Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Morocco's Mother of all Marketplaces

The Medina in Marrakech is surely the mother of all marketplaces. A 1500 year old market, the Medina has today over 4500 vendor stalls (Souks) that populate a maze of outside and covered alleyways that require familiarity or a guide to navigate. We opted for a guide, and got one of the very best. Mustapha Karroum, national guide #831, can usually be found at La Mamounia Hotel. Right now, that Marrakech landmark is in its second year of rennovation and thus Mustapha is temporarily without a home base. No matter. He is so well known that our own hotel, the Ville d' Orangers, knew to call him when we inquired for a guide.

I was first in Marrakech over 30 years ago, during the "hippie" years when Americans discovered Morocco. Mustapha was a kid at the time, who hung around the souks looking for hippies willing to provide a few coins for directions. We reminisced about that era and marveled at the changes that come with the passage of time. He took us through the leather workers street, the metal workers alley, past stalls of spices and fabric to hidden antiquities stores and newly commissioned small hotels - right in the middle of the old Medina. We were treated to a lecture, massage and demonstration in a Berber homeopathic pharmacy and capably led through one of the city's finest historic sites the old Maderasa ( image below) where religious students gathered among the arches and ancient architecture to study the Koran.

The Medina is fronted by an enormous square where snake charmers with Cobras ply their trade and colorful Berber water carriers wait for tourists with cameras to take their pictures and provide a coin. The square is the site of the outside food vendors and the famous "lamb alley," where all parts of the animal are available for consumption, and yes, I mean every part. I've included a lot of images from this memorable visit in a slideshow featured in a previous post.

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