You cannot visit Marrakech without visiting its medina, or old city. This is comprised of the central Jemaa al Fena square, the medina itself which is the old city within the fortified walls and the market or souq. No matter how battle tested you are, this is definitely an experience for all of your senses. As you approach the old city, you will first arrive at the Jemaa al Fena Square. In Arabic, this could be translated as “Execution Square” as this is where public executions were carried out (and no, not last week, many years ago). I chose to visit in the day when the square was mostly orange juice, water, and dried fruit sellers and there were not many people. But at night this place gets crowded: snake charmers, monkeys, boys dancing, and all kinds of food including tagine, kebabs and plenty of roasted sheep’s head. And plenty of people!
The medina is where the locals live and carry on their daily activities and also there are many riads, tradtional moroccan houses where all rooms are built around a central garden. Many of these are now small hotels owned and run by Europeans. And by local accounts there are about 900,000 people living within the medina and its 19 square kilometer walls. Many of the people living in the medina do not have kitchens or running water so they must depend on community ovens (where for a monthly or weekly fee, they can have some one cook their seasoned meat or fish, roast their nuts or bake their bread) and public hammams or baths.
The medina also has a beautiful collection of doors on the older properties. Many of these doors are hundreds of years old and are made with solid wood and designed with intricate tile work. By looking at a door, one could tell not only who lived in the home, but also their social status, occupation and religion.
There are also caravan sarai which were places where the traders from the sahara desert could stop to rest, leaving their camels below in the stables and central courtyards and they would sleep upstairs.
From the medina we reach the souq or market. Besides the shops selling souvenirs, there are skilled artisans selling brass, copper and silver items, tanneries where leather is cut, cleaned, dyed and finished into beautiful leather goods and berber pharmacies where the peoplr go for their local remedies (got stomach problems, drink a tea made with natural plants, herbs and flowers-they have being doing this hundreds of years and many pharmacies are in their 5th generation of family operators.) They sell items like argan oil for the skin and hair, black soap for exfoliation, amber (as a scent and also to freshen clothes), rose hips and crystals. You name the ailment, they have a natural remedy.
There are also many shops selling dried fruit, nuts and spices.
And after a while your ears, eyes and nose will be on sensory overload and you will want to get out of here as quickly as you came. But unless you have a great memory (nearly impossible) or a guide, you are certain to get lost in this maze. Just string together a couple of of where is the central square questions every 100 yards and eventually you will find it.
But treat yourself to a horse and buggy ride back to your hotel. It is only about $10 and after this experience you deserve it!
And this will also give you great views (and photo ops) as you leave the old city!