UNESCO World Heritage Challenge: Medina of Marrakesh

In 2006 I made a relatively last minute trip to Morocco. Based in Marrakesh, I spent a few days exploring the city before travelling across Morocco, and into the Sahara, for a camel trek and a night in the desert. An experience I will never forget (all positive, except the most uncomfortable experience of riding a camel for hours into the desert).

Founded in 1072, by the Almoravid sultan Yusuf bin Tachfin, Marrakesh became one of the Islamic world’s most important artistic and cultural centres.  The city’s first golden age was under Youssef’s son Ali. As well as palaces, mosques and baths, Ali commissioned construction of the extensive underground irrigation canals, which still supply Marrakesh’s gardens with water from the High Atlas.

“Founded in 1070–72 by the Almoravids, Marrakesh remained a political, economic and cultural centre for a long period. Its influence was felt throughout the western Muslim world, from North Africa to Andalusia. It has several impressive monuments dating from that period: the Koutoubia Mosque, the Kasbah, the battlements, monumental doors, gardens, etc. Later architectural jewels include the Bandiâ Palace, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the Saadian Tombs, several great residences and Place Jamaâ El Fna, a veritable open-air theatre.” UNESCO

The Minaret of the Koutoubia was indeed impressive, with incredibly detailed architecture. Koutoubia is the largest Mosque in Marrakesh, with its tower reaching 70m high (nearly double its precursor at Cordoba), visible for miles in all directions. It was built on the site of a previous 11th century Almovarid mosque, completed in the reign of  the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199)and inspired both the Giralda of Seville and the Hassan Tower of Rabat.

Minaret of Koutoubia, Marrakesh

It’s possible to spend hours wandering around the souks, taking in all the sights and smells. We were told that the only way to really experience the souks properly was to get lots in them. While we made an attempt to move into more unfamiliar areas, we always seemed to end up back near the same point, all the same we met some very interesting people along the way. If you do ever get lost, there are plenty of children about who will be able to get you back to Djemaa el-Fna (for a small fee). At this time in my life I was only really beginning to enjoy photography and so only had my point and shoot Samsung camera, I would love to go back and photograph the souks, and Morocco more generally now I know a little bit more about what to do with a camera.

The central square in Marrakesh, Djemaa el-Fna is where a lot of the activity happens, but it only really comes to life properly at night. Wandering around the square in the day and there are plenty of people around, selling their wares, fresh orange juice (which, by the way, was the nicest Orange juice I’ve ever tasted) and hennna tattoos. But as the sun begins to set, the square becomes the hub of even greater activity, empty stalls in the centre get set up as essentially one big open air barbecue. There are also sorts of food on offer, all freshly cooked in the square, usually right next to you.

Dinner in Djemaa el-Fna

Then there are the snake charmers, the monkey handlers, acrobats, musicians, jugglers and storytellers….

Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh

  • You can view more photos from the Morocco trip on Flickr here.
  • You can find out more about Marrakesh as a World Heritage site on the UNESCO website here.
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One Response to UNESCO World Heritage Challenge: Medina of Marrakesh

  1. Meredith Maisonneuve says:

    Quite the most inspiring quest, Jenny – fantastic idea, and good luck! Wish I’d had the guts and imagination to take my passion for geography further when I was young(er). “What to do?” (as they say here in Sri Lanka – where I’m living these days – when there’s nothing that can be done about something), I may not have made it my life’s work, but it has been at the centre of much of my life:) So pleased your generation can mix it with the Shackletons, Burtons, etc., heroes all:)

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