In amongst some Cotswolds trips, I’ve got a few posts about our trips last Autumn which I wrote before we got married and never quite got round to posting. So here’s one from Marrakesh…
We dedicated a whole day to wandering around Marrakesh’s souqs – it is inevitable that you will get lost in the back streets and alleyways that criss-cross the medina. Qissaria are the smaller streets that link souqs and often remain nameless, they’re filled with storerooms and artisanal cubby holes. Amongst the qissariat, you will lose your sense of direction, but will always reach a main souk eventually.
It is quite difficult to walk through the souks, without engaging with every shop owner, who will attempt to entice you in with a cheery hello in about ten different languages. I can’t begin to describe the route we took, but it’s easy to become absorbed in the hustle.
My dad’s attention was caught by a true artisan, carving chess pieces out of lemon wood using a bow lathe surrounded by ebony chess boards spilling out onto the street from the shop behind. Pictures of the craftsmen meeting Morocco’s royalty and official artisan government certificates hung proudly on the wall and his son bartered with my dad over a chessboard, an intricate puzzle box and a finely inlaid wood tray, all made by the shop owner who had started his training aged eight. Dad promised to return for a chess match – that is, if we could ever find the shop again.
Outside the shop the alleyway was no wider than a large kitchen table and I watched a donkey pulling a year’s worth of pomegranates trotting by; a car squeezing down the road; and a group of kids who received a clout round the head for dropping the leaves of a piece of fruit he was eating outside a shop owner’s doorstep. Life in this part of Marrakesh felt very ancient indeed.
The souks business model was quite fascinating and are grouped by product. So the babouches souk is filled with stalls selling rows of brightly coloured leather slippers, so many it overwhelms the eye. The spice souk is the same with piles of turmeric, cumin and salt piled high and pinches of valuable saffron stored in exotic jars. Who buys spices in such quantities? Even if every tourist took home a kilo of cumin at a time, there’d still be enough to feed the country.
Ali ben Youssef Medersa
In all the craziness, lies the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, founded in the 14th century by the Merenid dynasty. It was the Saadien sultan’s, who never afraid of a building project richly decorated this learning institution. It was once the largest Quranic learning centre in North Africa, it is today one of the best examples of the Islamic arts.
PIN ME FOR LATER
Up to 900 students would come here to study religious texts and would be inspired by the courtyards majestic decor, with Hispano-Moorish ornamentation, including zellij – ceramic tile mosaics. Here students would have spent their day bowing their heads over legal edicts and Quranic verses, before heading to the distinctly stark and poky dormitories, where each stark room had one small window glimpsing the luxurious courtyard below.