Morocco: a land of golden sands with cities rising out of the shimmering heat greeting the desert traveller with welcome shade and rest. The rich history of Morocco is rivalled only by the fascinating variety of cultures that have made – and continue to make – their mark on this country. With centuries of history contained within the thick walls of its ancient medinas and mosques, Morocco has something to offer every adventurous explorer.
Today I am going to explore two cities, Marrakech and Essaouira, which epitomise Moroccan culture for me. I’ll let you in on the must-see destinations along with some experiences you shouldn’t miss out on.
A more laid-back example of Moroccan culture, the coastal city of Essaouira is popular amongst lovers of sun, sea, sand and surf. Sometimes overlooked by visitors to the country, the city is an important site of Moroccan culture with a rich history of its own. Fans of the renowned television series Game of Thrones might just recognise Essaouira’s ancient architecture.
Essaouira is best experienced on foot. Take your time wandering around the city and soaking up the atmosphere.
· The Ramparts: The ramparts of the city are its iconic feature today and have been for centuries. Having played their role in defending the port from invaders, they now offer the visitor a delightful view of the city and the bay.
· The Souks: Wherever Moroccans gather, you will find a souk. These bustling markets selling everything from tourist tack to delicious local foods are at the heart of Moroccan culture. Stroll around one of Essaouira’s busy souks and keep your eye out for artisan crafts and exotic spices.
· Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum: This excellent museum recounts Essaouira’s past through ancient jewellery, pottery and other fascinating relics. The museum is housed in a lovely nineteenth-century building built around a traditional open courtyard.
Whether you’re visiting for the first or the fiftieth time, Marrakech is a magical place. The chaos of the city is equally apparent in the shining modern Gueliz area and the dusty Old Town. Though exciting, the streets of Marrakech can be a confusing place, so keep a map on you and watch out for the traffic!
It’s hard to pick favourites in Marrakech as this is the city which keeps on giving. However, these are my must-see moments for first time visitors.
· Koutoubia Mosque: A lovely example of Moroccan culture, this mosque dates from the twelfth-century and is a beautiful instance of Moorish design.
· Jemaa el-Fna: This large, open square is where everything happens in Marrakech. From local cuisine to henna, artisan crafts to dancing monkeys and snake charmers, you could spend all day just watching the world pass by here. In the heat of the summer months the square really comes alive as dusk falls.
· Jardin Majorelle: This peaceful garden is a slice of tranquillity in a city of movement. It was designed by a French painter as a calm oasis of colour and nature. With over 300 plant species nestled among Art Deco design and Moorish architecture, this is a truly special garden.