Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Marrakech, The Red City

There was only one way back and the weather began to change dramatically as Hassan negotiated the route down the valley past the dodgy rope bridge, the argan oil cooperative, the Berber house and the roadside pottery and soon we were in Douar Ouriki again and at this point we should have visited a garden but we were tired and it was overcast so we told Hassan to just carry on. This seemed to worry him because he thought he might be in trouble with Laurent for not having completed the full itinerary but we assured him that we would vouch for him when we got back and make it clear that it was our decision.

As we left the Atlas Mountains behind us the cloud swooped in swiftly from the Atlantic Ocean and completely obscured them from view and we were glad that we had left them just in time. We were on the long straight road now and as we got closer we could see Marrakech in the distance rising up out of the sun baked plain and glowing red in the late pale afternoon light.

Marrakech is popularly known as the Red City from its distinctive colouring from the pigments in the local soil mixed to make pisé from which the buildings were traditionally constructed. In the last century this was threatened by modern building materials and the French therefore passed a law that required all new buildings to be painted crimson so that they would blend in with the originals and this remains in force even today. There is also a rule that no new buildings in the old city can be higher than a palm tree and nothing in the new city can be over five storeys high so that nothing can compete with the Koutoubia Mosque for skyline prominence.

As we approached the city, passing the Jardin Agdal full of pomegranate, orange and olive trees, the road returned us into the city through the Bab Er Rob, one of the twenty gates punched into the ancient walls. The city walls date from the 1120s when, under threat of attack from the Almohads, the ruling Sultan, Ali Ben Youssef, decided to circle his garrison town with a ring of fortifications. The walls he had built were nearly ten metres high and formed a ring of defences ten kilometres long with two hundred towers and forts. Some of the original gates have been widened to accommodate modern traffic but it remains essentially the same even today.

Hassan dropped us off on Rue Siddi Mamoun and back at the Nafis we were disappointed to find that the terrace furniture had been packed away in anticipation of rain and the staff confirmed that this was almost certain. It didn’t stop Mike and I sitting out with a beer while Kim and Margaret rested because although it was completely overcast now it was still very warm and we had a couple of tins of Spéciale Flag.

As it turned dark and we were rested and refreshed, before dinner in the Riad we wandered again into Djemma El Fna which was buzzing again just like the previous evening. We looked for the fake henna tattoo girl but she wasn’t to be seen (probably mixing up more mud solution for later on) and then walked through the food stalls explaining patiently to everyone who pestered us that we wouldn’t be dining in the square tonight. We could have stayed here much longer and enjoyed the free entertainment (unless caught taking a photograph of course) but we had ordered evening meal at the Nafis so we had to return early.

On account of the weather we couldn’t sit on the terrace tonight so we had a table set up in the downstairs lounge where we had a delicious meal of salty onion tart, sweet chicken tagine and a Moroccan fruit salad and it was excellent and only spoilt at the last minute when Rashid announced that the fridge had run out of beer. Never mind we still had wine and we were tired anyway so we didn’t stop around long and had a relatively early night.

Because it was early the streets were still noisy as children played in doorways and someone somewhere was doing something unspeakable to a cat which made it howl and as I lay there trying to ignore the distractions I became aware of a pain building up in my stomach. After a while I dropped off but was woken again just after midnight with raging gripes and a nasty bloated feeling that wouldn’t go away and I worried about food poisoning and hospitalisation. I slept on and off but was woken regularly by the pain, the cat and the five o’clock adhan and in the morning I had to own up to not feeling especially good in the general abdominal area.

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