From Fez, we traveled through the High Atlas mountains on a two-lane, two-way highway to reach the city of Marrakesh. Once again, the terrain of this part of the Moroccan countryside could be likened to the high desert terrain of Eastern Washington…that is, if it weren’t for the donkeys, goats, cacti, olive trees, and as you get closer to Marrakesh, the date palms.
Marrakesh is a lively, colorful place and quite a contrast to Fez. Where Fez is old, Marrakesh is more modern. Where Fez’s Medina is the oldest in the country and is a labyrinthine maze of streets that contain an entire, large community, Marrakesh’s Medina is quite a bit smaller with the major commerce occurring in the open marketplace. This marketplace is almost at the foot of the Kasbah mosque and is as lively and colorful at night as it is during the day.
Another contrast to Fez is in the color of the buildings. In Fez, the buildings ranged from white to light brown, whereas in Marrakesh the color of all buildings is regulated—almost all, with the exception of the koubbas and other domed buildings, must be the reddish color of the soil. Though part of the reason is an aesthetic one, there is also a functional reason: the color helps to absorb the sun and aids in keeping structures cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Altogether, Marrakesh is cleaner, more modern, and more cosmopolitan than Fez—and probably the only place we’ve been where you can see cars, motorbikes (and by ‘motorbikes,’ I mean motorized bicycles, not motorcycles), and a donkey-pulled cart all on the same modern roadway.
As I mentioned before, Marrakesh’s souks are quite different from what we saw in Fez. The public square is full of beggars, colorful water sellers in their traditional dress, henna artists, barbary apes, and snake charmers. Since the marketplace is near the Kasbah Minaret, the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer adds to the local color.
Speaking of which, the Muslims are an incredibly devoted group of people. It’s common to see one leaning on a prayer rug pointed toward the city of Mecca and praying faithfully. Even as we drove through the Moroccan countryside, I saw a farmer in his field who had stopped for one of his prayers—a lone figure in the middle of a hay field; just him, his land, and his god.