Waking up that first morning was made difficult by how dark the room was. There were no external windows, as with much of the Moroccan architecture, in which I’m presuming is a bid to keep the rooms cooler. However I was keen to watch the city come to life early on, so I finally managed to drag my partner out of bed and out into the souks once more.
As we left we saw the hatches of each of the shops, opening up, and arranging their produce for the hordes of tourists and travellers that would be descending on them soon. As we aimed to walk around following the perimeter of the medina walls, we were approached by a few locals, telling us that we were going the wrong way to the square, and assuring us if we were to walk further into the souks, and funnily enough; towards their shops, we would find Jemaa El Fna. Having experienced this on my previous trip, although still unsure, we politely declined their “help” and continued on our walk to the main market place.
As we cut round corners and turned further into the medina, we kept having to watch out for mopeds and motorbikes racing around these tiny little streets, coming out of nowhere, splashing through the water from the freshly washed roads. This combined with hobbling three legged dogs and donkey’s taking trailers with building materials through the medina; it certainly was a far cry from my London commute on the Victoria Line which the main highlight of is trying to tell the difference between slightly overweight and pregnant women, in order to give up my seat.
We finally made our way back into the space of Jmaa El Fna again, and were surprised by the transformation in the daytime. It was a lot less crowded, with the food stalls all having been packed away, and there was a far more laid back feel, without all the shouting and the haggling.
We stopped off at one of the many stalls that sell freshly squeezed orange juice. There must have been around 12 stalls, all squeezing their own juice, with the oranges daringly stacked up to reveal a smiling little Moroccan face, just about able to see over the top of all the fruit. We bought a juice each – which was so nice. We fast learnt the satisfaction of quenching our thirst this way in the African heat.
We decided on Café Argana, in the top section of the square. Here we sat outside in the glorious morning sunshine, and ordered eggs for breakfast. We’d somewhat hoped we’d be having a rather healthy holiday, and as much as it was active, the food in Morocco was just so lovely, however quite high in fats, it was clear already that clean eating was not on the cards. Fatty, it may have been but lovely it was. I’m sure you could ask for more waistline friendly alternatives, however with all the lovely breads, omelettes, rich butters and amazing jams, neither Julien nor I were going to swap that for a fruit salad.
It’s also worth pointing out that if you don’t like sugar in your tea, whether it be English breakfast or their gorgeous Maghrebi mint tea, you should state so when ordering. Moroccans, typically, LOVE sugar in their tea. I’m not sure if there’s a reason to this, or it’s just preference, however it is incredibly sweet.
The tea was brought to our table by our smiling and helpful waiter. Moroccans have a knack for pouring their tea. It is poured from the tea pot, with the mint leaves inside, into these elegant little glasses, from a height of around 12 inches. Julien and I tried to re-enact this after the waiter had left and we just managed to pour it all over the table and food so decided it was beyond our skill set.
After sitting in the sun, and flicking through our Lonely Planet guide for an hour or so, we donned our backpacks and headed into a different part of the souks, as we endeavoured to find Ben Youssef Madrasa. We didn’t mind, as we felt we had all the time in the world to get lost, however, I can’t imagine it being a great deal of fun if you’re particularly in a rush to see something, as what can feel like walking in one direction, completely changes to the opposite, without much effort.
We finally came out from the souks into the open again, and had a bit of a disagreement about which way to go for a while, however, I had a strong sense that I recognised where we were from a previous trip, and thankfully, were just around the corner was Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Ben Youssef Madrasa was built and used as an Islamic College from the 14th Century, however was completely rebuilt under Saadian rulers in the 16th centaury. It is at this stage that the building got graced with the art and architecture that you see to this day.
The school is also attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque, which can also help to explain the strong emphasis on religion throughout this school, where the students heavily studied the Qur’an.
Stepping inside the Madrasa was, like in many buildings in this city, taking yourself away from all the crazy zipping motorbikes and bustling, and into a serene and calming world. The dark hallways, and the high white walls and ceilings create a much appreciated cooled environment from the heat of the outdoors.
We walked along the entrance corridor until we reached the beautiful, large doors, with typically Arabic styles and architecture. We passed through these and into the courtyard, of which in the centre laid a large pool. Looking up we saw windows with wooden shutters, running along the two parallel walks of the courtyard. And under the covered, pillared walkway that ran the perimeter of the outside space, there were beautifully old, worn yet elegant tiled, mosaic-esque patterns following the walls around.
After some tourist dodging photo opportunities, we passed through another large archway at the opposite end, and into the covered area. Here, we saw the most beautifully intricate stone work, from the pillars, up to the caved ceilings. It was certainly far more impressive than my school ever was, with its no doubt asbestos ridden ceiling panels, and obscenities scrawled on walls about how much of a bitch a certain head of Sixth Form was.
We climbed the stairs to the old dormitory rooms and ran around playing hide and seek in this vast and old derelict building, trying to find interesting nooks and crannies that have since been long forgotten.
We left the school, and worked our way back into the souks, getting lost multiple times, and having to pay a man to get us back on track to where we needed to be.
When we finally had our bearings once more, we headed own to the breath-taking Koutoubia Mosque, perhaps the most noticeable mosque in the centre of the old town.
From here, we meandered down busy streets, and the Medina walls, until we got to the Saadian Tombs.
The tombs belonged to Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi, who had them built for his death in 1603. The tombs contain imported Italian Carrara marble. These were sealed up a few decades later, and were only rediscovered centuries later in 1917, when they were exposed by aerial photography.
After taking these in, and acknowledging full well our own graves would never be anything in comparison, we headed back to the riad to change our clothes for dinner.
We strolled back in once more, and had yet another lovely dinner looking out onto the main square. Here, we asked the waiter for recommendations for tours to the coastline. He replied with “why not hire a car and be free to do your own thing?” After a moment’s exchanged stare, Julien wondering how much he trusts my driving, and me thinking how much do I trust my driving in Morocco, we agreed that, well… why not?!
With that we returned to our riad shortly after, where we booked a rental car to pick up the next day, through economybookings.com. We were all set to collect our Hyundai for 5 days of exploring at our own pace and free will. How exciting…