One evocative sound during our time in Marrakech was the haunting call to prayer. Half a dozen mosques’ minarets poked above the rooftops within earshot of our riad, so each day before dawn and at sunset when we were in the room we heard several competing calls to prayer echoing in the cool air.
Over the next couple of days we toured most of Marrakech’s famous sights, including the Ben Youssef Madrassa (or Koranic school) with its 132 tiny rooms for students, as well as the beautifully restored palace now housing the Dar Si Said Museum, the exteriors of the Koutoubia and Kasbah mosques, the Museum of Marrakech and more.
We were most impressed by the Bahia Palace originally built by a grand vizier at the end of the 19th century. The buildings had stunning mosaics and enormous arched doorways, each room adorned differently with the most incredibly carved and painted cedar ceilings. It is almost as if the Moroccan approach to interiors is to mirror the beautiful carpets on the floor with a carpet of wood above.
We also saw the ruins of the El Badi Palace, which was built in the 16th century but later plundered of its treasures by another brutal moulay, Ismail the Bloodthirsty, who came to power in 1672 and proceeded to cart off much of the marble, gold, ceilings and doors to Meknes. Stripped of the ornate plasterwork and mosaics that once decorated the palace, today the exposed scaffolding-holes that dot the crumbling walls give it a graham cracker appearance. Moulay Ismail spared the city’s Saadian Tombs from destruction due to superstition, instead sealing off access to them where they were forgotten until being re-discovered in 1917. Happily for us today, Ismail unwittingly preserved these marble tombs and the highly ornate mausoleums that house them through his act of cementing the entrances shut.
Another sight we enjoyed was Jardin Majorelle in the middle of town. Designer Yves St. Laurent turned the studio and gardens of French painter Jacque Majorelle into a museum of Islamic art. The vivid blue building with bright yellow accents now houses some works from St. Laurent’s personal collection, and the garden explodes with fountains, pools, pottery, and desert and tropical plants.
In closing, I have to say that Marrakech, and Morocco in general, is a photographer’s dream. The architecture, the markets, the people, the natural scenery and the interior décor are so picture-worthy you can get carried away very quickly. And we did. One image we missed capturing because we just weren’t quick enough was the motorcycle egg-deliveryman. Guys on scooters raced through crowded, narrow alleys loaded with open stacks of flimsy egg crates while I held my breath and hoped a small child wouldn’t dart out just as they’re passing a stall selling tea glasses.