Suitcase and World: A medersa, a museum and something Almoravid.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A medersa, a museum and something Almoravid.

From the Saadian Tombs, Soon and I made our way around back through Bab Agnaou, heading towards Djemma el Fna. Our next destination was the Medersa Ben Youssef which was located stone's throw from our riad.

By now, we had gotten the lay of the land so we knew exactly how to get ourselves back to the square.

"So many distractions" Our walking route took us to the street where our sugar juice vendor was located.  As we passed by the restaurants, it dawned on us that it was lunch time and perhaps, we should take the opportunity to have a sit, rest our feet and grab a bite.  We picked a restaurant with outdoor seating and a decent menu.

We plopped ourselves at a table up front so we would have a good vantage point from which to watch the world go by.  Today's a working day so the main people walking by looking like local residents going about their daily work duties; lots of men and women dressed in business attire.  I would be back in the same in a few days....not looking forward to that.

It was beautiful day in Marrakesh.  I can't believe the weather here.  Locals were walking around all bundled up in wool coats or all covered up in their djellabas.  Soon and I were dressed as if it were springtime and for us, that's what the weather felt like. It's no wonder the Europeans flock here in the winter months.

"Food"We were in no rush so we took our time with lunch.  It wasn't the food that slowed us down; we were just enjoying the people watching.

After lunch, we made our way back through Djemma el Fna to the souks.  The past few days that we've been here, we've always just rushed through the souks.  Today, we decided to do a little bit more exploring, checking out the side streets that intersect the main street that we had been walking up and down.

We discovered little plaza areas,  each different from the other but all offering things for sale.  We even saw a plastic tub filled with live snails....which hopefully, will end up as snail soup before the day is over.  Seeing them reminded me that I had not yet had a bowl in Marrakesh so that will be something I will do before I say good bye to Djemma el Fna :-)

"Shopping"You could spend your entire lifetime shopping in this souk.  Unfortunately, I'm not a shopper though there are occasions when I am a hunter....going from one place to another until I find what I want.  But once I see something I like and it's in what I call my *affordable zone*, I buy it.  I have absolutely no interest checking every item in a store and repeating that until I've made my way through all the stores in an area. 

I wasn't looking to buy a tajine but as we passed by one store, a particular tajine caught my eye.  Of course, the sales guy was over me like a hawk watching prey.  We entered in and I like the selection.  There was a whole set of dishware in the same pattern and I had hard time trying to decide what to buy.  Soon was also lured in to the store and in the end, I bought the tajine that I can serve food in and he bought a small bowl, that he called his "noodle bowl" in the same pattern.   I made a half hearted effort to bargain but with prices so reasonable to begin with, I just don't have the patience to haggle for what would convert to a few US dollars.

We meandered our way out of the souk and I realized it was the first time we had ever passed this way during the day time.  Place looks so different with all the stores opened :-)

"A good laugh or two or three"Okay, the next bit is a memory I promised Soon that I would record in my blog even though it was he that was having a good laugh at my expense.  I don't think it's going to be as funny reading about though - you had to have been there but a promise is a promise so here it goes.  On our way from the souk to the riad we passed by a pouf vendor.  He had a very nice selection of both leather and silk poufs.  Of course, the young sales guy offered us to take a closer look.  There was a small pouf on the ground and I thought I would try sitting on it to see how it felt.  If the height was right, may be I would think about buying it.  As I turned around to sit down, the young sales guy said something like, "it is filled with plastic".  I heard him say that but in that instant, I didn't ask him what he meant.  I just sat down on the pouf and ended up sitting on the ground.  That sent both he and Soon into a giggling fit.  Soon wanted to know which part of "filled with plastic" I didn't understand.  I guess I thought he meant stuffed with plastic so it would be a solid seat but as I proved, it was not :-(  Luckily, I have a well padded tush so no damage done and just as lucky for me, Soon helped me up off the ground before he realized he hadn't taken a photo.  Whew!

A good laugh over, we continued on our way towards the Medersa Ben Youssef; we weren't far away.

"More shopping" After I got my tajine, Soon wanted to get one too but a teeny, weeny one for display so as we walked through the souk, we kept our eyes out for interesting ones. 

We had passed this one store, everyday, on our walk to/from Djemma el Fna.  It stood out because the tajines were very colorful but they were plain; no designs.  Very modern looking.

We walked in and started to look around.  Hawk eyed man came over and zeroed in on Soon who had made the mistake of picking up a tajine.  Ah....cannot show interest.  I don't know that Soon was truly interested but the man was really annoyingly persistent.  Almost in a bullying kind of way.  Anyway, Soon ended up buying a small tajine and I have to say, it's a very nice, unusual one - light bluish/purple color with a silver painted knob on the top of the lid.

Standing outside the entrance to our riad.

With our newly purchased items in hand, we decided we needed to make our way back to the riad to drop off our purchases before heading to the Medersa Ben Youssef.

 "The Medersa"Purchases deposited back in the riad, we backtracked to the medersa.  We entered through the huge wooden doors that we had walked by so many times in the past few days.

 The Medersa Ben Youssef  is a Koranic school that was founded by the Merenid Sultan Abou el Hassan in the 14th century. It was, however, almost completely rebuilt under the Saadian rulers in the 16th century and it is they who made their distinctive mark in its architecture and art.

