Visit the Medina of Marrakech
The oldest part of Marrakech, the medina is a delight to explore and meander the ancient winding alleys of this city. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors do taste the real Marrakech as 200,000 Moroceans live, work and enjoy life in this vibrant part of Marrakech. With its maze like structure of narrow streets, public squares, and 20 very large gates, the colourful souks within the Medina are a feast for the eyes and senses.
The triangular Jemaa el-Fnaa (Djemaa El Fna) is the medina’s central plaza. The heart of Marrakech’s most famous tourist location.
Both in the day and at night this is a hub of activity. During the day all kinds of characters can be seen here from snake charmers to talented artists selling their art. Music and chatter fill the air. Street food vendors sell you their produce. The various vendors selling freshly squeezed fruit juices are very welcoming. Furthermore, in the heat of the day, the familiar sound of clanging brass cups advertises that refreshing cold water is available for purchase.
As the sun starts to set and evening approaches the plaza is turned in to what looks like one massive open air restaurant.
TIP: Walking can be tiring so visit one of the cafe rooftops overlooking the Jemaa el-Fnaa plaza and enjoy a cool drink with a fantastic view. A favourite is Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier to the South of the plaza.
TIP: Visit at different times of the day to get a totally different experience.
A visit to the Medina is incomplete without a stop at the Koutoubia Mosque. This pink/orange coloured mosque towers 77 metres and dates back to the Almoravid times. The minaret is easily visible from most parts of Marrakech and acts as an excellent landmark for getting your bearings. It is located at the edge of the Medina and is just a quick walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa plaza.
NOTE: The mosque’s interior is only accessible to Muslims. Non-Muslims can only admire it from the outside.
TIP: The mosque is best viewed at dusk when the light is golden and you can catch a sunset.
The Bahia Palace in the Medina is another essential sight not to be missed. Built at the end of the nineteenth century, this is one of the most visited monuments in Morocco! There are elements of both Andalusian and Moorish influences in the palace’s building work. The majority of the palace’s 160 rooms are open to the public, suggesting that discovering this magnificent house will take some time.
The Bahia Palace and the gorgeous, serene gardens encircled by its walls are a welcome retreat from the bustle of the Medina.
Is it safe to walk around the Medina of Marrakech?
Remember there is often safety in numbers. Due to the crowds, and other tourists, a traveller can feel safe as they explore the streets. However, keep in mind that pickpockets enjoy large crowds, so it’s better to conceal valuables. Therefore, haggling with sellers is customary in the Medina and frequently results in heated disputes, so do not feel threatened, this is normal.
Argana Café in the square was the subject of a terrorist assault in April 2011. Today, a discreet police presence works relentlessly to maintain the safety of visitors and locals. So then, the Medina is as safe as any other tourist city you may walk around.