Casablanca & Marrakesh, Morocco

     On March 26 we arrived in Casablanca, Morocco.  Despite Americans’ romantic notion of this city from the movie of the same name (which was actually shot entirely in Hollywood), Casablanca is a large commercial city (3.5 million people) with a reputation for having little charm.

2. Casablanca174. Casablanca

We opted to spend the day on an excursion to Marrakesh, about 150 miles to the south.  We travelled by bus, rather than the Marrakesh Express, and managed to get there after a long drive (about 3.5 hours each way).  We saw many villages, each with a minaret, & flocks of sheep & goats. One interesting thing was the widespread use of prickly pear cactus as hedgerows & fencing for grazing animals.  We were told that they don’t eat the cactus, but they do make oil from it & some other products.  We even saw a large hill planted with rows of prickly pears like a farmer’s field.

10a. Road from Casablanca to Marrakesh-village with minaret

12a. Road from Casablanca to Marrakesh village with prickly pears8a. Road from Casablanca to Marrakesh-hill of prickly pearYet another village with prickly pear cactus hedgerow

    Casablanca is known as the “white city”; the name means “white house” & originated in the fact that it had so many white housesthat sailors could easily identify it from sea.  Marrakesh (which is inland, at the foot of the High Atlas mountains) is called the “red city” because most of its buildings are made of reddish materials (originally they used the local red mud).  It is a pretty large city & very busy and crowded on the streets.  The name of the country, Morocco, is derived from the name Marrakesh.  Our first stop was at a hotel for lunch.  It was a beautiful hotel, but the lunch was disappointing in that it was not Moroccan cuisine (we did get some very good Moroccan cuisine, but it was on the ship after our return!).

13a. Marrakesh housing22a. Marrakesh hotel ceiling

17a. Marrakesh tilework at hotel19. Marrakesh

     The air conditioning in the bus didn’t work during the long hot (sun in my face) drive to Marrakesh, but while we ate lunch they fixed it.  The guide told us (with a straight face) that the bus driver had explained that someone on the bus must have been using a computer, which caused a virus to infect the air conditioning system.  This is the “computers work by magic” school of technology, which reminded me of the film Independence Day, in which Jeff Goldblum was able to tap into the alien computer system in a few minutes through wifi internet with his laptop & read their plans to conquer Earth (apparently the aliens not only had the same technology we do, but also communicated digitally in English, even though they also possessed scary mental powers).  These aliens also generously provided free Earth-style wifi in their mothership, without even using password protections, to enable Jeff to upload a virus to their system that destroyed all their ships in just a few minutes (but there was no wifi on our bus, so  even that theory wouldn’t apply).  Isn’t magic technology wonderful?

   The first place we visited after lunch was the Bahia (“Brilliant”) Palace.  It is relatively new for a Marrakesh landmark, having been built in the 19th century.  But it is full of lavish Moorish decoration.  The intricate carving in the walls that looks like sculpted stone is actually sculpted stucco.  The ceilings of this building are made of carved cedarwood.  You are going to see a lot of this stuff, both in this posting and in the Grenada, Spain posting yet to come, because we really liked it.  So bear with me & enjoy it.

56a. Marrakesh Bahia fountain38a. Marrakesh Bahia palace

40a. Marrakesh Bahia palace39a. Marrakesh Bahia palace41a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling48a. Marrakesh Bahia corniche

49a. Marrakesh Bahia tile work47a. Marrakesh Bahia palace

58a. Marrakesh Bahia mosaic floor

51a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling corniche76a. Marrakesh Bahia doorway

57a. Marrakesh Bahia window68a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling & wall

67a. Marrakesh Bahia doorway66a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling

     We also visited the Saadian Tombs.  Members of the Saadian dynasty (15th & 16th centuries) are buried here.  The first sultan of the next dynasty wanted to eliminate all such recollections of the Saadians, but because it would have been bad luck to desecrate the tombs he left them intact but blocked off all access.  They were mostly forgotten until rediscoved in 1917. 

95a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs84a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

96a. Marrakesh Saadian womens' tomb93a. Marrakesh Rick at Saadian tombs

102a. Marrakesh Mary by Saadian womens' tomb85a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

88a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs - graves of entourage94a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

90a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs105a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

Outside the tombs is the Kasbah Mosque, built in the 12th Century.  We continued to the carpet store (don’t ask), through the colorful streets of this part of Marrakesh.  The city is home to storks, who nest on top of urban walls & buildings here.

106. Marrakesh_ShiftN33a. Marrakesh street scene with carpets

113. Marrakesh116. Marrakesh

32a. Marrakesh street scene82. Marrakesh

114. