We’ve explored the souks, fondouqs, medinas and kasbahs and have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Morocco. The whole place is a riot of colour and provides quite an assault on the senses. We visited the Chaouwara tannery, located within the Fez medina. It looks a bit like a scene from Medieval times. Lime is used to separate the hair from the animal’s skin. Then apparently pigeon poo and cow urine are used to process the skins before indigo, saffron and poppy are added for colour. Needless to say the olfactory senses get a good workout.
There are many grand buildings in Morocco that hark back to a bygone era and rich heritage, but life in today’s medinas lacks many of the modern-day trappings that we take for granted. The communal fountains are a feature in all the medinas where the local greengrocer washes his produce and kids fill up containers of water to cart home. They are usually located near the neighbourhood mosque and feature zellij (tilework), some have ornately carved wooden canopies. Non-Muslims have access to many of the restored medersa (theological colleges), some of which date back to the 14th century and are well worth a look. They also provide a tranquil, if temporary, respite from the medina madness just outside the door.
The main traffic in the medina is either pedestrian or donkey. At times some of the alleyways are so congested you think it’s impossible for it to get any busier. Next thing you know there are a couple of pointy ears bobbing towards you above the thronging crowd. You learn to get out of the way fairly quickly when you hear “balak!” (look out!) from the donkey driver as another heavily laden beast meanders through. Hand carts and motorised wagons also prevail. Unfortunately motorbikes have started to take over the medina in Marrakesh, which makes things even more noisy, smelly and hectic.
And every now and then you see a car where there really shouldn’t be one. When we arrived in Marrakesh we used “Martha”, our GPS, to track down our riad. Martha doesn’t understand the concept of one-way streets which makes Morrocan driving even more exciting at times. Perhaps she doesn’t speak Arabic either. So I’m sitting there thinking “don’t hit the donkey, don’t hit the donkey!”, as Fitzy deftly swerves to avoid yet another haphazard motorcyclist blindly placing his faith in Allah. As the streets are getting narrower and narrower I say to Fitz, “I’m really not sure this is such a good idea”. He replies: “Well, we’re committed now!” Luckily we didn’t end up in a dead end lane or with a donkey stand-off. Martha has however redeemed herself on a number of occasions, with Fitzy now referring to his iphone as “the life device”.
Snake charmers, street performers and craftsmen of many kinds are all part of the street theatre here. Whether it’s combs from bones, dates and sweets, brass pots, or ras el hanout you’re after, you’ll find it. Just off the Djemma el-Fna in Marrakesh you come across the camel butchers whilst on the other side of the medina a random guy sells camel feet at the side of the road. It’s a good thing we like couscous and tagines as we’ve had a fair few of them over the last few days.
We’re now back in Gibraltar to get a few ticks on the page of the never-ending jobs list. I’ve had time to add a few comments to the images I’ve posted, so just click on the “i” on the left-hand corner of the image for more info. Enjoy!