Marrakech: Ruins and royal tombs

Inside the Badi Palace

Our riad was a cosmopolitan place, home to holidaying Brits and Spaniards, Germans and Americans. So breakfast was taken to a background hum of languages and accents, all of which could also be heard on the vibrant streets of Marrakech.

On our fifth day in the city we encountered plenty more languages on our tour of the sights, while clouds helped to suppress the temperature.

Our first stop was the royal Saadian Tombs. And although it was early, the Mellah Market traders were already gearing up for another noisy, dirty and smelly day of trade as we walked by.

Decoration within the tombs
Decoration within the tombs

Stalls were piled with goods and produce, while carts pulled by distressed and flea-bitten mules lugged their loads down streets clogged with the usual chaotic mix of cyclists, pedestrians, cars and motorcyclists. Two men, one young, one old, were having a punch-up over something or other.

Elsewhere, traders tended their shopfronts, showcasing herbs and spices, fruit, veg and household wares. On spare patches of ground, itinerant traders laid their goods out on sheets – everything from fake Ray Bans to tins of shoe polish.

Inside the tombs
Inside the tombs

We arrived at the grand Kasbah Mosque, in an area that looked as if it had been renovated and rejuvenated in recent years. We paid our 10 dirhams to enter the tombs, down an extremely narrow passageway between the buildings that had served to keep the treasures hidden for many years. I wondered how the growing army of obese folk in the world would get through…

The 16th century royal tombs of the great and good were only rediscovered during an aerial survey of the city in the early years of the 20th century.

Huge crowds filled the courtyard, which featured some ornately carved mausoleums and many colourful, tiled tombs lying open to the elements.

The palace isn't just four walls...
The palace isn’t just four walls…

The queue for the highlight, the Chamber of the Three Niches, was huge so we decided to return later in the day. But was it worth the wait and the crush? While the chamber certainly showcased the incredible talents of the craftsmen who built it, with stunning carving guarding the tombs, I wouldn’t rush back. Many visitors, including Graham, seemed more interested in three kittens scampering around the grounds.

Just down the road, we discovered the El Badi Palace, a triumph of a ruin from the 16th century. Walking through the gate, we found a vast courtyard with the remains of sunken gardens and pools. It wasn’t particularly attractive, and it took a feat of the imagination to picture the palace as it would’ve been in its glory days, but it was immense.

Storks and the Kosybar from the palace walls
Storks and the Kosybar from the palace walls

The highlights included an historic Minbar, or prayer pulpit, taken from the Koutoubia Mosque in the early 1960s. Amost 1,000 years old, the skills of the craftsmen who built it were still clearly in evidence, although a scowling old man on the door grumpily announced that photos were forbidden.

We also enjoyed an exhibition of photos by Don McCullin of the Magnum Agency. The other highlight was a terrace on the battlements, which gave some great views of the city skyline. And close-up views too of the large number of storks who’d built their large nests atop the walls nearby.

We ate lunch in the Place des Ferblantiers, aggressively waitered by men with all the customer service skills of Nazi stormtroopers. I had sausages and couscous, although the waiter tried to get me to purchase everything else on the menu at various points during our stay. My cold meant that, for better or worse, I could barely taste anything. Entertainment was unwittingly provided by a European family who were clearly obsessed with hygiene and the urgent need to put their trainers in the washing machine on their return home. It made me wonder why they bothered coming to a place like Marrakech in the first place.

Art within the palace
Art within the palace

We walked back to the riad to read by the pool and with temperatures cooler, fewer people were around.

In the evening, we decided to do fine dining at the Riad Monceau. This beautiful building offered sumptuous decoration, uncomfortably low chairs and genuflecting waiters – although not enough of them to keep service going speedily enough for me.

It offered a tasting menu for 450 Dirhams (with wine extra) and was easily the most expensive meal of the week, and yet still with a tajine at the heart of it. Again, it was all rather wasted on me with my cold.

Afterwards we had a few more beers at the Kosybar (no surprises there), which was quiet for a Saturday night thanks to the lusty winds buffeting the open-air top floor bar. Not that that put me off…

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