Last Updated: 2020-08-06
We’ll start the second day checking out what to see in Marrakech (for those still getting their bearings, check out the first part of the article).
Today, we wake up as new people, no longer the naive traveler who landed in the city yesterday. We are now warriors hardened in a thousand battles. After the initial amazement at the number of motorcycles that buzz around the medina, we have now developed a sixth sense that helps us avoid them. When we get to the peddlers, our initial shy “no thanks” has become a simple, polite but firm “no”, letting them know you mean it.
Now we can enjoy a somewhat more complex itinerary, in which the flow of people increases and the streets narrow and twist. But don’t worry. With some recommendations everything will go smoothly. Let’s get started!
Point of Departure
We started the tour in the Jamaa el Fna Square, both because of its location and because I assume that you will have spent the night in one of the riads found here. I can’t think of a better way to stay in the red city. There are an infinite number and variety of unique riads with very different characteristics, one of which will suit your needs and budget.
Yesterday we toured the southside of the square, today we’ll explore the northside, crossing the souks. This is an area that is always open and in fact it deserves a whole day of wandering, photographing and haggling. This location will also prove useful as a starting point to three other places that are very close to each other.
To be honest, we might get lost sometimes, although it is easily solvable by asking anyone who, for a small tip of 10-20 dirhams, will redirect us to where we need to go (without redirecting us to their friend’s store). Of course, if we remember that the souks are arranged along a main street that later splits in two, with a little effort we can explore the area without having to ask anyone.
The first street, Rue Souk Smarine, is located at the back of the square, opposite the Koutubia, just behind a row of restaurants (for guidance, on the right is the famous Café France). Shortly after the street splits into Rue Souk Attarine and Rue Souk El Kebir. The second one leads us to our following three points of interest, so once we reach the fork in the road, we take Rue Souk Attarine and, once we have visited the souks there, we go back, this time taking the other street.
We’ll have another opportunity to talk more about this area but, by way of summary, we must always keep a mental map going while we let ourselves be surprised by the feast for all senses around us. Of course, without being noticed too much, otherwise we’ll be the bait for every shoreowner.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
Once we’ve gone through the Rue Souk El Kebir, we find ourselves in front of the Almoravid Qubba, the Marrakech Museum and the Ben Youssef Madrasa. I recommend starting with Ben Youssef Madrasa, since surely we’ll have already spent a lot of time in the souks, and later in the day the madrasa will start to fill up, so if we delay, we won’t be able to fully enjoy the solemnity of the morning.
An Islamic school is known as a madrasa (or medersa). It’s more precisely a boarding schools where some classes were given and the students were also taught in the adjoining mosque. The Ben Youssef Madrasa was the largest in all of Morocco, housing around 900 students.
One of the highlights is the central courtyard with its large pond and the surrounding arcades in the lower area (giving access to the common areas) and galleries in the upper area (leading to the student rooms). It’s decorated with engravings, mosaics and wood. It’s a masterful example of how to combine detail and elegance.
Along with the Bou Inania Madrasa in Fez, this is one of the most interesting madrasas in the whole country, and they share many design similarities. However, the one we visit today has great added value, since we can visit the student galleries located on the first floor without any problems.
Just to the right of the madrasa is the Marrakech Museum. With a hanging lamp of surprising design and generous size in its central courtyard as the centerpiece, all kinds of traditional objects are exhibited around it: jewelry, metalwork, ceramics, embroidery, etc. forming a discreet but no less interesting catalog of Moroccan culture.
It also has a hammam, for exhibition purposes only. If we’re lucky and we just need a souvenir, there might be a stand where an artist, for 20 dirhams, will write a name in Arabic for us with watercolors (obviously, in my case I asked him to put “Feel Morocco”).
Before leaving the area we visit the Almoravid Qubba, located just in front of the mosque also called Ben Youseff. The reason for this proximity is that originally it was an area for ritual bathing before prayer, also providing the city with one of its primary sources of drinking water.
Even if it’s late, it’s not an issue. The complex is semi-hidden since, over time, adjacent buildings have grown up around it. All the more reason to discover it and be amazed by one of the few testimonies of the first dynasty that reigned in Marrakech, of the work carried out inside the dome and of its advanced plumbing system.
Update: The kubba is being remodeled at this time, so it is not possible to visit it.
To end the afternoon, we take a Petit taxi or a buggy to the Majorelle Garden. Originally designed as a private area by the painter whom they’re named for, they were later opened to the public and finally acquired by the famous designer Saint Laurent.
In its facilities there is a botanical garden that houses palm trees, cacti and bamboo. Its water lily ponds and the deep blue color of its buildings offers an exquisite and timeless design in which it seems that everything has been studied to the millimeter.
We can also visit, among others, a museum, an art gallery or a café, the latter being the ideal place to make a stop along the way and discuss everything you discovered today with a traveling companion.
The Icing on the Cake
Theoretically, our visit to the city would end here, but if our wanderlust pushes us along and our legs are not yet too weak, we could dare to snatch a few more hours from the day before going to bed.
Probably our first thought would be to return to the Jamaa el-Fnaa Square and, although we could return once and again, looking for the most complete experience possible, we’ll try the nightlife in the Gueliz and Hivernage areas, since the last place we visited was in the Gueliz neighborhood.
It’s a unique opportunity to experience a different Morocco, with Marrakech being one of the best cities to check out. In fact, it’s one of the preferred places for nightlife, not only for the people of Marrakesh, but also for most of their countrymen.
We can start dining at an international restaurant and continue dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Honestly, it’s not the type of place I like to go to when I travel to Morocco, but it’s always interesting to see how Moroccans move in this type of environment. Of course, prepare your wallet because you are going to need it!
And with this second day of touring, we can say with pride that we have seen the main points of interest (though not all) that Marrakech offers. I hope that the experience leaves you wanting for more. Much love to all and see you in the next post!
If you want to know more about the city, check out our Marrakesh guide.