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Marrakech is one of the four Imperial Cities of Morocco (together with Rabat, Meknes and Fez) and the name of the country has been derived from this city. The very name Marrakech conjures up images of an exotic town, on the edge of the Sahara, where the desert wind carries people on flying carpets. Well, the latter only occurs in fairy tales, but the city definitely has something exotic to it. The center of Marrakesh is the big square Djemaa el Fna. During the day it is pretty empty, bar a few stalls selling fresh orange juice, fruit and nuts. But by the end of the afternoon the square comes to life. Dozens, if not more than a hundred of food stalls, acrobats, fortune tellers, magicians, snake charmers, fire eaters, musicians, dancers and storytellers. Plus the colorfully dressed water sellers. We do not recommend buying a cup of water from those sellers, but they do enjoy having their picture taken with you. For a fee, of course. Around the square you can find several cafes with terraces which give a great view of the spectacle.
Behind the square lies the medina of Marrakesh. Which is a lot clearer than the medina of for example Fez. The old town there exists of winding streets, narrow alleys and even narrower alleys, but the medina of Marrakech has a regular street pattern, where you can find your way easily and won't get lost quickly. Just like other medinas in Morocco every street has its specialty. Particularly interesting is the street with traditional medicines.
At the heart of the medina is the Medersa Ben Youssef, a former Koranic school with beautiful carvings. Not far from there is the Musée de Marrakech, housed in an old, but finely restored house around a courtyard. Do visit the Musée Dar Si Saïd (in the southern part of the medina) too, which has a fine collection of Moroccan art, carpets, jewelry, ceramics and antique furniture.
Marrakech is sometimes referred to as the "red one" because the city walls and many houses have been built with red clay. The Koutoubia Mosque near the Djemaa el Fna square is red too. The square minaret is the true symbol of Marrakech. Have a close look at the decorations on this minaret: all are unique.
If you walk from the Djemaa el Fna square towards the south, you reach the kasbah. This is where the ruins of the El Badi Palace are. In the summer it is the scene to a folk festival for two weeks. Next to it are the tombs of the royal Sa'adi. These graves have been beautifully decorated with mosaics.
If you would like to escape the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, visit the Menara Gardens in the west of the city. Actually it is more like an orchard: there are no less than 30,000 olive trees around a square pond filled with fish. The gardens were constructed as early as in the thirteenth century, but the pavilion is of a later date; it was built at the end of the nineteenth century. The Menara Gardens are a popular place for the residents of Marrakech to relax late afternoon or early evening.
Marrakech lies at the foot of the Atlas Mountains and is therefore one of the biggest attractions outside the city. From the city you can see the highest mountain of Morocco, the 4166 meters high Jebel Toubkal. To get here, drive your rental car from Marrakech towards the south, on the R203. You can hire guides in Imlil. If you drive further south, you come to the Tizi-n-Test pass. Drivers should keep their eyes firmly on the road, because there are countless hairpin bends and there is no guardrail! Passengers can enjoy the magnificent sights. Even further south lies Taroudant which derived its wealth from trading gold in the Sahara. It is somewhat similar to Marrakech, but a smaller version.
If you drive southeast from Marrakech, you will pass through the Ourika Valley. Starting after the village of Ourika (colorful market on Mondays) and ending at Setti Fatma where the biggest attractions are the seven waterfalls. The lowest of those falls is easily accessible, but for the higher ones good hiking boots and an excellent condition are required.
The resort of Essaouira is situated 180 kilometers west of Marrakech. You can of course enjoy the sun, sea and beach here, but don't forget to visit the old inner town, where the Portuguese have left their mark.
Traffic in the center of Marrakech is busy and although Moroccans have heard of traffic rules, sticking to them is another story. Do not park your rental car on the street, but on one of the official parking lots. Avoid the unofficial "parking attendants". In the proximity of the city you should be aware of large trucks, donkeys and other livestock, handcarts and people walking on the middle of the road.
The international airport Marrakech Menara Airport is located six kilometers southwest of the city center and is easily accessible by rental car. The Avenue el Menara runs from Bab Jdid to the airport. The route to the airport is clearly signposted.