Morocco, August 2013

I travelled around Morocco for two weeks to research some stories for the Morocco edition of MERIAN magazine. If you like to surf, admire architecture or explore the culture of the north of Africa, this country could be just right for you

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Oualidia is a cute little seaside resort at the Atlantic coast, some 200 km south of Marrakech.  It has a quiet lagoon and a little island inside, boats will carry you over for a couple of coins. The island seems quite popular with families as there are no waves out there, guess that makes it safer for little children.

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Not so bad under a sunset either.

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Essaouira is a town some 190 km south of Oualidia down the coast. The ramparts of Essaouira were commissioned in the late 18th century to a French military architect named Theodore Carnut and have come to movie fame a long time ago: Orson Welles’ spectacular ‘Othello’ was largely shot here and features many shots of the towers and walls, the buildings got even more attention as a backdrop for many episodes of the third season of ‘Game Of Thrones’. If you like history or architecture, the stretch between Skala du Port, the southern tower,  and the North Bastion above the Skala de la Ville makes for a nice afternoon walk so you can enjoy it in daylight before having dinner at one of the fish grills near Orson Welles Square.

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Two Seagulls on dusk patrol after a busy day for the fishermen of Essaouira. After Agadir and Safi, Essaouira is one of the most important fishing ports of the country.

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I parked my car on the shoulder of the highway and took a short break in the desert between destinations. Roads are quite okay in Morocco but you should be aware of pot holes so it could make sense to check your speed. The desert is not a good place to break a wheel I guess.

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El Jadida, another coastal town some 190 km south of Marrakech and probably a nice destination for architecture hacks. Tourists love to explre the wall of the former portuguese fort in El Jadida. From here you got great views of the sea …

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… and modern El Jadida as the wall encircles all of the portuguese quarters. Walking all of the wall makes for a nice afternoon stroll of half an hour or so.

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They’re everywhere! Kids playing with a mask inspired by the movie ‘V for Vendetta’, now the symbol of the Anonymous organization and often worn on rallies of the Occupy movement. Guess for them it’s just a toy; in terms of photography I found it a very strong and funny street scene. The gate in the background is part of the Portuguese ramparts in the old part of the city of El Jadida, it probably was used to load and unload ships for traffic between El Jadida and ports in Europe.

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In case you got a bit of an appetite after strolling through the Portuguese city, Café Do Mar ist a modern and relaxed café right opposite the gate, serving a variety of snacks and fresh smoothies.

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The architecture in El Jadida features many elements of baroque design, a charming contrast to the arabic style you may find around the next corner.

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To make it through the narrow lanes in the Portuguese city of El Jadida, you rather keep your hand out of that cookie jar for a while.

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The cistern in the Portuguese city was another location Orson Welles picked for his film version of ‘Othello’, bringing it to internatioal fame.

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Outside the Portuguese city, just around the block: Some French colonial architecture telling stories of glamour that is long gone.

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Mild colours and wild wires on an old building near the center.

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Kids taking a plunge in the port of El Jadida.

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As the sun sets over the port, people pack their stuff and leave the warm rocks of the quai for dinner in the city.

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The view from my window of my hotel: The house arches over the street I was literally at the center of everything. You never travel without ear plugs, do you? Just sayin’.

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August is the month when Moroccans love to travel most, and El Jadida is one of the most popular destinations. During the day, lots of new cars trundle through the streets, visible sign of Morocco’s growing middle class. At night, everyone flocks to the beach promenade, some buying a paper cup of tea and strolling along the beach as they sip their hot drink, others dancing in the sand with bare feet as some live bands play up. As a visitor, you can just sit on the handrail along the pavement like these guys do, watching people go by, mothers with prams, chatty kids, dads with their pals. It’s dark and warm and as crowded as it may be, everyone stays nice and easy. I watched for an hour or so, having some conversations in my slightly rusty French, otherwise chewing white nougat and just enjoying the moment. Guess that’s what it’s all about.

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In case you’ve had enough of humans, there’s always a camel around to take you for a ride. (Sorry for the grainy pic, my iPhone was getting a bit shoddy. Been updating lately.)

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I liked the round balconies at this building in Marrakech  – too bad that the people in those flats won’t use them too often. At some 40 degrees Celsius in summer (about 104 degrees Fahrenheit) you rather stay in the shade which is why many living quarters have a patio on the inside: It’s cooler than the walls outside, rooms often got their windows towards the patio for ventilation.

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In case you’re looking for accomodation: Hotel Le Gallia is a quiet hotel in the medina, the old part of Marrakech, just a five minute walk from Jamaa El F’Naa. It looks very humble from the outside but it’s clean and comfy within.

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The patio of Hotel Gallia, sunny enough to keep you happy and shady enough to keep you cool.

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The palm in the patio reaches all the way up to the rooftop terrace.

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Et voilà!

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After a couple of days in Marrakech, you may get to a point when you want to flee the heat and the hassle of this lively city. If so, the Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle) may be the oasis you are longing for. Created on from the 1920s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, it will charms you with its sophisticated balance of palms, cacti and other plants which make for a perfect backdrop for small buildings in strong, sometimes radiant colours. It’s a quiet garden, with high bamboos given you some shade and various pools cooling the air with vaporising water.

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Young lovers relaxing under palm trees in Jardin Majorelle.

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Bold colours and bizarre cacti in the late afternoon light.

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The French designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the Jardin Majorelle in 1980 and lived in the adjoining Villa Oasis which soon became famous as a  hangout for their glamourous friends from all over the world. After Yves Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the rose garden of Villa Oasis and Pierre Bergé had this tomb erected in Jardin Majorelle as a memorial for his beloved partner.

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Morocco Central Station, the Gare de Marrakech, blends modern architecture and traditional Arabic design.

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A detail of the façade of the Gare de Marrakech, seen from the staircase inside.

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Admiring one last piece of modern architecture in Morocco before I flew back: The airport quotes patterns of arab design to create an contemporary structure, both transparent and elegant.

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