Known as the “red city”, Marrakech was the former imperial city. It is located on the foothills of the Atlas mountain chain, and today is a major trading centre with a population of over one million.
Almoraved leader Abu Bakr Ibn Umar founded the city on the plains near the River Transift, and made it the capital of the dynasty.
Now Marrakech is the third largest city of Morocco after Casablanca (the most cosmopolitan) and Rabat (the capital of the country), but it has the largest medina (old city). The modern city was built next to it.
offers many sites including the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in the city, but only Muslims are allowed to visit it.
The median with its souk (bazaar) is the most interesting with its myriad of small shops offering everything imaginable, from artisan soaps, to wrought iron ornaments, to exotic spices, clothing, carpets even hand-made ivory combs.
You can also visit, if you have access to a local guide, a carpet factory in an old building with antique looms, The activity in such factories appears very hectic, yet outside in the medina you would never guess.
The streets are narrow and allow only humans, and four legged beats to navigate. The smells emanating from dwellings are enticing and appealing. Some eateries in the souk serve Moroccan food, but they too small for comfort, and their hygiene, in food preparation and sanitizing cutlery and dishes, is questionable at best.
If you want to buy something in the souk, or anywhere else in Morocco, you must always negotiate. Never pay the price asked at first. Start offering a little less than half of what was quoted and see where you end up. You can also walk away, and see how the merchant reacts. If he wants the sale badly if will try to get you back into the negotiation, offer you a cup of tea, or shall I say, a glass. They drink tea from specially designed glasses, and never from a china cup.
Moroccan shopkeepers are astute and seize any opportunity to sell according to their perception of where the buyer originates. Even if you have a guide you should know that most receive commissions from the sale, and will rarely, if ever, say a word when you decide to buy something.
Djemaa el fna is the central square and comes alive at night with hundreds of food stalls installed daily dawn.
To some, Djmaa el fna is the best dinner spot in Marrakech. Thousands of locals visit the place just to watch barkers of stalls attract customers. The food is safe, but you must dishes that are grilled or fried. Do not eat salads or peeled fruits. Here wise men tell stories, magicians perform their tricks, acrobats and acrobatic troops show of their skills, henna tattoo artists are always at the ready, snake charmers try to attract your attention, and sneaky little monkeys climb all over the place. During the day Djemaa el fna is a simple market place.
As a westerner, you should visit a local upscale hammam. Here you will be lathered with Moroccan black soap, thoroughly scrubbed by experienced attendants and then doused with hot water to dispose of old skin. You will leave the hammam like “new”.
offers several levels of accommodation from bed and breakfast operations, which are old retrofitted houses in the medina, to middle class hotels, to luxury where you will be pampered and fed extremely well.
Marrakech is a destination that will fascinate, and occasionally perplex the western tourist, but is well worth a visit.
Once you are in Morocco, also visit Casablanca, Rabat and resort cities on the Atlantic coast.