Marrakech

Marrakech is Morocco's main point of entry for tourists, many of whom never venture far beyond its red walls, despite the enticing and dramatic backdrop of the High Atlas mountains, snow-capped until April or May and a venue for numerous excursions . The city has a memorable beauty, with its palm-lined streets and red earth walls, surrounding a huge médina of flat-roofed houses. Above all, Marrakech is worth visiting to experience the vibrant mass of food stalls, musicians and snake charmers in the seething Jemaâ el Fna square, and for its souks - a labyrinthine network of markets, where people come to buy and sell from all over the surrounding plains, the High Atlas and the Sahara. 

Central Marrakech is clearly divided into two parts: the large historic city, the médina, and the ville nouvelle, Guéliz. The focal point of the médina, and indeed of the whole city, is the Jemaâ el Fna, an open place full of street entertainers and food sellers, adjacent to which are the most important souks. Handily for the tourist, it is located in the middle of the main areas of historic sights. North of Jemaâ el Fna are the souks and the Sidi Ben Youssef Mosque, the city's main mosque after the Koutoubia. On a walk in this neighbourhood, you can visit the Almoravid Koubba, the Medersa Ben Youssef, and the Museum of Marrakech. South of Jemaâ el Fna, down Riad Zitoun el Kedim, is an area of palaces, the Saâdian Tombs and a small ethnographic museum, the Maison Tiskiwine.

If you are staying in a riad, you may well be in the Bab Doukkala or Leksour/Mouassine neighbourhoods, the former on the Guéliz side of the médina. The latter is very central, just north of Jemaâ el Fna, and is one of the most chic enclaves, home to bijou gallery places like the Dar Chérifa café littéraire. Bab Doukkala is handier for the bus station. For visitors with more time, the cheap goods market at Bab el Khemis is busy on a Sunday morning. Another point of interest are the tanneries at Bab Debbagh.

A popular feature of a visit to Marrakech is a tour of the gardens. This will include the Jardin Majorelle, quite close to Bab Doukkala, the Menara, a large square pool set in a vast olive grove south of Guéliz, and the Agdal, another olive grove close to the Sidi Youssef Ben Ali neighbourhood.

To the east and north of Marrakech, across the Oued Issil, is the Palmeraie. Close to the médina, the gardens between Koutoubia and Mamounia have been totally replanted with roses. Even once scruffy Arset Moulay Slimane, opposite the Municipality on your way to Jemaâ el Fna, is being given the treatment.

Most visitors will spend some time in Guéliz, the suburb laid out by the French in the 1920s. Despite all the new apartment buildings and traffic, it is worth a wander for its cafés, upmarket boutiques and food market and it has many of the city's best restaurants. The main thoroughfare is Avenue Mohammed V and the evening promenade here is popular.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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Morocco Handbook: Marrakech - Essaouira - Fes - Atlas

Marrakech evokes images of labyrinthine souks, vibrant colours, and minarets stretching towards the...
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