This morning after breakfast in the hotel we took a walking tour of the old part Marrakesh. Our guide’s name in Arabic translated to ‘gazelle’ in English and she was a somewhat intimidating, no-bullshit type of person with a great sense of humor as well…not your typical stereotype of a Muslim woman. On our way to the Saadi Tombs we quickly learned when it was acceptable to take pictures and when you should refrain from getting your camera out. Some girls tried to take a picture of a large, fancy doors with military guards outside who ended up yelling at them for taking a picture and our guide explained that political/military buildings are off limits for pictures and that you can capture the atmosphere, but not specific people…unless you tip them. The Saadi Tombs were not discovered until the beginning of the 20th century and are the final resting place of many member of the Saadi family dynasty. The family members are located in various rooms and buildings around a gorgeous courtyard depending on gender, age, and title. Our second stop on the tour was the Bahia Palace that was the residence of an important minister who had 4 wives and 26 concubines (something completely normal in Islam for that time period). An interesting fact about the private quarters of the minister is that the only servants, musicians, etc. that were allowed in were either blind or eunuchs in order to keep his women just to himself.
While walking around Marrakesh we couldn’t help but notice an insane number of Moroccan flags being flown as well as deliberate holes in the walls and many drawings or metal decorations of a single hand on or near most doors. When we asked our guide about these she told us that the flags were all still up from the Kings resent visit to Marrakesh and that the partial holes in the walls were a way to ventilate the buildings since the walls are solid rock. The hands all over the city are call the Hand of Fatima (the prophet Mohammed’s daughter) and in addition to representing the Five Pillars of Islam (which dictate the basics of what a good Muslim should do) it is also a symbol of good luck and worn by many Muslims like the cross is worn by Christians. Our walk also took us through the old Jewish Quarter where we learned that the word ‘salary’ is related to the world ‘sal’ in Spanish, which mean salt since salt used to be such an important part of life that people would be paid in salt.
|One of the many people who live off of tips from pictures.|
We passed through many typical markets that were public health nightmares, especially the meat stores that had full cows (skinned and all) hanging in the front, meat sitting out on the counters (unrefrigerated), and live chickens in the back (at least you know your meat is fresh??). The last stop on the tour was a Pharmacy, which in Morocco is pretty much a store that sells spices and all natural remedies. We had a private demonstration of some of these non-Western medicines that had many applications. There was a black powder that was wrapped in cloth and when smelled once or twice daily was said to relieve migraines, clear sinuses, and stop snoring. In addition to “medical” supplies there were also many cosmetic oils, creams, and makeup….and even an all-natural Viagra.