While I am for the better part an avid nature lover come explorer, as an individual fascinated with the past, an integral part of visiting a country is the opportunity to explore its tangible history, and in doing so, its culture. Morocco is one of those beautifully contrasted and diverse countries in which each place can tell you something different, and each building has its own story. It’s medinas’ - mazed and intriguing - are the walled, old districts of the cities in Morocco, and remain, in some ways, their souls today. The enclosed tangle of streets are home to many of the country’s most historic and architectural structures, including traditional Arabic mosques and palaces, and some of the best markets to be found in Morocco. Feast your shopping senses on spices, tea, argan oil, shimmering silver jewellery, leather bags, carpets and everything in between.
1.Marrakech Despite the fact Marrakech is often the heart of a trip to Morocco, or indeed the sole destination, I do suggest you venture further afield. (And I hope that my articles can help you to do just that.) Nevertheless, the city does harbour a captivating medina and a chance to contemplate the enthralling architecture, culture and history of the country. Stains of its central role in the ancient Muslim world are found today in numerous impressive monuments, battlements and palaces found across Marrakech. It’s medina, centred around Djemaa El-Fna Square, is flush with market stalls selling anything and everything. (And all very reasonably priced.) Take a trip to the night market; revelling in the hum of Moroccan evenings, the bustle of the street vendors and the wandering and witty assorted entertainers. While we’re on the topic, Marrakech is also home to some foodie havens - try L’Annexe for Western delights or Naranji for a more Moroccan taste fusion. As the city in which the old and the new combine in a colorful, vibrant and innovative display, Marrakech is an interesting venture into the diverse past and present, of Morocco.
TOP TIP: Stay in a Riad with a swimming pool - a necessary refresher from the cloying climate!
2. Fez Fez is another ancient imperial city. Previously the capital of Morocco, it’s medina - Fes El-Bali - is one of the best preserved, and largest. Find a Riad inside the walls of the medina for a true immersion into its culture and labyrinthine space, and make sure you visit the sprawling and iconic Chaoury Tannery - almost a thousand years old and responsible for Fez’s renowned leather products. While Fez remains a prominent city on the tourist circuit, it was in fact my least favourite place in Morocco, and in my opinion worth a visit if only to sample the old medina. This is down to personal experience more than anything and is of course not universal, but go prepared for some more intense Moroccan haggling and beware of any bargainings that turn aggressive. (Full article to come on how to survive, and thrive, when haggling abroad!)
3. Chefchaouen While there are a great number of beautiful cities across Morocco, my absolute favourite medina, and place, remains resolutely Chefchaouen. Set among the green hills of the Rif mountains in northwest Morocco, the entire town is painted in different shades of light blue, giving it a deservingly idyllic, fairy-tale look. It was initially coloured blue in the 15th century to ward off evil spirits, and it seems to have done the trick; Chefchaouen having one of the most warm and laidback atmospheres in the country. In stark contrast to other cities in Morocco, one can explore and browse market stalls in the charming Uta el-Hammam Square, quite at ease from the dangers of over bearing shop keepers. The mountain town is particularly famous for its weaving, found in the bright displays of carpets and jackets across the medina. Natural escapes are also plentiful here. Take a stroll up to the Great Mosque as the sun sets behind the mountains of Chefchaouen for a magnificent view of the little blue city far down below. Alternatively, grab a taxi to the Cascades d’Akchour, not far from the town, and plunge into the divine (and much needed!) waterfalls.
4. Casablanca Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco, in the central-western part of the country, and as a result of its conglomerate past, is home to some truly fascinating architecture. The city’s building styles fluctuate from classic Art Deco to radically modern and innovative, sometimes in the same street. While the Hassan II Mosque, at the centre of the city’s medina, towering and intricately decorated and the largest in Morocco, is a faultless example of Arabic architecture and craftsmanship; the city’s French influences are felt in the palm-lined Boulevard Mohammed. My favourite, and a prime example of European Art Deco, is the charming Cinéma Rialto. What’s more, Casablanca is home to both a diverse range of galleries and exhibitions, and some very chic restaurants. And my personal favourite - a thriving surf scene!
Despite the fact that I am not, as stated, a ‘city-lover’, Moroccan cities seem to hold a unique charisma. The narrow, meandering streets, bustling and colourful shops and enthralling architecture all work to give the cities and their medina’s an enchanting, almost romantic, feel. To be transported back into the Moroccan past, and to feel submerged in its culture, one simply has to step into an ancient medina. Forget museums. In Morocco, the history and culture lives and breathes in the bricks, the food and the people.