A day in the life of Marrakesh
With the light filtered through latticework and the sound of the muezzin calling the midday prayer, there’s a sense of limbo – the long wait for dusk. Nearby is a ramshackle caravanserai laid out around a central courtyard, its shops packed with a hotchpotch of treasures and junk. Perched on a stool amid a sea of battered old pots, pans, brass lamps, scales and vast copper urns, is Mustapha. Gently fanning himself with a dusty magazine, he rolls his eyes, takes a sip of piping hot mint tea and sighs.
‘It will change,’ he says slowly.
‘All this – the fondouk [a storehouse and workshop], the shops, the life my family has always known. My sons don’t want any of it and I can’t blame them. All they want are computers the size of a matchbox.’ Mustapha motions to the lane outside and sighs again. ‘I’m a dinosaur, like so many others out there, and we’re about to become extinct.’
By late afternoon, the heat is suffocating, the sense of listlessness extreme. Leaving his shop unattended, Mustapha ambles away for a shave. The medina’s streets are largely deserted, the shops selling tourist knick-knacks closed up, their owners catnapping inside.
The one stall doing brisk trade is serving up ample lunches until sunset. A row of workman are gorging themselves on individual lamb tajines, the conical pots steaming away. Circling their feet expectantly is a family of cats.
A stone’s-throw away is a great wooden door, lacquered dark with varnish, a fluted arch above it providing shade. Tucked away in the eaves are dozens of housemartins’ nests. And, behind the door lies one of the jewels of Marrakesh – the 16th-century Kssour Agafay. A lynchpin of the old medina, the riad – now a guesthouse – is a showcase of ancient Moroccan craft.
To step across the threshold is to venture back through five centuries, the corridor spiralling upwards to a courtyard, itself open to the sky. The walls are adorned with hand-cut zellij mosaics, the floors laid in Andalucían tiles, and the magnificent doors comprised of geometrical fragments of cedar wood. The sound of water trickling from a fountain mingles with the scent of jasmine against a backdrop of sobriety – the kind only arrived at through the passage of time.
The night awakes
As the afternoon ebbs towards evening, the medina emerges from its slumber. Within an hour, the shops are awash with people. There are tourists, of course, bargaining for all they’re worth. However, the further you get from Djemaa el-Fna, the more ordinary the wares on sale. Twist and turn down the telescoping lanes and you find a life that’s changed surprisingly little in centuries. There are shops touting simple wooden sieves and rough bellows, sacks of charcoal, salt, scrubbing brushes and cones of sugar. There are plenty of trappings from the modern world, too – plastic buckets and cheap Chinese running shoes, satellite dishes, laptops and mobile phones.
Out in the square, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer, as has been done five times a day, every day, for a thousand years. Then, as the last strains of his voice melt away into the lengthening shadows, there’s a thunderous roaring sound.
From all sides of Djemaa el-Fna, carts come flying forward, like gun carriages rolling out to war. On the back of each one is a jumble of cast-iron staves and struts, steel grills and trestle tables. Amid the deafening clatter of hammers, dozens of food stalls are hurriedly arranged.