Marrakech, Essaouira and Atlas Mountains
Morocco. Amazing trip. Although inspired by the movie Casablanca (one of my all time favourites) I avoided the real space location as it has more grit and industry than romantic nostalgia. We used Marrakech (inland, car fumes, crazy mopeds) as base. Road trip to the coastal town of Essaouira (Atlantic breeze, seafood – yum! history of white slaves) and another one into the foothills of the Atlas mountains (alpine scenery with a Berber and Arabic vibe). Poverty and palaces. A real medley of experiences, finished off the final night by a magical kalesh ride and dinner and belly dancing at the lavish Palais Donab Dar El Bacha.
This trip gave me a pleasant nostalgia vibe of when I wrote God Seed back in 1996: a novel that has scenes set in Cairo and beyond. It was helped by an album I bought to provide a soundtrack to the experience: Zeebratta by Mike Score (Flock of Seagulls), which is an awesome hark back to sounds of the 80s with a 21st century tone.
Start of the trip did the usual early morning ride into Bristol city and grabbed coffee and breakfast at Cafe Amore. This place has been the launch pad of most of my travels around the world since the 1990s. Nice tradition. Before that it was Joe Cubas, now closed.
Flew into Marrakech, short ride from airport to Hotel Opera Plaza. First impressions are endless rows of pink clay buildings and broad roads crowded with fast-moving traffic… a lot of fumes. Mopeds with young people zipping down between lanes or weaving dangerously between the asteroid belt confusion of moving objects; French style roundabouts where traffic going round has to give way to traffic trying to enter… that’s the plan but I saw two moped crashes in two days, one of which left a large smear of blood on the tarmac.
From bedlam to the cool comfort of the hotel. Large open spaces and glass. All the staff talking French to you. Good hotel on most counts.
Raining! Bizarre. First day we headed to Saadian tombs. They date back from the time of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603). Only discovered in 1917 and restored. The building is composed of three rooms. The most famous is the room with the twelve columns. This room contains the grave of the son of the sultan’s son, Ahmad al-Mansur and is a must see. Outside the building is a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants. Consider the age of what you are looking at. Even the detail on the doors. Think of the history and the hands that have held or push on those doors.
Left the tombs for the Medina and the souk, coming out into Jemaa el-Fnaa – the main square – which was a little subdued due to the weather. Like the square, the souk is an experience not to be missed. The traders are not too tenacious with their hawking and you see a lot of the artisans crafting their wares. Most folks there don’t enjoy being photographed every few minutes of their working life so always ask first and be respectful, and expect to pay a couple of dirham (20p) for snapping pics. Went to Ben Youssef Medersa, a historic Islamic school, and saw where students were locked away with tiny windows in small stone rooms in order to focus their minds on study without distraction.
You may have romantic notions of what the souk should look like. The majority of the souk is covered, scaffolding poles and other devices holding up pieces of plastic and corrugated panels. This is one section exposed to the elements.
What this photo doesn’t convey readily is the sense of scale and perspective. This is a vast warm chamber. The position of the firemouth is actually at the bottom of a steep narrow flight of steps and the whole rectangular flank is about the height of 2 1/2 people. Not certain of its purpose; possible to heat water for one of the hammams. It was tucked discreetly behind a half-open doorway that we nearly walked past without stopping; the ash grey interior caught my interest, I walked in, down some steps and found this man standing there smoking a fag in the easy heat of the chamber. A nice contrast to the chill rain outside.
Approaching Ben Youssef Medersa, the Historic Islamic School, an almost ironic contrast in imagery. The size of these archways is vast, over twice the height of a person.
Window overlooking the courtyard. You can visualise fictional moments of intrigue; shadowy figures observing behind the detail…