The entrance led down a hallway that opened up into a large courtyard with a central pool.

The surrounding buildings were all ornately decorated....carved woodwork, exquisite plaster work, and colorful zellij tiles.

Throughout the medersa are many Arabic inscriptions in stucco and zellij tile; so beautiful.  I don't what it reads but I am certain it has something to do with Allah.  

Near the entrance hallway was a set of stairs that led up to the second floor.  Located there were tiny rooms that were the student dormitories.  The rooms were arranged around smaller inner courtyards, rimmed with finely carved wood trim.

Several of the dormitories were open though there was a barrier at the door to prevent you from entering.  They had set up the room to give you an idea of how it was used and the nice thing was that the room opened out into the main courtyard so there was light coming in.  Otherwise, it would have been a really dark and depressing place.

 "The Museum"From Medersa Ben Youssef, we made our way to the Museum of Marrakesh which is housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace, built at the end of the 19th century by Mehdi Menebhi. The palace was carefully restored by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation and converted into a museum in 1997.

At 60 dirhams for an entry ticket, it was our most expensive visit. 



The galleries were located around a central courtyard that had a very large chandelier type lamp hanging from the ceiling, above a small fountain. We couldn't figure out what material the lamp was made of.  Though it looked like rattan, my guess is that it's finely tooled metal.

The museum holds exhibits of both modern and traditional Moroccan art together with fine examples of historical books, coins and pottery of Moroccan Jewish, Berber and Arab cultures.   It was a mish mash of things.

There really wasn't much to see in the museum so after making our rounds through the galleries and checking out the chandelier lamp, we were done.

The exit took us past the gift shop and a small cafe with outdoor seating. It was nice little area.

"Something Almovarid"On the other side of the entrance we were greeted by a sign with an arrow pointing to the left.  On our map, the place was named, "Koubba Ba'Adyin".  We had no idea what we were looking at.  I was certain there was something significant about this place but I would have to wait until later to find out.

So as I wrote this posting, I Googled and what I learned was that Koubba El-Badiyin (Almoravid Koubba) is a dome that was once part of the bathing complex of a mosque.  It is the only remnant of the original city of Marrakesh as it was founded by the Almoravid dynasty in 1062 because the next dynasty, the Almohads, knocked all of Marrakesh down and rebuilt it 150 years later.  So this dome is all that is left of the Almoravid legacy.  Wow!   According to the article I read, you can enter the Koubba El-Badiyin but I don't recall any entrance being open.

"The souk, the square and a bowl of snail soup" It was still bright outside so for us, too early to go back to the riad.  We decided to head back to Djemma el Fna.  In the back of my mind, I'm thinking snail soup :-)

Back through the souk.  No shopping this time around. 

At the square, we decided to grab dinner.  We headed for the sandwich that we were at the night before but to our disappointment, it wasn't open.  Too bad because I really could have enjoyed what Soon had come to call the Moroccan hamburger.  We settled on one of the restaurants around square and had our last meal in Marrakesh.

For dessert, we wandered back into the heart of the square and I had a large bowl of snail soup :-).  By now, dusk had settled in and the nightly chaos of the square had started up. This place is truly like no other and you can't help but be invigorated by it.  Gets all your senses going and going fast!!

Of course, we had been through Djemma el Fna enough times to know exactly where the snail soup vendors were.  I made a beeline for them and just picked one out that already had customers slurping up the snail goodness of the shells.

Soon and I sat down.  I knew he wasn't interested in a bowl so I just ordered on.  Two sizes.  Small for 5 dirhams and large for 10 dirhams.  I got the large.  Not much meat in a snail.  With the toothpick in hand, I went to town....devouring one niblet of meat after another.   Shortly, after we sat down another Caucasian tourist sat down catty corner from us. The soup vendor dished out a small bowl for him.  The guy took one bite of snail and you could just tell from the look on his face that that was going to be his one and only bite of snail.   I don't even remember him swallowing it.  Soon and I chuckled at the sight but we gave him kudos for at least trying it.

Snails are snails are snails and they all taste the pretty much the same so what makes one vendor's snails better than another vendor's snails is the soup.  This vendor's soup wasn't baf but I have to say that I preferred the one that I had in Fez.  It's a herbal soup of some sort.  I have no idea what the ingredients but I really did enjoy that bowl of soup.  I wish I had gotten second bowl while I was there.  One day I will have to learn how to cook up these delicious little critters so I can enjoy them at home.

Snails down and we spent a few more minutes wandering through Djemma el Fna.   This would be our last night here so one last chance to take it all in.

"One last walk through the souk :-("Tomorrow we would be leaving Marrakesh for Casablanca and so I wanted to video a few minutes of my walk through the souk.  I want to be able to remember what it was like in years to come.

On our way through the medina, we came up the pouf seller; he recognized us and we recognized him.  We exchanged another laugh as we passed each other by.  It was nice to have been able to share a good laugh with him.

Back at the riad, it was the usual nightly duties plus packing up.  I had text Aaron to let him know that we would be meeting in the dining room at 7:45am.  Everyone needs to be ready.....we have a train to catch tomorrow!

Good night Marrakesh.  It's short visit but I've enjoyed every minute of it!