14 Aug Morocco’s Exotic Cities, Casablanca and Marrakesh
“They’re taking me to Marrakesh” wrote Graham Nash in his song “Marrakesh Express” released in 1969, (performed by Crosby, Stills and Nash). The song is apparently based on Nash’s experience of travelling from Casablanca to Marrakesh on the Marrakesh Express train in 1966?
Well, fifty years later, after docking in Casablanca’s harbour at 7 am on Tuesday 25th October 2016, they took us to Marrakesh on the “Marrakesh Express” bus.
The Main Square in Marrakesh – Djemaa el-Fna (translated as Gathering Area)
Entering the Djemaa el-Fna was a long line of Caleche and drivers waiting for a fare. We’d have happily taken a ride, but it wasn’t part of our tour.
Around midday the square was not busy. And we were only walking through, en route to our lunch venue.
Lunch at Palais Arabe, 2 Place Jamaa El-Fna, a traditional Moroccan restaurant close to the main square.
Interior decor of restaurant
Our guide Larabe standing at the door as we exited the restaurant
Souks, Alley Ways and Streets near the main square
PraKing (for a King)
Jardin Majorelle, Marrakesh
Jardin Majorelle was designed and developed during a 40 year period by French orientalist painter, Jacques Majorelle, starting in the 1920’s. After Majorelle’s death in 1962 the garden was abandoned. Business partners / fashion icons Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge purchased the garden in 1980 and restored it. Foundation Jardin Majorelle now owns and maintains the garden, which has become a very popular tourist attraction.
At the north-eastern corner of the garden is the Musee Berbere (Berber Museum), located in the former painting studio of Jacques Majorelle . The museum houses many wonderful Berber artefacts, so I was very disappointed when told I could not take photos inside.
Waiting to enter the museum beside an external wall of the museum (former studio)
The Palais Bahia (beautiful or brilliant palace) was constructed in the late 19th century and expanded during the early 20th century, using a mixture of Islamic and Moroccan architectural styles (Wikipedia). It has 150 rooms (not all of them open to the public), several courtyards and gardens.
The 25th October 2016 was a busy day for us, starting with the 3-hour bus ride from Casablanca; visits to Marrakesh’s main square, souks, Jardin Majorelle, the Bahia Palace; completed by an enjoyable evening meal in one of the oldest restaurants in Marrakesh.
Dinner in The Patio of Ksar El Hamra Restaurant
Savoy Le Grand our hotel for the night
We were given the opportunity to settle into our hotel room prior to dinner and found we’d been treated to a large, luxurious room, that was well above our expectations (all part of our tour package). I wish I had taken photos of the room.
Wednesday 26th October 2016
Day 2 of our Moroccan adventure commenced with a visit to the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh. The original Mosque and 77 meter high Minaret were constructed between 1147 and 1157 AD.
The original Koutoubia Mosque was found to be 5 degrees off alignment (with Mecca), so an identical mosque was built beside the first to correct that problem (although not to replace the first mosque). However the 2nd mosque was found to be 10 degrees off alignment. To deal with this problem in both mosques, attendees were required to adjust the direction they faced during prayers.
Eventually the first mosque deteriorated and was never rebuilt.
Having visited all of the scheduled sites in Marrakesh, it was time to board the bus for the 3-hour return trip to Casablanca.
Our Moroccan guide, Larabe, kept reminding us, “Casablanca means ‘white house’ ladies and gentlemen, ‘white house'” spoken as two distinct words, in a mix of Humphrey Bogart American and Moroccan accents. Larabe learnt to speak English watching old American movies.
Of course Humphrey Bogart was the star of the 1942 movie “Casablanca”, in which he plays Rick Blaine, owner of “Rick’s Cafe Americain”. Although the story was set in Casablanca, it was filmed entirely in the USA during WWII. Despite this fact, there is a “real” Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca “that brings the legendary ‘Gin Joint’ of cinema fame to life ….” (Wikipedia)
BUT Wait!… IS THAT Rick himself standing at the door?
Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca has the tallest Minaret in the world, standing at 210 meters (60 stories). Construction of the mosque and minaret commenced in 1986 and took 7 years to complete. It is the result of King Hassan II’s desire to build a single monument honouring his predecessor, King Mohammed V Sultan of Morocco, who had died in 1961.
While not obvious from the above photo, Hassan II Mosque is surprisingly close to the Atlantic Ocean (in fact, built partially over it) and not far from Casablanca’s harbour, where our cruise ship, MV Aegean Odyssey was docked and waiting.
With everyone back onboard, MV Aegean Odyssey left the harbour at 2.30 pm and headed towards the mouth of Spain’s Guadalquivir River, for a cruise all the way to Seville.
“Ole, ole, ole, ole, te veremos en Sevilla” ( … we’ll see you in Seville).