on to explain that you first of all have to learn how to write single letters in the major style of script, before you graduate to learning phrases and techniques of joining these letters together. With so much to learn about the use of colour, the type of paper and ink, the marrying of text with theme and the size of lettering, mastering the art of calligraphy becomes a life-long process of discovery and practice.
Although there exists a plethora of regional styles and modern examples, Arabic calligraphy divides down into two main styles – Kufic and Naskh. Kufic is the oldest form of the Arabic script and was developed around the end of the 7th century. Although there are no set rules of using the Kufic script, the style emphasizes rigid and angular strokes. Due to the lack of a singular domineering method, the scripts often vary greatly in different regions and countries, ranging from very square and rigid forms to flowery and decorative.
In contrast, the Naskh script is highly disciplined, with systematic rules and proportions for shaping the letters. Noticeably more cursive and elegant, the Naskh script is perhaps the most ubiquitous style and is used in Qur’ans, official decrees, and private correspondence.
On your trip to Marrakech it is possible to find many examples of beautiful calligraphy: from the carvings at Ben Yousef Medersa, to the inscribed artisanal products offered in the souls, we are sure you will fall in love with this ancient craft.
During an excursion to the village of Imlil in the Atlas Mountains, our driver suggested a stop off at Kasbah Tamadot. Kasbah Tamadot is Sir Richard Branson’s Moroccan retreat, based high in the Atlas Mountains boasting magnificent views, amazing architecture, beautiful gardens and an incredible showcase of Moroccan inspired interior design.
A night’s stay in the hotel’s cheapest room, the ‘Superior Room’, starts at 5975 Moroccan Dirham (about £430), way out of most people’s budget. However, the kind hosts at Kasbah Tamadot are happy to show you around their luxury residence. Initially, it feels strange to take a tour around a working hotel, but soon you realise that Tamadot is well worth a short visit en route to the mountains.
Although we wouldn’t suggest a trip up into the Atlas Mountains to take a tour around Kasbah Tamadot, here at Marrakech Raid, we highly recommend a trip to the Atlas Mountains for their spectacular views and unprecedented insight into rural Berber life. Indeed, we highly recommend that during your trip to Imlil, you suggest a stop at this luxury hotel to take in the views and a few interior design ideas for the scrapbook.
Our luxury Riads offer a similar level of luxury, albeit at a more affordable price and in a more central location, in the heart of the Marrakech Medina. Furthermore, just like Tamadot we also offer a personalized service in traditional settings, so why not book a stay at one of our luxury riad’s today.
Marrakech’s new town, Gueliz, is home to some of Morocco’s best fine art schools and cutting-edge galleries. Hidden down a leafy road, facing Marrakech’s new Carre Eden Shopping Plaza, the David Bloch Gallery is perhaps one of the best examples of Marrakech’s rising contemporary art scene.
In the style of a New York loft, the David Bloch Gallery space is presented with a minimal and clean design and displays a wide range of contemporary art styles.
In recent exhibitions, the gallery space has exhibited sculpture from Steph Cop, photography from the world famous travel photographer Steve McCurry and a wide range of abstract and contemporary art. The art changes frequently and is always impressive, always cutting edge and, furthermore, the gallery is always free to visit!
The David Bloch Gallery is open daily from 10:30 to 13:30 and from 15:30 to 19:30, except Sunday and Monday morning.
Opened in the Spring of 2014, Café Clock is the baby of Englishman Mike Richardson. It is the sister of Mike’s well-respected Café Clock in the Medina of Fez, and the Marrakech café has already gained a cult following here in the red city.
Expect reasonably priced food and drinks in relaxed surroundings. Our menu highlights are the unique Camel burger and the delicious Almond milkshake, which, with no exaggeration, is perhaps the best milkshake we have ever tried.
