Today was our cultural day. Most of it was spent looking at various styles of architecture. ‘Various’ being the operative word there given nearly every building in Marrakech looks the same. I’m ignoring the ones in the tannery area because they all look like they’ve fallen down and then been thrown back up with half a teaspoon of spit and a prayer.
The morning started bad enough. I have had to resort to writing my blog entries of an evening and then not uploading them until the early hours of the morning because that’s the only time the wi-fi deigns to make itself known to the tablet. This morning it just refused carte blanche to do anything and so we had to upload in the Cyber-Park (near the fountain is the strongest signal). Still, anything for my readers.
It also rained in the night, evidenced by the big puddles everywhere and it even spat on us for a bit. Then things returned to normal and the rest of the day was hot and sunny.
Post posted, we then set off to see the only Christian church in Marrakech, the church of the Seven Martyrs. It was built in 1930 and is just around the corner from a mosque (there’s a lot of them in Marrakech). Most notable is that the steeple is significantly lower than the mosque tower. The only difference (other than height) being the cross on top, otherwise the buildings are very similar in style.
Now, I can’t judge the insides because I’m not allowed to go into a mosque – Islam is clearly not an inclusive and welcoming religion – but the Catholic church, inside, looks very much like any Christian church I’ve been into except for a few things. There’s not a lot of iconography, even the stations of the cross have been reduced to a series of wooden plaques with the numbers carved on them. The only obvious sign of iconography is Christ, suspended over the altar but even he is dwarfed by the building to be rendered skinny, helpless and inconsequential.
The other thing noticeably missing was the stained glass windows. They had been reduced to a series of small diamond shaped yellow and blue glass panels that were not as nice as that sounds.
Even so, once inside, there’s a quiet and reflective peace within the walls. The pews are all lined up, facing the altar, the confessional is beneath the organ at the back. It’s all instantly recognisable. Even the little old man at the door seemed, somehow, familiar. What didn’t feel familiar was the group of policemen hanging around the grounds like a gang of street kids about to do something horrid. Perhaps they are there to stop the Moslems going in. Who knows. I wasn’t about to ask.
We left the church feeling strangely at peace. This only lasted until we reached the crowds outside the government office responsible for the issuance of identity cards. Here, for the first time, I saw Marrakeshi cake sellers, trying to sell to locals. I was inwardly pleased they don’t only annoy tourists.
Our next stop, and it was completely unexpected and unplanned, was the football ground of the local Marrakesh football team. We took photos and were sad that there wasn’t a local game we could attend before moving on to the Theatre Royal.
It was designed by Moroccan architects and yet it stands out as something more neo-classic. It has columns and a dome on top and it isn’t the usual ochre colour of everything here. It was, like the church, a comforting sight. And quite unexpected. Interesting that they should design a building that so echoes our own theatre style.
Across the road from the Theatre Royal is the wonderful Marrakesh station. Apparently it is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary but it looks much younger.
The design incorporates things like the ever present palm trees to emphasise its place in the desert. However, it is also bright and airy and a pleasant place to sit and wait for a train. This was Nicktor’s favourite place of the day.
We decided to have a coffee while we waited for a train to appear (all the platforms were sadly empty) and then stood upstairs watching through the big plate glass windows. In true railway style, the train was late. In fact we didn’t actually see the one that was due to arrive at midday, instead settling for the one that departed in an hour. It was an odd way to pass some time but afforded a lot of people watching in a very pleasant building.
Actually, the station reminded me an awful lot of St Malo station in layout and design. Given the French influence in Marrakech, I suppose it’s hardly surprising.
The time was getting on a bit so we wandered up to Ave Mohamed V for a spot of lunch in a cafe that didn’t invite us in for lovely paninis and coffee. And Nicktor made a new friend.
After a long, leisurely lunch, we headed off to the Marjorelle Gardens. Nicktor isn’t that impressed with gardens. He didn’t get the whole feeling of peace and harmony provided by the exquisitely laid out plants. It wasn’t until we left the gardens and once more were surrounded by the noise of the traffic that he realised how peaceful it had been inside the walls.
The garden was designed by a French artist called Jacques Marjorelle. He settled in Marrakech in 1919 in order to paint, then bought the land in the New Town in 1924 in which to create his masterpiece. He opened it to the public in 1947. In 1962, Jacques died in a car accident and so the garden fell into disrepair. Step up Yves St Laurent (yes, that one) and his mate Pierre Berge. They bought and restored the garden. And what a great job they did.
The garden is made up of mostly cactus and grasses, with a few trees here and there. It also has a lot of bamboo which provides some very welcome shade. I suppose it was because he was an artist that he used a lot of very strong primary colours to decorate the surrounds and assorted pots and bridges. The deep blues are especially beautiful.
This was my favourite place of the day. I really wish Mirinda could have seen it. She would have loved it. It really is an oasis in the middle of a mess of traffic noise and bustle.
Oh, I almost forgot. We visited the Central Market at some stage and discovered not one but three bottle shops. We bought a small bottle of whisky. The guy selling it secretively and swiftly put it in a black plastic bag so no-one would realise we were buying alcohol. What a funny country this is.
Eventually we ended up back at the hotel for a bit of a relax before heading out for dinner. We have a big day tomorrow (12 hours visiting three sites in the desert) so will try not to have a late one.
And would you believe it? We went next door for dinner to an Italian restaurant in Marrakech where we were entertained with country and western music and football on a big screen. Quite surreal. However, I had the most amazing royal couscous (finally, a couscous worthy of the name) while Nicktor had lasagna. I finished with an alcohol free tiramisu (effectively sponge cake, cream, more cream and chocolate powder). I’m afraid I could only give it 3/10. The mint tea, however, was excellent.