December 10, 2012
Morocco is a country that we have wanted to visit for quite some time. With a combination of high mountains, vast deserts and cultural sights, there is plenty to see and do. When we planned our overall Trekking the Planet journey we even considered trekking here. But in the end we chose to visit other countries. So we were happy to stop in Morocco for a day on our way west, hoping to get a taste of what the country has to offer.
Our ship docked in Casablanca, Morocco’s biggest city, with about four million inhabitants. The city’s name, which means “white house”, came from the Portuguese, who built it up in the 16th century. Not surprisingly, we noticed that the majority of the city’s structures are white. Rather than spend our time here, we opted to visit Marrakesh, which is about 150 miles south of Casablanca. The drive took about 3 ½ hours each way through a surprisingly green countryside, as we were expecting to see something more desert-like. As we approached Marrakesh, the terrain became hillier and we could begin to make out the Atlas Mountains in the distance.
Marrakesh is a fast growing city, and, as we drove through the new part of town, we saw many buildings being constructed. At the edge of the old town we began our sightseeing, first walking around the Koutoubia Minaret, which is the largest mosque in the city. It was built in the 12th century and the minaret is 253 feet (77 meters) tall.
Our next stop was more a modern place. The Bahia Palace was built between 1894 and 1900 by the then Grand Vizier of Marrakesh. Bahia means “brilliance” and contains a series of rooms decorated with beautiful frescos, carved stuccos and intricate wood ceilings. Many rooms open into courtyards containing fountains and palm trees. We found it a beautiful and peaceful place.
After lunch at a local restaurant, complete with musicians and belly dancers, we moved deeper into the old part of the city. It is located behind walls that were built in the 12th century to fortify the city. The distinct orange-red color of the clay used for these walls gives Marrakesh its nickname of the “red city.” Many of the buildings use this same color today. The area within the walled city is known as the medina and we took a few minutes to wander along its streets. Marrakesh also has Morocco’s largest traditional Berber market (or souk). The markets were fascinating to see. There was a wide variety of colorful shoes and clothing for sale and we smelled the pungent spices as we passed by those stalls.
The last stop and highlight of our short time in Marrakesh was the Djemaa-el-F`na square. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, this large square is the center of city activity with performers, salesmen, musicians and snake charmers. The cobra snakes do not look real, but they were definitely moving when we walked by them!
After a few more minutes exploring the souk area adjacent to the Djemaa-el-F`na square, we started back to Casablanca and our waiting ship. It had been a long day but we did get a little taste of Morocco, a country that is the size of California. Based on what we saw, we will return someday for a longer visit.