Thursday, 25 November 2010

Marrakech, The Koutoubia Mosque

Finding our way around was much easier now in the daylight and we followed last night’s route through the tangle of back alleys past builders beginning work for the day on a building with wooden scaffolding that certainly wouldn’t comply with health and safety rules in the UK. On the street outside the King’s Royal Palace there were beggars and old ladies looking for holy day handouts (Friday is the Muslim Sunday), mechanics working from dark ill equipped and disorganised workshops with motor bikes and scooters in various stages of disassembly and reassembly at the side of the street and little shops that looked as though they may have been open all night.

The Rue Sidi Mamoun was busy with street traders setting up stalls near the bus station, workers congregating in groups ready to be taken off somewhere for a day’s work and street cleaners with besom brooms swishing the pavements and kerbs in slow rhythmic sweeps. The sun was shining and it was warm already as we negotiated a busy main road where snarling traffic with impatient drivers were trying to push their way past a roundabout that was holding everything up and where traffic was being rather hopelessly controlled by a policeman who was fighting a losing battle against the chaos and confusion.

Once across the road we entered the Koutoubia Gardens, a big green open space with rows of palm trees, and followed a main route through where rough sleepers were getting out of their cardboard beds and preparing themselves for a long day begging on the street corners. Ahead of us was the twelfth century Koutoubia Mosque, the highest in the city, soaring into the perfect blue sky above and we could see clearly now why the early morning call to prayers had been so loud because on each of its four sides were two enormous speakers that looked more appropriate for an open air rock band concert than a church.

The Mosque wasn’t open for business at this time but we wouldn’t have been allowed in even if it had because non-believers are forbidden from entering a Muslim Mosque at any time so we had to make do with admiring the structure from the outside and sneaking a look inside through any open doors whenever we could.

There was no going any further now because we had to return to the Riad for breakfast so we retraced our steps and back at the Nafis found Mike and Margaret already waiting for us at our table that was laid out on the sunny terrace. From the terrace we could see (past the satellite dishes) all over the city and away in the distance to the south the Atlas Mountains that this morning were obscured by a hanging heat haze which made weather prospects look promising for the day ahead.

Hotel breakfasts are always a bit of a lottery I find and they can range from thoroughly disappointing to exceptionally good and I am glad to say that this one was right at the upper end of the scale. There were pancakes and cakes, fresh juice and plenty of tea and coffee and some absolutely delicious fresh baked bread and a range of fruity preserves all served with an excellent and satisfying attention to detail. Over breakfast we filled in another official form which seemed to serve no purpose other than to confirm what we had said on the entry form but the owner insisted that it was important because she had to register us at the police station today. We all ate far too much and when we had finished we left the terrace and prepared ourselves for a day in the vibrant streets of Marrakech.

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