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To the Kasbah, the Saadian tombs and El Bahia palace

Home -> Africa -> Morocco -> Travelogue Morocco -> 09 September 2003

Tuesday 09 September, to the Kasbah, the Saadian tombs and El Bahia palace

Our 'jetlag' is totally over now, but still we sleep in. After breakfast, which is fine except for the coffee, we take a cab to the kasbah in the southern Medina. Teije is arguing already with the cabdriver and I cannot always tell whether it is a serious quarrel or just normal negotiations. I just want to walk away when he gets into the cab and I have to be quick before the cabdriver takes off (that is what they do: taking off instead quietly starting to drive).
Saadian tombs in the kasbahFirst we visit the Saadian tombs where hundreds of family members of the dynasty's sultans are buried in the 16th century. The tombs were sealed off in the 17th century and only rediscovered in 1917. Now one can see a small garden with a series of chambers around it, which have been decorated with carved cedar and plaster.
We are clearly not the only tourists here, there are hundreds occupying the whole space in the garden.
The temperature has risen quickly to almost 40 degrees. I love high temperatures, but nevertheless we have to slow down now and then, especially on the long walks. Fortunately, the heat is very dry so sweat evaporates quickly and we don't feel so dirty.
El Mansour mosqueThe mosque of el Mansour is almost 900 years old, but as non-muslims we are not allowed inside. It is also called the Kasbah Mosque. A kasbah is a fortified village or stronghold, like we have our medieval castles.
Fish at the marketOn this part of the Medina there are also some souks and it is very easy to get lost in the jungle of small alleys. We are overwhelmed by the impressions and I just don't know where to look first. I also don't want to look too long at a certain shop otherwise they might think I want to buy something. To the right a fish dealer who has his fish in the open without any refrigeration. I like raw herring, but not here. This culture is really totally different from what we are used too.
Royal palace, Dar al-Makhzen Royal palace, Dar al-MakhzenWe expect every moment to see a coffee bar, but there aren't any in this area. We walk and walk, in the intense sunlight, all the southern way along the royal palace (Dar el-Makhzen) where Hassan II (the deceased king) often lived. His son, the present king Mohammed VI, spend quite a lot of money building a new palace. Yet, we are being turned away by the guards when we walk towards the gate.
Opposite of the palace are the extensive Agdal Gardens, established in the 12th century. On the 400 hectare large area are olive, orange and pomegranate trees and also pavilions and pools. We now shamble on to the east, but we really are in need of something to drink. We have forgotten to bring a bottle of water, very careless. Finally a taxidriver halts who is willing to take us for 10 dirham. A Moroccon woman in the cab gets angry because we have to pay so much for a short ride and tells us that we should insist that he let us pay the price on the taximeter. Well, 10 dirham is only € 1 and the real price is about 6 dirham, so we don't care too much.
Square with palmtreesWe get out of the cab at the Qzadria square, in fact two small squares with lots of palmtrees, next to the El Badi (the unforgettable) palace. It was build in 1593 but had been demolished within 100 years, since a new dynasty came to power which didn't choose Marrakech as their capital. Only the walls are still standing. On the roof terrace of Café Palais el-Badi we have a perfect seat with our heads in the (warm) wind and we order drink after drink to revive a bit. Now and then a stork flies by; they have their nests on the palace walls.
We have a great view on the palm gardens on the square and the hustle on the streets. Everything and everyone seems to make noise, honking and shouting, it is amazing. People often shout to each other about the other's incapability to drive (well, that is what we assume) but it never gets out of hand. When a real confrontation seems to be on hand, an outsider interferes and appeases the persons involved.
El Bahia palaceAfter a long break we walk a bit further to the Bahia Palace, which covers an extensive surface. It is a maze of corridors, passageways, patio's and empty chambers with painted ceilings and mosaic decorations. It was build at the end of the 19th century by Vizier Ba Ahmed Ben Moussa (a former slave) for his 4 wifes, 24 concubines and the countless children. I wouldn't have liked it, even though it looks wonderful with all the decorations. I think the women will have experienced it as a sort of luxurious prison, but a prison anyhow.
El Bahia palace El Bahia palaceIt is nice and cool on the many patio's within the palace: there are fountains and much shade under the trees. Naturally, I am looking for palmtree seeds but it is not really the right season. We find some pits that we take. One never knows.
After this visit we roam further to the north, through the small streets. I would never find my way back, here. We pass by two museums but they are both closed on tuesday. Maybe Teije knows how to find them back later. There are no souks or shops here, just very simple houses made of clay where the people live. It all looks very poor and I almost feel ashamed that I walk here as a rich tourist. To this people almost everybody from Western Europe must seem very rich. Therefore we have decided to give some money to beggars every day, especially to handicapped people. Not only out of pity but also because it is an Islamic tradition: it is one of the 5 rules in Islam to give alms when one has the resources. It is a good rule, we think.
There are a few relief organisations and centres but they seem also to be more like prisons to the people who need help, since they don't come out on the streets anymore. So, we can imagine that a lot of beggars choose to live on the street, maybe it gives them some sense of freedom, even when they are dependant on the generosity of others.
Elisabeth on a roof garden near Jemaa el-FnaEventually we end on Jemaa el Fna square in the centre of the Medina, the old town. Here we stay the rest of the afternoon to watch and enjoy the spectacle on the place. Tourists being caught by snake charmers and monkey tamers, the locals who do their shopping and all the traffic that tries to find it's way through the crowds. From the square music swirls up to us, from the snake charmers, the mosques and from the other musicians. It is one big chaos and we can sit here for hours watching it all happen. The Unesco has declared this area an 'oral heritage of humanity'; maybe the description 'audible heritage' is better.
At sunset it really gets crowded on the square, but we have walked and seen so much today that we are tired of all impressions and we decide to visit the square another time in the evening. Despite whining police officers we take a cab back to the hotel. The police officers say the cab isn't allowed to stop at the place where we stand. Why not? Everybody just does as he pleases on the roads here, we remark.
Palmtree seen from our balconyA cold shower would be nice, now, but the water is warm. From our balcony we have view on this majestic palmtree, but also on the roofs of houses that look like ruins. Considering all the satellite dishes we see all houses are inhabited. It is to hot to sit outside on the balcony although Teije tries it for an hour and then enters the room all sweaty.
At night we walk through Gueliz, the modern centre of Marrakech. But even here there are many beggars, many of them children. Poor and rich people live here together, almost incomprehensible for us.
At Charly's Cabana we have soup and couscous, a very large plate, but also very tasty. Six roads cross the roundabout where we are sitting and for hours we watch the passing traffic in amazement. There are traffic lights and 2 police officers to regulate the traffic but it is still chaotic. How is it possible that in a country where everybody seems to have plenty of time, the traffic can so extremely hasty?


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