Sunday, June 20, 2010

Traveling through Morocco: Marrakech and Ait Ben Haddou

This April, we traveled 12 days through Morocco. We started in Casablanca, took then the train to Marrakech where we stayed two nights. From Marrakech we did a loop with a rental car over the Atlas Mountains and through the Moroccan part of the Sahara with the following stations:
  • Ait Ben Haddou
  • Val du Dades
  • Gorge du Todrah
  • Merzouga and Erg Chebbi
  • N’kob
  • Val du Draa
And then back to Marrakech were we spent another night, finally we went back to Casablanca from where we took the plane back to Stuttgart.

Photographing in Morocco
Before starting the description of our travel through Morocco a few words on photographing in Morocco. Morocco is an Islamic country. Although not explicit written in the Koran, since centuries the religion has a tradition to not show human beings and animals in paintings or photographs (as a modern version). This is known as Aniconism in the Islam. One of the results of this tradition leads to the fantastic ornamental work in the architecture of Morocco and Andalusia (southern Spain) which can be found especially in palaces. Although you have TV and Billboards in the Morocco of the 21st century some people still feel uncomfortable being captures on photography. Therefore you have to be careful taking pictures of people – it might happen that you try to take a picture of a crowded place in a medina and people will raise their hands to cover their face. On the other side people offer to be on a photograph and expect then a tip. And it might happen that people entertain some doubt if they should be portrayed to get a tip or not to be compliant with their belief.

We stayed in the Riad ‘Les Trois Mages’ which is in the northern part of the Medina, later in the trip we stayed also in the southern part - I preferred definitely to stay in the northern part, although it is a little bit farer to walk to the famous ‘Djema el Fna’. But you enter the souk from the less touristy side where it seems to be more authentic and the merchants are less ‘pushy’ in trying to sell you whatever they offer.
Things to do in one and a half days in Marrakech’s northern part of the medina:
Visit of the souk and ‘Djema el Fna’
Visit of the ‘Jardin Majorelle’, a nice tropical garden, although it’s crowdie with a lots of tourists.
Visit of the Medersa Ben Yousef (former Koran school)

Dyed wool

The souk of Marrakech

Djema el Fna, with an fantastic mood right after sunset

Medersa Ben Yousef, the former Koran school

Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou
Originally I planed to have a 4x4 car, but since we were at peak season in Marrakech it was impossible to get one – at least I was to late organizing it. So we had a regular car, a mini-van with a little bit more clearance which worked well for our trip to the south and into the Sahara desert. Major streets in Morocco are usually quite good. Sometimes you might have to drive a short distance over some gravel roads to reach your final destination.
In springtime you drive from Marrakech to the Atlas Mountains through a very green and flowering landscape. Probably not what you expect thinking about Morocco. Coming to the foot of the mountains the meadows are more and more replaced by forest. Getting higher and coming closer to the Tizi-n-Tichka pass the landscape gets alpine with less and less vegetation. All along the street you see booths with minerals and fossils. The minerals are colorized in the fanciest colors! I never understood why they colorize them so unnaturally. On the southern side of the Atlas Mountains the landscape changes, rocky and colorful mountains stand in contrast to green valleys.
After five hours on the main road we arrived in Ait Ben Haddou. This Kasbah completely build by traditional rammed earth is a UNESCO world heritage and a very popular stop for tourists in this area. It might be crowded during the day. We visited it in the late afternoon after 4pm and it was not to busy. If the river carries some water locals with some donkeys offer to bring you to the other side. You have to negotiate a price. Some of the houses in Ait Ben Haddou are still in use and you might be able to visit a traditional home, when visiting a tip is expected.

Ait Ben Haddou, UNESCO World Heritage, completly build from rammed earth

Ait Ben Haddou

Next: Gorges du Dades, Gorges du Todhra, Merzouga, Erg Chebbi
Or see the Morocco slide show for more pictures.

No comments:

Post a Comment