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Marrakech’s old town is dubbed Medina, which used to be the whole town of Marrakech in days gone by. Now it is a tourist attraction – think a huge outdoor shopping mall with anything you can imagine for sale – from handicrafts to souvenirs, shoes to lamps – every worldly imagination.
The city is intense, with small alleys, crowds, tourists and scooters all fighting their way through the old town. The locals waste no opportunity in pitching their wares to you. The Medina is comparable with Stone Town in Zanzibar, but it’s bigger and has many more aggressive sellers in its midst. This WILL be annoying and there is no way around it – you have to just keep ignoring it for hours, again and again. Not an easy task!
In contrast with Stone Town in Zanzibar, strolling through the Medina aimlessly is no fun as the toxic scooter exhausts fill the air and you will be approached hundreds of times by aggressive sellers. It’s a shame, since this place would be really pretty without these constant annoyances.
Keep in mind that Marrakech receives a huge number of (mostly) European tourists. It’s definitely not off the beaten path anymore. Huge organized groups mix with individual travelers, who are often attracted by the ultra-cheap Ryanair fares to Morocco’s Marakkech, so it’s a boon for low-cost airlines.
The Medina is confusing and a good sense of direction will be very worthwhile here. It’s also a good idea to plan your paths with Google Maps.
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This was easily the highlight of my visit to the Medina. It’s somewhat hidden along the eastern edge of the old town (just before the ‘touristy’ zone ends). It features a number of inspiring black and white photographs and video exhibitions. I found the quality of the photography shown (mainly Morocco in the 19th and 20th centuries) to be fantastic.
The jewel of this place is the terrace, though. It gives you a 360-degree view over the old town. The lunch menu is equally fantastic and I had a hard time leaving my seat after 2 hours. The service is friendly and the prices are low.
I had warm eggplant salad (more like an oily, but tasty, curry), a tomato salad, grilled chicken (in a traditional tagine) and Moroccan yogurt. Each was excellent, just that the chicken could have had more spices. It was well-cooked and came off the bone easily, but the taste was basically just cooked chicken and salt.
The entrance fee is 40 dirham, which is about $4 and the lunch menu comes in at 100 dirham ($10).
Bahia actually means ‘brilliance’ and this palace from the late 19th century is certainly trying hard to achieve it.
The trouble with the strictly Islamic buildings is that there aren’t too many ornaments left and there is also no furniture, so the Bahia Palace appears more barren than it should do in my opinion.
The Bahia Palace just had a few visitors when I was there and the entrance fee is only 10 dirham ($1) – totally worth stopping by.
This huge palace from the 16th century is now ruins that are somewhat well-preserved, with dozens of storks nesting on its walls. The palace grounds have been partially overgrown by little trees. Frankly there is not much to see here, but it’s just 10 dirham ($1) entrance fee.
I had trouble finding the palace, since the Foursquare marker is off and the locals sent me into varying directions. Try to look for an old building with high walls and keep asking people where the entrance is.
This used to be the largest religious school in Marrakech. It’s another riad, like many places in the Medina, and is essentially one building around a ‘square’. It received huge crowds when I was there and I had trouble taking any pictures without a gathering. It is in great shape and it’s fun to wander around for a couple of minutes.
I was there on a hot day, but inside the rooms felt chilly – like freezing cold. It’s an amazing way to keep the air bearable during a Moroccan summer.
The entrance fee is 20 dirham (US$2).
This is another well-restored riad, which features just a few exhibits, but none of them are likely to stay in your memory. However, the main room with a huge skylight is very pretty and a cool sight.
However, I don’t think it’s worth $5 for essentially one room and one photo opp, but you be the judge of that.
This rooftop terrace restaurant fetches great reviews from locals and tourists alike. Since it was closed when I was there, I could not see for myself if that really holds true.
This coffee shop is really a restaurant, despite its name. It features delicious and fresh Moroccan cuisine. I tried the avocado salad and the couscous, which were very fresh. At the same time, I feel that Moroccan cuisine needs some more spice. The couscous and the salad basically only had salt as an enhancer of taste. I think a couple of spices would improve the dishes a lot.
I did not like the atmosphere at the Jemaa el-Fna, as it was very touristy and noisy, but you may enjoy it. The square is a UNESCO heritage site and impossible to miss when wandering through the Medina.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
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