The Red City

“I believe that Marrakech ought to be earned as a destination.  The journey is the preparation for the experience.  Reaching it too fast derides it, makes it a little less easy to understand”–Tahir Shah in Arabian Nights


The Red City.

The Gateway to the Sahara.

Both nicknames for Marrakech, Morocco and both incredibly appropriate.  There are very few buildings in Morocco’s 3rd largest city that aren’t composed of the burnt red sands of the desert.  There are other observations that make Marrakech a peculiar city not just in Morocco but indeed in the entire Islamic world.

My 5 day trip to Marrakech was my first foray to a country whose predominate religion is Islam.  Now of course being an American and maybe just being a Westerner in general, there are always a lot of negative connotations that some people associate with North Africa and the Middle East, some of which I myself shared.  I would like to quickly put those fears to rest as Morocco proved to be a very welcoming place to myself as well as other Westerners.  Marrakech, to me, seemed to be a much more progressive Islamic city (I hate using the term modern because that usually implies that we’re comparing it to see how American it is).  Women are free to choose for themselves whether or not to wearing the Burqa, Hijab or not even cover their hair at all.  In contrast to more conservative Islamic societies like the Saudi kingdom, women are given much more rights and freedoms than most Americans would think.  In fact, the Mayor of Marrakech is a woman.  I actually saw one young woman wearing a hijab that was American-flag themed.  When average Moroccans approached me trying to sell me something, they would first address me in French and then once realizing I was American they would extend a hearty welcome in English.  They would also then proceed to try and get me to buy some trinket that was probably made in China anyway.  Hardly what I would describe as the seething hatred that so many Americans think permeates throughout this part of the world.

I enjoyed Marrakech.  I wouldn’t necessarily rank it in my top 5 favorite cities, but it offers a distinct flavor that I don’t think you might find in other places.  There’s a frantic energy that climaxes in the evening as thousands of locals and tourists alike descend upon the Djemma El-Fna (a UNESCO World Heritage Sight) to haggle over spices, clothes, and enjoy the performances of musicians and snake charmers.  In all seriousness, going to the Djemma El-Fna at night seemed to me to be as if Disney’s Alladin came to life and was being played out in front of me.

Marrakech is cheap.  I always try and tell people to visit developing countries because you basically get to live like a King.  The Moroccan dirham is worth roughly 1/14 of a pound.  That certainly makes it favorable for most British and French tourists to take the 1 1/2 hour flight from Lisbon to enjoy the eternal warmth and sunshine of Morocco.  FACT: Morocco averages 300 days of sunshine a year.  But as is the case when visiting any developing country, there are inherent drawbacks.  I think it’s best to lower the bar a little when visiting these countries and understand that you’ll have to tolerate a little more than you’d probably like to.  You may feel overwhelmed or even threatened by the throngs of merchants trying to sell you stuff or lure you to their store.  I myself have sometimes felt uneasy about walking through narrow streets crowded with people, motorbikes, trucks, donkeys, horses and even monkeys.  To me all of these things are worth putting up with because by getting outside of your comfort zone, you’re able to see so much more than you otherwise would have.  And I’ve always thought that that was the ultimate aim of traveling abroad.

Go to Marrakech.  A city with such a fascinating history and vibrant culture is surely something not to miss out on.


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