Marrakesh is not like the rest of Morocco that's for sure. It's quite westernised and even though it's busy it feels quite relaxed and laid back compared to Fes. It was full of tourists in the Medina which is massive.
We were escorted to our Riad in the Medina by Pedro (and no he isn't from Mexico) as he's definitely Moroccan. He is s a bubbly guy who makes great mint tea as well as the tea that is drunk in winter; Sheeba tea. Which is from the leaves of the Wormwood tree, as mint doesn't grow at that time of year and makes Morrocan's feel cold in winter anyway.
The Riad (Jennah Rouge) was a cacophony of colours; right up my alley! It had a terrace on the fourth floor along with the traditional courtyard at the bottom. We had only booked for a night but then decided to stay, however, they were full so the last couple of nights we moved to their sister riad which was just as nice with an even better terrace and more nice hosts to chat with. Moroccan people are generally really friendly if you take the time.
The first day was spent checking out the infamous Djemaa el-Fna, which is a giant square in the Medina which hosts snake chalmers, monkeys and tourists by day and musicians and locals by night. It is filled with stalls of fruits selling freshly squeezed juice and the usual Moroccan goods for sale. Leading off from the square are the spiderwebs of souks that beckon you to buy their goods which we did manage to squeeze in just a little more into our hefty back packs.
Many desert caravans passed through Marrakesh before Almoravid Berber leader Youssef ben Tachfine and his savvy wife Zeinab recognised its strategic potential, and built ramparts around the encampment in AD 1062. The Almoravids established the city's khettara (underground irrigation system) and signature pink mudbrick architecture. But when Almohad warriors stormed the city, they left only the plumbing and the Koubba Ba'adiyn intact. Almohad Yacoub el-Mansour remodelled Marrakesh with a fortified kasbah, glorious gardens, qissariat (covered markets), a rebuilt Koutoubia and a triumphal gate (Bab Agnaou). But the Almohads soon lost their showpiece to the Merenids, who turned royal attention to Meknès and Fez. Life improved again in the 16th century, when the Saadians made Marrakesh the crux of lucrative sugar-trade routes, established a trading centre for Christians and a protected mellah (Jewish quarter) in 1558. Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi (the Victorious and Golden) paved the Badi Palace with gold and took opulence to the grave in the gilded Saadian Tombs. Alawite leader Moulay Ismail preferred Meknès to Marrakesh, and moved his headquarters there - though not before looting the Badi Palace. Marrakesh entered its Wild West period, with big guns vying for control. Those who prevailed built extravagant riads , though much of the population lived hand to mouth in crowded funduqs (rooming houses). In 1912 the French protectorate granted Pasha Glaoui the run of southern Morocco, while French and Spanish colonists built themselves a ville nouvelle. Without a clear role post-Independence, Marrakesh resumed its fall-back career as a caravanserai - and became the nation's breakaway success. Roving hippies built the city's mystique in the 1960s and '70s, and visits by the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Led Zeppelin gave the city star power. In the 1990s private medina mansions were converted into B& Bs, just in time for low-cost airlines to deliver weekenders to brass-studded riad doors. Marrakesh was amid a major tourism boom in 2008 when the global financial crisis started to wreak havoc in European markets, which account for over 80% of the city's visitors. Hot on the heels of this fiscal collapse, an Islamist militant disguised as a guitar-carrying hippie walked into Café Argana on the Djemaa el-Fna and planted two bombs that killed 17 people in April 2011. Confidence in the Red City plummeted: tourists cancelled bookings and investment tumbled. But while economic growth hit the skids, dropping from 4.9% in 2011 to 2.9% in 2012, Morocco's circumspect handling of Arab Spring tensions saw a gradual return to growth in 2013 which we could clearly see with its burgeoning tourist trade.
We visited the Bahia Palace (the beautiful). Imagine what you could build with Morocco's top artisans at your service for 14 years, and here you have it with floor-to-ceiling decoration begun by Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s and embellished from 1894 to 1900 by slave-turned-vizier Abu 'Bou' Ahmed. But the Bahia proved too beguiling: in 1908 warlord Pasha Glaoui claimed the palace as a suitable venue to entertain French guests, who were so impressed that they booted out their host in 1911, and installed the protectorate's résident-généraux here. Fascinating seeing the harems of Bou Ahmed's four wives and 24 concubines!
The Maison de la Photographie showcases photographs from everyday life from 1870 to 1950 and it appears that life hasn't changed that much in Morocco.
We spilt up the days up by doing a day trip to Essaouira which is a fishing town on the west coast to get a change of scene. Still quintessentially Moroccan, with its fortified walls and narrow souks it was nice to see the sea and watch the locals play football on the beach with the not so pleasant waft of fish in the air. On the way there in our mini bus we suddenly stopped next to a tree literally filled with goats. Like someone commented on my post on Facebook, like a goat Christmas tree. It was most odd, but clearly a ploy to get tourists to pay money for a crazy photo, which sums up Morocco for me. Exotic, sometimes confronting, but truly beautiful with amazing people.