At breakfast Margaret told us that she had a bad stomach as well so we tried to identify the possible source. We were certain that it wasn’t the food at the Riad so we discounted that and we had all had the same to eat at the roadside grill and the Djemma el Fna food market so that seemed to rule those out as well so the finger of suspicion was beginning to point to the lunch at Setti-Fatma where Margaret and I had shared food off of one plate and Kim and Mike off another so it seemed that we might have copped for a dodgy kebab in the Atlas mountains.
Breakfast was served inside the Riad this morning because the terrace was still closed in anticipation of bad weather and even though we tried to convince ourselves that there were emerging patches of blue it was very overcast this morning. It had rained in the night but now it was dry so after breakfast we had agreed to be collectively optimistic and leave the umbrellas behind and we set off for another day on the streets of Marrakech.
To begin with we walked back to Bab Agnaou and along a street which led to a long road, Rue Asset el Maach, with mostly local shops and little stores selling food and household items each with a single door and a gloomy interior with boxes and tins stacked from ceiling to floor to make use of all of the available space. As we turned a corner there were herbalist shops with spices arranged in colourful pyramids and baskets of dried flower heads and quack remedies. Margaret and Kim went inside to look at the jars of colourful potions and perfumes and to enquire about a massage but there wasn’t time this morning so they promised they would return later. I imagine that this is a promise that shopkeepers in Marrakech hear hundreds of times every day and probably don’t take them too seriously.
The site that we were heading for was the Badii Palace and for such a big place the entrance was tucked into a narrow lane which we only found after asking several times for directions. The Palace is in ruins now but reputedly took armies of labourers and craftsmen twenty-five years to build and when it was completed it was said to be amongst the most magnificent palaces ever constructed with walls and ceilings encrusted with gold and precious jewels and in the middle a massive pool with an island flanked by four sunken gardens. Sadly the magnificent building survived for barely a hundred years before the Saadian dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the Alouites and the conquering Sultan, Moulay Ismail, came along and stripped the place bare at about the same time as he was sealing up the Saadian Tombs.
Moulay Ismaïl was an interesting character and by all accounts a man of excesses. It is said that he personally killed over twenty-five thousand men but to make up for this he is alleged to have fathered eight hundred and eighty-nine children. This is widely considered the record number of offspring for any man throughout history that can actually be verified. It is estimated that to father that number of children Ismaïl would have had to have sex with an average of 1.2 women every day for sixty years so that must have been a real chore! When he wasn’t slaughtering or shagging he was building himself a new capital city at Meknès in the north of Morocco and it took twelve years to dismantle the Badii Palace and remove the treasures and relocate them and all that is left now are the stripped red mud bricks.
It was easy to imagine how grand this place must have been when it was first completed and we wandered around the extensive gardens where the Sultan and his courtiers would have enjoyed the lavish surroundings and a life of opulence. We walked the walls and climbed the one remaining tower where there was a good view of the site and the city outside it which we shared with the only remaining inhabitants of the palace today – the storks that had built their untidy nests at regular intervals along the top of the walls.
After the Badii Palace we returned to the busy streets and walked the short distance to the Bahia Palace which was built just over a hundred years ago by a grand vizier of the city. The place was much smaller than the Badii Palace and with scores of other visitors felt more crowded as we walked through a succession of immaculately tiled rooms with sculptured stucco and carved cedar wood decoration and outside private courtyards that were once the home of the vizier and his four wives. By all accounts this too was a place of grand excesses and the ruling Sultan, Abdel Aziz, was so jealous of the riches of the Bahia that when the vizier died he had the palace stripped and looted.