What I Did On My Last Day In Marrakech

I walked among the stalls, trying to decide what to eat. As I approached each stall, a vendor stepped into my line of sight, demanding that I sit and eat at his stall. Some accepted “no” right from the start. Others, however, blocked my path, and I turned my back to them.

Plenty of the stands were busy with European-appearing couples, but I continued on. Eventually I found what I sought, however: a stand at which the seats were full, mostly occupied by couples that at least appeared to be local. This is Djema al Fna at night, where the square, occupied mostly by snake charmers and monkey handlers by day, goes through a transformation. Musicians play, dancers dance, henna artists draw, and food vendors vend while people eat.

To start the morning I paid a visit to the El Badi Palace, not far from the riad where I am staying. This was once a spectacular palace that was built in the 16th century, and looted a mere 75 years later. It reminds me of ancient Roman ruins, but doesn’t have nearly the age.

It was renowned for the thickness of its walls, so thick that even storks nested here. Today, still they make their home, and they are magnificent.

I wander around the grounds for a time, amongst the sunken gardens, into the anterooms, feeling the presence around me.

I climb the tower, dappled with a shaded trellis, and look upon the city and grounds around me.

After this, I head further east, through the parched streets, and past the donkey carts, to the magnificent Saadian tombs. They were created with intricately carved Italian marble, and lost for generations. Forgotten, they stood guard of their wards within the bustling city, until photos from the air revealed their presence in the 1930’s.

When I arrive, I don’t have a small bill with which to pay for admission, and the man at the ticket booth won’t give me change. I turn around and find a bar, where I have an early lunch of pastilla, a slightly sweet, cinnamon-flavored, chicken pastry. It is a unique mix of sweet and savory and it is delicious.

Change in hand, I am finally permitted entrance, and when finally I enter, there are lines for the main tomb, so I explore the sacred grounds, with their graves, tiles, and sculpted walls. The unforgiving sun glares down, but there is little here to offer shade to my sunburned forehead, so I find what little I can as, in the end, I wait for in line to see the grandest of the tombs.

And it is glorious. I haven’t seen the like elsewhere. Italians would never do this with marble. Neither would Greeks or Turks. Still, the finely carved walls and ceilings are breathtaking. This was well worth the price and time of admission.

Now, I begin the long trek of the day. It is almost a two mile walk to the new part of Marrakech, the Gueliz neighborhood. The owner of the riad recommended I go here, however, because he said I should visit the Yves Saint Lauren museum and Jardin Majorelle.

I am not a fashionista, and didn’t know what to expect, but I decide to heed his advice and make my way there. A cab would be easier, I am intimidated by negotiating with the taxi drivers more than I am by the walk, which really wasn’t bad at all, notwithstanding the lack of shade.

And the visit, it turned out, was a lot of fun, with the highlight being a series of gowns created by the famed designer. As I wander the main room of the museum, where photography was prohibited, I look at decades of creations from the 60’s to the 2000’s, playing a game and guessing at their age. Some are floral and speak to the 70’s, whereas others bear grand shoulder pads, unmistakably 80’s. Others are timeless. This was an unexpectedly enjoyable way to pass the afternoon.

Afterward I visited the garden, with it’s shaded walkways isolated from the surrounding hubbub.

Far within is an obelisk, a monument to YSL and his partner. It is place of pilgrimage for some, it would seem.

With that, I find my way back into the Medina, and walk unhindered through the souks. I drop a few things off at my riad and begin packing for the trip home, before I return for one last visit to the Djema al Fna. In so many places that I have visited, there is one square to which I always return, and here that is the Djema. For dinner, I eventually settled on lamb tangia and some tea, for the bargain price of $3. It is flavorful and filling.

Under the dark of night I have one last cup of tea and dessert. I meander for a time among the snake charmers, the heartless monkey handlers, the musicians, and the locals out for an evening stroll. Finally, ready, I dive back into the shadowy passageways that lead back to my riad.

This has been a brief visit, but it has been rejuvenating. I am ready to go home.

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