Friday 22 February 2013

Magical Marrakech

With a few days of school break, any place within close range that was warmer and dryer than England in February seemed a good destination ... but Marrakech, only 3 and a half hours flight from London, has been high on our travel wish list for ages.

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech Medina

And three and a half hours is enough to transport you to another world entirely. We arrived at night, politely turfed out of the airport taxi on the edge of the huge, busy square - 

Djemaa El Fna - in the heart of the Medina, Marrakech's ancient walled city ... 

Seller of flat-breads and donkey pulling wares

Gateway to Koutoubia Mosque and one of many snake-charmers in Djemaa El Fna

This square buzzes with life all day and all night - 

There are people on foot, donkey carts, horse-drawn caleches

 and Vespas weaving wildly, driven by men and women of all ages in all kinds of dress, from jeans to djellabas. 

There is drumming that increases in intensity as the night wears on, jostling at market stalls, the wailing of traditional Berber instruments

and smells of spicy meat cooking on open fires

We are guided through all of this by a porter on foot who has come to help with our bags, and led, dodging Vespas, through the square and then away from it, down a series of increasingly darker, winding and narrow medieval alleys.

Sidestepping scrawny cats and bits of rubbish, our kindly porter points out landmarks. Remember this mosque, this fruit stall, that door, you will need to find your way back. 

We stop finally at a low unmarked door in yet another narrow alley, through which we duck our heads and bend to enter

And find ourselves in our Riyad - a marvel of ingenious Arab architecture in which solid walls enclose an inner space that is a peaceful sanctuary ...

There's an interconnected maze of rooms and smaller courtyards 

                                        all surrounding a central inner, tree-filled courtyard.

There are private alcoves, lanterns and rose-petalled fountains.

 It is so insulated from the noise of the outside world that all you can hear here is the sound of doves, water running ... and five times a day the mournful sounds of the muezzins' calls to prayers from the city's mosques - the equivalent of southern Europe's church bells.

                                                  There is a roof terrace to catch the sun

and watch it set over the city's rooftops

with views to the Atlas mountains ...

We might never leave the Riyad. But then again, there's too much excitement waiting outside that ancient heavy door ...

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