Where Sultans Live and Die

On our tourist day in Marrakech we only got to see two ‘real’ places because we had to switch Riads in the morning. The pace of life in Marrakech (probably all of Morocco) is different, everything happens at a slower pace. So, leaving Riad Dar Zaman took about an hour because we chatted with the owner, a great Englishman Randy knew through a friend, and then finding Riad Altair and establishing ourselves there took another hour and a half. You have to fill out the paperwork, then drink the mint tea, then get a tour of the Riad, and then you can finally go to your room and get ready to head out for what’s left of the day. While I’m not the typical impatient New Yorker (I think…), these rituals still take some getting used to.

Even when we were finally on our way it took about an hour to find our first destination because we got lost in the maze of the medina and had to interpret the typical misdirection of the locals on our way to the Bahia Palace. The national monuments are only open until five pm, so we were worried about having enough time. We finally found the palace around 1:30, after teaming up with a Dutch couple who were also lost. After the hefty entrance fee of $1.25 (10 Dirham, if only all museums cost this much!), we explored the rooms. Probably less than one fourth of the palace (there are 125 rooms) has been fixed up and is open to visitors, but what you get to see is beautifully ornate.

Door detail. Bahia Palace.

Arch over window. Bahia Palace.

Some of the cat gangs get to hang out in the palace. They must be the leaders.

Here cats are Kings.

Even though it’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest part of the day many of the rooms had beautifully tiled fireplaces. You get to experience how the clever construction has created an environment with nice cool temperatures and breezes that move through the rooms. Thick walls and few windows are the trick.

Me and one of the many ornate fireplaces. Bahia Palace.

Multicolor fireplace! Bahia Palace.

There were a few nice courtyards, each equipped with graceful fountains and nice vegetation.

Fountain in a courtyard (Randy and I in the mirror). Bahia Palace.

All the detailing is amazing. The amount of work that goes into a palace like this is incredible. It took 10 years to complete.

Plasterwork detailing. Bahia Palace.

Tile detail. Bahia Palace.

The other goal for the day was to find the Saadian Tombs. After a delish shwarma lunch (‘fast’ food, cheap prices, my kind of place) we managed to get to the tombs without getting super lost. It was a miracle. I think it was because it’s not in a maze-y part of the medina, and because we got directions from the shwarma lady, and we also asked some other tourists who spoke French and could help with directions. Keep in mind, we had 2 maps, they are just impossible to read. We got there at 4, with just enough time to make it through the open areas.

There are a few Sultans that are buried in the giant tombs. These have super high ceilings, and beautiful tiling, ceilings, and pillars. Bigger stones are for adults, smaller ones are for children.

Huge, beautiful tombs for the sultans. Saadian Tombs.

Another shot of the ridiculously high vaulted ceilings. Saadian Tombs.

Adult tomb and child tomb. Guess which one is which. Saadian Tombs.

You also see tombs outside, which, we think, are attributed to people who died of the black plague. Not sure if we messed up that translation though.

If you prefer, an outdoor burial. Saadian Tombs.

These tombs had been ‘lost’ for a few centuries, so they’re still fixing up some of the structures. Not much is open to the public, but what’s there is so ornate that it is totally worth the US$1.25 (10MAD) fee. So that’s the history we saw.

We managed to catch a little culture later that afternoon by accident. We were walking around and I saw what appeared to be a giant camel. Turns out it was a parade float! There were lots of Berber tribes and people in costumes dancing and playing music. So glad we were in the right place at the right time!

Parade! Marrakech, Morocco.

I’m really regretting not having more time in Morocco. I wish we had 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years! Anyway, we ended up taking a trip outside the city the next day to the Ourika Valley. It was really interesting, but not an ideal excursion. I’ll write about that next.


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