“Marrakesh used to be the haunt of the Hippies in the 1960’s and even though it has retained much of its Berber atmosphere it is today a popular weekend destination for those who want to experience Berber Africa first hand. Its bustling market the Jemaa el-Fnaa is still as big attraction for Moroccans as it is for tourists but the great treasures of Marrakesh are its Berber Palaces and Islamic schools. I hope you enjoy my photos.”, Paul Williams.
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Photos of Marrakesh and its Berber Art, Morocco
In the 1960’s Hippies swarmed to Marrakech for the cheap living, wonderful climate and Kif or hashish a processed cannabis (marijuana) grown in the Riff mountains. Today Kif is still offered on the streets of Marrakesh but a more interesting reason to visit is to absorb the Berber culture that abounds throughout the city.
Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the most famous squares in Africa and lies at the heart of Marrakesh both literally and culturally. Marrakesh was one of Morocco’s four former Imperial cities and lay at the northern end of a great trading route that stretched over the High Atlas mountains and through the Sahara to Mali. Jemaa el-Fnaa was the focus of the camel trains and from early history people traded in the square. After trading the square became a centre of entertainment as it is still today. Food stalls fed the hungry travellers and snake charmers, magicians, musicians, story tellers and entertainers put on similar performances that continue today. The dentists have gone but one lone stall still exhibits dentures and teeth that were once extracted in the square. Although the Jemaa el-Fnaa is a focus for theorists who are hounded into paying to photograph the performers, there is still a Berber underlying culture in the square with story tells telling ancient stories to modern day Moroccans. The cultural life of the square has been seen to be so important that UNESCO added the square to its heritage list.
As would be expected the souks in Marakesh are extensive selling and incredible array of goods. Traditionally souks are divided into areas selling the same sort of goods so there are areas selling carpets, leather goods, spices, baskets and the list is endless.
Marrakesh has a rich Berber heritage as can be seen in its Berber Arabesque buildings. On the eastern side of the Kasbah is the Bahia Palace. Built by Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur after his success against the Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings in 1578, the Bahia Palace is richly decorated with Berber arabesque plasterwork and Berber zellige tiles. The zellige tiles run around the lower part of the wall and are a mosaic of small tiles that are arranged to produce colourful geometric designs. Above this is the Berber Mocarabe plasterwork with its swirling geometric designs and islamic Koranic texts. The roofs are covered with Berber wood panels decorated with more colourful designs. The overall effect is overwhelming and was guaranteed to impress even the most illustrious visitor.
A more harmonious use of Berber plater work and selling tiles can be seen at the Ben Youssef Madrasa, which was the best was an Islamic college in Morocco and housed as many as 900 students. The walls of the two story central courtyard are covered with geometric Berber Mocarabe plasterwork. The idea behind Islamic geometric design was to demonstrate the diversity and infinite wisdom of God. Ben Youssef Madrasa’s decorations certainly demonstrate a seemingly infinite variety of geometric designs in an attempt to demonstrate strict Islamic architectural principles .
The Saadian tombs date back to sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, the Saadi Dynasty ruler who lived from 1578-1603. Ahmad al-Mansur and his family are buried in the Saadian tombs which are richly decorated with Berber plasterwork. For many years the tombs were walled up and lost and were only rediscovered in 1917 when they were restored to the full glory.
Associated with the great palaces of Marrakesh are formal gardens with lakes and pavilions. With the backdrop of the Atlas mountains and many more sights to enjoy it is no wonder that Marrakesh is still one of Morocco’s most visited cities.
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