“It is the most lovely spot in the whole world.”
-Winston S. Churchill describing Marrakech to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Marrakech offers the design flair of Milan, the ethnic diversity of New York, the commercial heartbeat of Hong Kong, 1,000 years of history, constant stimulation and, arguably, the best people watching in the world.
There is a sense of almost-accidental, ephemeral beauty; a feeling that design is in the DNA of Marrakech. Shadows move across rough-textured pink walls and rose petals float in blue-tiled fountains. Cone-shaped, aromatic piles of spices compete for one’s attention with overflowing bowls of moist olives or lusciously sweet dates. Snow-capped mountains serve as a backdrop to giant date-palm trees, orange groves, and bougainvillea.
There is a palpable sense of welcome here. The enormous 12th century Koutoubia minaret has beckoned centuries of weary, trans-Saharan traders on the final legs of their journeys through the unforgiving Sahara Desert, laden with salt from Timbuktu and gold from mines whose locations are still a mystery. Although your journey to Marrakech will be easier than theirs, you will feel that same sense of welcome.
The heart – physical and spiritual – of Marrakech is the Djemaa el Fnaa. It is full of changing activity 24 hours a day. But it especially comes alive in the evening as crowds start to gather around musicians, acrobats, and storytellers (in a society that was long illiterate, history and values were passed on from one generation to another through storytellers in this square).
There are fortune-tellers, letter-writers, folk doctors, barbers, tooth-pullers (skip them), snake charmers, all in a riot of entertainment. At the end of the day, the square fills with portable food stalls, each serving local specialties to Moroccan families.
This square is so unique that when, in 2000, UNESCO decided to expand the World Heritage Site status by creating a new category for “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” they stated that the idea came from the Djemaa el Fnaa.
Emanating in every direction from the square are the labyrinthine pathways of the colorful and hectic souks (marketplaces). Artisanry is highly respected in Morocco. Trades tend to run in families and many artisans use methods passed down for hundreds of years. Each trade − jewelry, ceramics, weaving, cedar, carpets, enamel, copper, brass, among others − is situated in a specific area.
You might see villagers bringing hand-made rugs to sell to carpet merchants, and you will see locals shopping for babouches (traditional slippers), djellabas (hooded cloaks), and kaftans made of pure silk ornamented with gold embroidery.
And yet, thriving in and around all of this is a growing, new side of the city. Hotels and riads (courtyard mansions in the medina, renovated as small hotels) offer world-class luxury. The restaurant scene is booming.
A new generation of Moroccans, as well as expats who have chosen to make Marrakech their permanent home, have gathered worldwide attention for new architecture and design, home furnishings, and most notably, fashion.
We can arrange for you to meet one of Marrakech’s top fabric designers. Together you will explore the fabric souk and then design your own kaftan, which her team will produce for you.
Or perhaps a private shopper can show you a part of the enormous shopping scene, curated around your interests.
Or dinner in a newly-restored 18th century home in the medina with the visionary responsible for its restoration, who is leading an effort to protect Morocco’s patrimony.
Or the storytellers we mentioned. Most storytellers are elderly; this is a dying art. Perhaps you might want a few informal stories told to you by members of a project (that we are proud to support) to keep this art form alive by creating a new, generation of English-speaking storytellers.