Mountains and Minarets and Markets…Oh My!

Today was another magical day.  After breakfast, we were greeted at the hotel by our local guide, Shafiq.  Immediately, we knew we were in good hands.  Shafiq spoke wonderful English (he also speaks Italian, French, Arabic and some German) and had a great sense of humor, he promised his highness’s a special tour and boy did he deliver.  We began with a tour of several historic sites including the Menara Gardens which was built by the Berbers in 1070-1085 and had a most impressive irrigation system.  The garden was filled with olive trees and Shafiq told us about how one olive tree is harvested three times a year and each season produces a different color of olive.

It was here we got our first view of the snowcapped Atlas Mountains.  The Atlas clearly form an impregnable barrier with great massifs rising to heights of 10,000-13,000 ft.  The highest peak in Africa is in this range, Jbel Toubkal is 13,676 ft tall.

Next, we were off to the Koutoubia Mosque. The minarets in Morocco are topped with copper balls of decreasing size, a traditional design in Morocco.  The minarets provide a visual focal point and are used for the call to prayer lead by the Muezzin.  We learned that the largest copper ball on the minaret and the one on the bottom (furthest from God) represents evil.  This serves as a reminder that evil is a larger force and that one must always strive for good in order to be closer to God.

Next on the tour was a walk through the old medina (city). We loved our walk through the city.  Shafiq told us that all homes are humble on the outside as not to encourage the envy of others. We arrived at the Saadian tombs. and here we experienced some of the finest of Islamic architecture in Morocco. The ivory colored marble tombstones are covered with mosaics and inscriptions from the Koran and epitaphs.

Next on the tour was the Bahia Palace.  The Sultan that built this palace spared no expense. It is decked out with some highly prized materials such as marble.  We were in awe of the many gardens, fountains, elaborate tilework and cedar arches and ceilings with intricately carved designs.

Poems and verses from the Koran where carved in the ceilings and walls of every room.  This one meant “Well Being and Everlasting”.

After a busy morning, our stomachs were growling at us.  Shafiq took us to a great local restaurant within the medina where we had our best Moroccan meal yet.

With full belly’s, we were fueled up and ready to shop!  As soon as we entered the Jamaa El-FNA Square we knew why the Souks of Marrakesh are some of the most fascinating in the world.  The energy and excitement was palpable!  As we strolled through the narrow and VERY crowded alleyways we saw first-hand the talent of these craftsmen (and women) They are truly masters of their work.

The guy in the above picture on the right in the trench coat was Said, our “big brother” for the day, so joked Shafiq.  Said and Shafiq watched out for us all day in the Souks.  They helped us bargain for a fair price and made sure we were getting quality items to take home.  We TRULY appreciated their help and thanked them profusely — “shukran” is arabic for thank you — for helping us to emerge triumphant with bags, poufs, belts, bracelets and scarves in tow.

This is the view overlooking the Jamaa El-FNA Square.  It was like a massive festival, filled with castanet-clanging water-sellers, turbaned potion sellers,  snake charmers and food vendors….

And if that wasn’t enough, we ended our jammed packed day with dinner and a traditional show called Chez Ali. Many of us commented that it reminded us of the Moroccan version of Medieval Times.   Tha fantasia began with dinner under a fancy tent as waves of  Saharan folk singers, dancers, and musicians came by to entertain us.  We then went outside to watch the show that included belly dancers, arabian horses and trick riders, flying carpets and fireworks.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

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