I started my Saturday in Morocco with our riad’s lavish rooftop terrace breakfast, only this time I was joined by the resident cat.
Soon afterward, we were joined by the neighborhood tomcat, who hopped onto the terrace from a nearby rooftop, and made himself at home in the covered seating area on the terrace.
Yesterday we explored sites in the northern part of Marrakech’s medina. Today, we were going to check out the happenings in the southern part.
The 66 royal tombs housed here are from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, but were kept hidden from the outside world until the 1920s. The complex is relatively small, but has lots of carved cedar, stucco, and nice tiles. Here’s a picture showing all three:
Many Moroccans dislike being photographed or filmed. I wanted to catch the vibrancy of the market on film, so to be inconspicuous, I took a video with the camera discreetly held by my hip. It’s a little shaky, but it came out okay. Toward the end, in the covered part of the market, on the left you can briefly see a butcher stall. Hanging from a hook is a lamb carcass, I believe. Pinned to the lamb carcass is a testicle, indicating that it’s a male. Male meat is considered more desirable than female meat. (No shocker there, in an Arab country.)
This 16th century palace used to be the mansion of Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, and was once one of the world’s most impressive monuments, until it was ransacked by Moulay Ismail in the 17th century, to help him complete his own palace at Meknes. It took armies of laborers and craftsmen 25 years to complete. There was a massive pool with an island flanked by four sunken gardens (which is still visible). The place was so huge and amazing that it took 12 years to ransack the place. All that survives there now are the denuded mudbrick ruins. The most interesting part of the visit are the storks who build their nests on the protrusions in the crumbling walls. An old Berber belief that storks are actually transformed humans has rendered the storks holy here. I took this cool picture showing some of them on a nest, visible through a window in the wall.
You can see the swimming pool, and the sunken gardens flanking them. There really isn’t much to see, I have to say. All I could do was imagine the place as it used to be, with walls and ceilings encrusted in gold and mosaic. Here’s another view of the pool,
The owner of the shop saw Mark taking the photo of me holding the cat. After I put the cat down, I went to take one more photo of the cat, and the owner came over, and in perfect English said that it cost 20 dirhams to take a photo of the cat! I said to him, angrily, “Cut me a break! I am NOT paying you ANYTHING for a picture of your cat!” and stormed away. Seeing that I was ticked off, and knowing that it’s not a good idea to tick off a potential customer, he quickly said that he was kidding. It didn’t matter. There was no way now that I would ever buy anything from him. Sheesh. I saw this other really nice looking cat in the plaza, too.
We were going to eat at a restaurant in the corner of the square that was recommended in my guide book, but it just looked too touristy. There was a restaurant just around the corner with a clientele that looked mostly like locals, so we ate there, and it was great.
Bahia means “beautiful”, and it definitely was. The palace features floor to ceiling decoration begun by Grand Visier Si Moussa in the 1860s, and then later embellished from 1894 to 1900. The ceilings are amazing, with inlaid woodwork that elicits a “wow” from the visitors. After you go through the entryway, you walk up a long, tree-lined path to the palace. I spotted this tree with four cats chilling beneath it.
A few feet away, a tourist was playing with a totally adorable orange kitten. You can see this at the top of the photo. I spotted the kitten on the way out. Cutest thing ever! As for the kitties under the tree, it was frustrating. I went to check them out, and one of them had a really snotty nose; mucus was just pouring from it.
She was being a good mom, looking after the kitten and grooming it. I picked up the kitten and saw that it had some pretty nasty conjunctivitis, so once again, out came the antibiotic eye drops.
Dar Si Said is a 19th century palace that is now a museum. They have an interesting collection of antique Moroccan crafts including pottery, jewelry, daggers, carpets and leatherwork. That was our next destination. We figured hey, we may never be in Morocco again, admission to museums here is very cheap (I don’t think any place was more than 10 dirhams, which is about $1.23), and I never get tired of the spectacular mosaics and tile work. The walk there was interesting, taking us through colorful shopping areas that show off the handmade Berber rugs,
The restaurant is outside the medina, in the Gueliz neighborhood. It is run entirely by women. They offer a la carte items rather than the typical set menu that almost all other places offer. Getting there by cab required the usual annoying haggling. The décor inside was upscale and lovely.
I had a lamb and prune tagine, which was served with the fluffiest, tastiest couscous. Mark had skewers of beef, chicken and lamb over rice. The food was truly fantastic. For dessert, I ordered ice-cream, which came out in two scoops, with an orange-glazed cookie. When it arrived, Mark and I both agreed that the presentation of the dessert was interesting, to say the least. Very interesting.
It was really eye-opening. We didn’t see much of it, but it really made us wonder if this could ever be the kind of place we could live. We both love big cities, and whenever we travel, we always ask each other, if push came to shove, could we survive here? Rome, yes. Amsterdam, yes. Paris, yes. Copenhagen, probably not. Helsinki, no. Stockholm, probably. Marrakech? We didn’t see enough of the ville nouvelle to be able to say, but as a gay couple in a Muslim country… um, no. Still, we were impressed.
Tomorrow is the big day-trip to the coastal fishing port of Essaouira!