The café describes itself as a ‘cross-cultural zone’ and rightly so. The café’s walls are covered with an ever-changing exhibition of local modern art – talent that is not always given a platform in Marrakech – and most evenings there are performances from bands, traditional musicians or storytellers. Café Clock is truly one of the highlights of the fashionable Kasbah district, a definite must-visit for the adventurous traveller.
Café Clock is open every day of the week. Breakfast is served daily from 10h00, last orders for dinner by 22h00.
Marrakech is a city that is full of interesting sights, there are a lot of fascinating things to do and unique places to explore; but very few places are as interesting, as fascinating or as unique as Chez Monsieur Michelin, a small boutique selling products made from recycled tires and inner-tubes.
As we entered the boutique we were met by Monsieur Michelin himself Thierry Coudert, a well-travelled Frenchman with a lot of stories to tell and a certain willingness to tell them. He explained that he first recognised the versatility of recycled tires and inner-tubes when living in Benin, a small country at the base of Western Africa. After moving to Marrakech, he decided to set up a small business utilising this newfound knowledge. The items Thierry and his team make are unique, quite unlike anything we have seen before: the glossy black finish of the recycled inner tubes and reclaimed tires are not dissimilar to a faux-leather effect, but with a softer, smoother feel and the products are very well made and immaculately finished.
Thierry explained that he sources the recycled and reclaimed rubber from a variety of sources: bicycle inner-tubes are collected from locals and local workshops; larger inner-tubes are sourced from aeroplanes at the local Menara airport and he travels to Agadir to collect larger tractor tires. From this, each different material is used for a custom-made use: the bike inner-tube becomes smaller jewellery items like earrings; the larger inner-tubes are stitched together to make bags and sometimes even clothes and the larger tractor tires are used for a variety of items, most ingeniously the soles of handmade sandals.
All the products are made in his workshop, here in the Marrakech medina, before being transported to his boutique for final adjustments. Thiery told us that, in his workshop, he mainly employ students and women who need a job to support themselves in order to help those within the community who struggle the most.
Chez Monsieur Michelin is located towards the end of the ‘Needle and Thread’ Medina Walk on the free MarrakechRiad app. The boutique is well worth a visit, to witness the ways in which the traditional needle and thread techniques have been reimagined for the modern world and the unique way in which one person’s waste can be remade into another person’s treasure. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Needle and Thread’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
In Moroccan society, very little goes to waste: raw scrap materials are re-used and recycled; leftover food is often donated to the poor and if something is broken it is always repaired and fixed. Perhaps these decisions are not always environmentally focused, but it is nice to see a society that would rather recycle, re-use and repair than replace. One such example of this ideology is a small boutique to the north of the Souks, just off the ‘Iron and Clay’ Medina walk on the Marrakech Riad app.
Whilst strolling through the Souks we were invited by Hamid, the shop’s owner, to take a look at the items he had for sale. He promised us something special and unique, something ‘unlike anything we had seen in Marrakech’. Although he was very friendly and welcoming, we were reluctant to enter his shop and expected the regular tourist spiel. However, after entering, we were pleasantly surprised with what the shop had to offer and we have to agree, his products were pretty unique.
Hamid picked up an old Nutella jar in his one hand and a glass container for cotton wool decorated with a delicate white iron case and matching lid. ‘Look’, he said, ‘can you see the difference?’ He then took off the ornate metal casing, and explained that this container had started it’s life as a jar of Nutella. Although it was not immediately obvious, everything he had for sale was an ingenious mix of recycled glass with traditional artisanal metalwork decoration. He then went through all his products, disassembling the item to explain how the glass had either been cut or the bottle’s lid had been utilised to fit the new purpose: there was an old olive oil jar had been ingeniously remade into a beautiful candleholder, a used medicine bottle that had been reincarnated as an ornately decorated bottle for cosmetics and a used perfume bottles that had been decorated with delicate white iron metal.
