A Day in Marrakech MAG

April 8, 2009
By Bryce Gladfelter BRONZE, New Ringgold, Pennsylvania
Bryce Gladfelter BRONZE, New Ringgold, Pennsylvania
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

The time is 5 a.m. The city of Marrakech, Morocco, is breathlessly quiet. Suddenly, chanting resounds from a nearby mosque. Within moments it is followed by a chorus of guttural voices, emanating from over 100 minarets. Asleep on a rooftop terrace, I am jarred awake by the thunderous call to prayer. This is my Moroccan alarm clock.

My family and I are spending several days exploring the markets of Marrakech. From our rooftop terrace we have a sprawling view of the city. The markets form a web of alleyways thatched in bamboo and hopelessly tangled. From the central plaza, the streets radiate out in a labyrinth capable of making anyone feel directionally challenged. In the distance loom the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.

Departing from our rooftop, we gravitate toward the plaza. By the time the sun has ascended, monkey handlers and snake charmers are welcoming the day. The skirl of shrill pipes is enough to make even the most tolerant person ­insane. I pity the snakes.

After breakfast in the plaza we plunge into the markets. Everything is rich in color – vibrant scarves, jewelry, teapots, and tasseled rugs. ­Tables are heaped with camel-leather saddles, daggers, spices, and fresh produce. Our personal favorites are the stands piled with figs and dates. In the center of the stands are holes where ­Moroccans pop up like prairie dogs to take our order. These salesmen are aggressive; in order to grab our attention they try everything short of physically attacking us.

“One moment, please!” they shout, beckoning us as if they are providing shelter from a tornado. “Just look – no buy! You like? Almost free!”

Most of the women are mummified in shawls, like sacks of potatoes with eyes. People are everywhere – rowdy ­children, wizened old folks with canes, teenagers swerving erratically on mopeds, and beggars crouched under cardboard aligning cigarette butts with Mecca. Young boys wear their hair gelled in spikes and when they swagger past my sister, they holler, “Oo la la!”

Animals are also numerous. Donkeys haul carts containing everything from Coca-Cola to propane tanks. Cats roam the streets scavenging bits of meat and gnawing at fish bones. Roosters peck at the ground.

We wander between cracked, sunset-colored walls until we detect the stench of the tannery. This is an open area with vats of water made milky with pigeon droppings. Workers slosh in the rank broth in nothing but shorts, laboring to tan sheep leather. It looks like a vast honeycomb where men hang skins to dry and mangy cats wander the rims. To dull the stench we are handed sprigs of mint leaf to sniff.

Across the street is a building where leather is made into purses and other accessories. A salesman removes nearly every cushion from the wall in his attempts to convince us to purchase one, and then begins unrolling carpets and tapestries in desperation.

We plod onward. Five times a day we hear the call to prayer. From mosques around the city, chanting and music resound for worship. Lunch calls for overpriced tea on a ­terrace. The tea is choked with mint leaves and is so sweet I can feel cavities forming after the first sip.

At the dyers' souk (fabric marketplace), pieces of cloth are hung from lines and lifted with hooked poles. The colors are striking and vary from crimson to turquoise and cobalt blue. We climb a spiral staircase to view the scene from the ­terrace. Somehow we find ourselves bargaining with a man who offers 8,000 camels in exchange for my sister.

By nightfall the plaza is a hive of humanity. Like moths to a flame, we are attracted toward the lit center. Men push food carts and set up cooking tents, banishing the snake charmers and their repetitious song. Soon pungent smoke clouds the air. Chefs busily fry small greasy sausages. ­Buckets of snails entice passers-by. Determined tattoo artists pursue us with syringes of henna, while we follow the aroma of frying food.

One has to be aware while roaming the plaza. The traffic is chaotic with mopeds swerving around bewildered tourists. The whine of motorbikes pierces the air. Pickpockets steal up behind us, without success.

“Where you from?” inquires a fruit salesman.

“The United States.”

“A thousand welcomes,” he exclaims.

From dawn to dusk the markets enthrall us. We realize a week would not be sufficient to see all the wonders. Returning to our rooftop terrace, we hear the fifth and final call to prayer, while below us drummers pound out the heartbeat of Marrakech.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Jan. 7 2013 at 12:08 am
codyabenbow PLATINUM, Kailua Kona, Hawaii
23 articles 2 photos 10 comments
This really brings back memories of my first time in the Souk. Great imagery. I am slightly offset by your statement that the women were mummified in shawls, but, other than that, this piece was superb. 


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