Marrakesh is one of the oldest cities in Morocco and, at the same time, the one that receives the most visitors connected to modernity. Due to its alleys, squares and mosques, the richness of Islamic culture is remarkable, which translates, not only in the explicit manifestations of faith, but in the colors, sounds and aromas.
It is practically inevitable for the Brazilian not to remember the song “Anything” when faced with the word Marrakesh. “This conversation is already something / You are already beyond Marrakesh”…. There are several speculations as to what the composer meant by these verses, but the most plausible interpretation is that to be “beyond Marrakesh” means to be completely outside our Western-Christian reality. And it is exactly this environment that the visitor finds when visiting this city, the second largest in Morocco, with almost one million inhabitants.
Marrakesh derives from the expression Mar Akush, which, in the original language of the Berbers (the nomadic Bedouins who have inhabited the desert areas of North Africa for centuries), means “divine land”. Marrakesh is one of the major cities in the Islamic world, not only because of the large number of Muslims, but mainly because of the strong and preserved architecture – the historic center has been considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1985.
The most striking experience that a foreigner can have in Marrakesh is to visit the souks, traditional markets where practically everything is sold: clothes, decoration items, kitchen artifacts, food – special emphasis on the profusion of spices, of the most varied types, flavors, colors and aromas.
Wandering through the narrow, winding and crowded streets of the souks of Marrakesh is to taste a real explosion of senses!
The presence of religion in the lives of Moroccans is extremely strong. Practicing the faith is not limited to just revering Allah, and reading the Qur’an, but strictly following the precepts transmitted by Allah, the greatest of all prophets: in people’s conduct and rules of coexistence, in the way of dressing, in the rules for food.
For the unsuspecting Christian, who practices his religiosity almost bureaucratically, it is a real culture shock. Muslims follow what is set out in their holy book to the letter, without any concessions.
Thus, it is common scene Moroccans reading the Koran in the middle of the street, women with clothes that cover almost their entire body (despite the extreme heat, which easily reaches 40 degrees) and the five daily prayers that each Muslim makes, the so-called salas , always facing Mecca. During Ramadan (the new month of the Islamic lunar calendar) the faithful do not eat while the sun is shining.
In Islam, fasting represents a process of renewing and intensifying the faith. The word derives from the Arabic “ramida”, which means “to be ardent” – coincidence or not, Ramadan happens at the hottest time of the year. Children do not, and the beginning of their practice marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
The Islamic faith is ubiquitous, but it is in the mosques that the demonstrations are most visible, due to the intensity and quantity of people who gather. Non-Muslims are strictly prohibited from entering a mosque – with rare exceptions in one or the other, open at specific times for tourist visits.
“What if I pretend to be a Muslim and try to get in?” I ask my guide, Ahmad.
– But do you speak Arabic? – he answers, with another question, making it clear that whoever does this will certainly have problems.
There are four major mosques in Marrakesh. The largest of all is the Koutoubia Mosque, a 12th century building. Located next to Jemaa el-Fnaa Square (the main one in the city), it is 60 meters long and 80 meters high – its minaret (tower) is 77 meters , with golden copper balls on the top that decrease in size towards the tip. You can see the Koutobia minaret, or Kutubiyya up to 30 kilometers away. Its architecture inspired the construction of other religious temples, in Morocco and even other countries.
First mosque built in Marrakesh (it was completed in the late 11th century), originally to be a congregational mosque, that is, to prepare priests (mullahs). It takes the name of the emir responsible for its construction Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, who would have been personally involved in the works, mixing mortar and laying bricks. It was one of the first buildings in the city made with bricks. It has a rectangular base of 120 meters by 80 meters and a minaret of 30 meters high, but what draws the most attention are the blue walls with beautiful geometric and colorful shapes and the marble floors.
Probably the first and greatest impact that the visitor to Marrakesh will experience in the city is when arriving at Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Dozens of stalls and hundreds of street vendors, artists, snake charmers, monkey trainers… the fauna in this quadrangle surrounded by restaurants, hotels, the El Kessabine souk and the Koutoubia Mosque is diverse! Prepare yourself for the uncomfortable harassment of the sellers of things (juices, sweets, dried fruits, carpets, tagines, sculptures, temporary tattoos, pictures with animals), many of them with great aggressiveness. Stay calm, but watch out, and enjoy the news!
The historic part of Marrakesh is full of narrow and busy alleys (pedestrians, bicycles and motorbikes), where a profusion of shops sell the most varied products: from trinkets coming directly from Asia to handcrafted products that refer to the ancient Moroccan culture. Named souks, they are true meeting points for residents and a fun attraction for tourists. In the past, souks were divided by type of product sold. There was one intended only for leather goods, another for spices, a third for carpets … Over time, although some maintain specialization in certain products, the vast majority of them end up selling practically the same things. There are excellent options: crockery, tapestry, clothes, teapots, jewelry, sweets, food, spices…
In this mixture of modernity and tradition, one thing remains: the act of haggling, a fun exercise in negotiating the value of the goods, which can either take endless seconds or, after several exchanges of offers, be decided quickly.
Souk Semmarine- One of the largest and most varied
Souk Ableuh- Lemons, peppers, capers, pickles, green, red and black olives and mint
Souk Kchacha- dried fruits and nuts, including dates, figs, nuts, cashews and apricots
Rahba Qedima- Hand woven baskets, perfumes, hats, scarves, shirts
Criee Berbiere- Rugs, among them Berbers
Souk Siyyaghin- jewelry
Souk Smata- Babouches (typical Moroccan shoe) and belts
Souk Cherratine- Leather goods
Souk Belaarif- traditional products and modern trinkets
Souk Haddadine- hardware and lanterns.
In pictures, all the particular beauty of Marrakesh
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