Hamid explained that he used to be an engineer – at one point living and working in England – but moved back to Marrakech to start his own business, as he wanted to work for himself. Initially the reclaimed glass was sourced for free, but as his business has grown he has had to approach larger recycling centres to buy the jars and bottles in bulk. He now owns 3 shops around the Medina and exports his products around the world, across Europe and beyond. However, everything is still hand-made by specially trained artisans in the Marrakech Medina, using traditional metalwork techniques to beautifully sculpt and design the white iron.
Hamid’s shop is located just off the ‘Iron and Clay’ Medina Walk on the free MarrakechRiad app; but it is well worth the short detour, especially if you are interested in bringing home a special memory of Morocco. Indeed, Hamid’s shop is the perfect destination to purchase a unique holiday gift or a special travel souvenir: his products are fairly inexpensive, very well made and, perhaps most importantly, good for the environment. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Iron and Clay’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
Although Marrakech is often known as ‘The Red City’ thanks to the pisé-cement Ramparts that surround the old town, once you enter the Medina it becomes clear that Marrakech actually holds a multitude of vibrant and bright colours. One such colour is the distinctive and infamously unique Majorelle Blue.
In 1924 the French artist Jacques Majorelle constructed the spectacular Majorelle Gardens, which is perhaps our favourite attraction in Marrakech. Within his garden, later purchased by Yves St. Laurent, Jacques Majorelle painted the garden walls, fountains and Riad, which now stands as the Berber Museum, in a distinct blue pigment. Indeed this clear, fresh, intense blue was so unique that the colour became trademarked under the (slightly egotistical) name Majorelle Blue. However, the colour was not simply a new creation for the Majorelle Gardens project. The inspiration for this colour came in the cobalt blue used in traditional Moroccan tiles, the majestic indigo found decorating the windows of Moroccan Kasbahs and the bright blue seen in the veils of the Tuareg tribe and Berber burnouses.
Jacques Majorelle’s pigment can also be traced back to the dazzling Ultramarine Blue of the lapis lazuli stones. In the 15th century lapis lazuli was a rare, hard stone that could only be found in a the mines of Badakhshan along the shores of the upper Oxus, known as modern-day Afghanistan. Once it was introduced to Europe via Venice, the Ultramarine Blue of the lapis lazuli quickly became more expensive than gold. It was so precious that, at one point, the Catholic Church even restricted the use of the colour blue to religious paintings depicting Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In his garden Majorelle combined his Ultramarine-influenced blue with hints of yellow in a way that resembles a blue lapis lazuli stone flecked with it’s yellow iron pyrites in an attempt to develop a modern pigment that mimicked the lapis of antiquity.
Although the azure essence of this unique Majorelle blue has, in turn, gone on to inspire a plethora of architects, artists and designers around the world, nothing beats seeing the dazzling colour in it’s birthplace. The Majorelle Gardens are a must-see for anyone visiting Marrakech. Perhaps, in this way, the Majorelle Blue itself is also a must-see for anyone visiting Marrakech.
Dotted around the Medina in Marrakech is what at first glance looks merely like rundown household 70s tiled kitchens but be mistaken as they hold the source of a simple street food that feeds a large selection of the Marrakech population.
A large bowl of cooked potato’s and a separate dish of eggs make the basis of this wonderfully simple but delicious traditional meal. For 5 Dirhams (0.35p) you receive a sandwich that melts in your mouth. Freshly baked bread, delivered on motorbikes with enormous attached wicker baskets on their rear, populates these stalls several times throughout the day. These are filled in front of you with recently cooked hot potato and your choice of free range of warehouse eggs, with the addition of cream cheese if requested. Topped off with a helpful drizzling of beautiful fragrant olive oil and cumin, this is a Moroccan street food treat at its most basic level.
Visit number 110 (pictured) in the Jemaa El Fna mobile restaurant market for a more vibrant sit down culinary experience among the countless hungry locals. Although costing slightly more, 8 Dirhams/ 0.60p, this is the best place to feast on these Moroccan sandwich delicacies. You will not be disappointed.