Other Side of Marrakech

The lazy part of me thought that I would be able to fit in the three days of Marrakech into one post, and yet here I am, working on my third and hopefully final one.

Upon the recommendation of the staff at our riad, we enjoyed a chill lunch at Le Jardin, a restaurant just minutes away by foot and on the way to our next two stops in Riad Laarouss: Medersa Ben Youssef and Maison de la Photographie. The first used to be an Islamic college. Lonely Planet provides a great description:

‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’ reads the inscription over the entryway to the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, and after almost six centuries, the blessing still works its charms on visitors. Founded in the 14th century under the Merenids, this Quranic learning centre was once the largest in North Africa, and remains among the most splendid.

Sight lines are lifted in the entry with carved Atlas cedar cupolas and mashrabiyya (wooden-lattice screen) balconies. The medersa’s courtyard is a mind-boggling profusion of Hispano-Moresque ornament: five-colour zellij (mosaic) walls; stucco archways; cedar windows with weather-worn carved vines; and a curved mihrab (eastern-facing niche) of prized, milky-white Italian Carrara marble.

The medersa (theological college) is affiliated with nearby Ali ben Youssef Mosque, and once 900 students in 132 dorms arranged around the courtyard studied religious and legal texts here. Despite upgrades with its 19th-century renovation, the Ali ben Youssef Medersa gradually lost students to its collegiate rival, the Medera Bou Inania in Fez, but the medersa still exudes magnificent, studious calm.

Maison de la Photographie is a photography museum housed in a gorgeous former riad with the only decent view we’ve seen of Marrakech on the terrace. Entrance fee allows you to return free of charge for a few days or so.

Yet even after visiting these attractions, we still had a ton of time left in the day, so we headed to the new quartier that our first taxi driver had told us about—and boy, were we surprised. So we had been living in the medina, which means (old) city, but there is this entirely new section with—gasp—Starbucks! A shopping mall! Girls wearing shorts! I mean, you still see tourists ignoring conservative dress in the medina but here, it felt more like the norm. The shopping mall was way too small, and it was too hot to really walk around, but it was nice to see and know that a different side of Marrakech existed.

Carré Eden Marrakech
The small Carré Eden shopping center in the newer part of Marrakech is nothing to rave about.

The next morning, we had an early flight to Paris so we left at 7 a.m. with our luggage in tow, back through the nearly empty early-morning streets with plentiful sunshine—a complete 180 from our arrival.

But all I could think about was our next stop in the city of love 😉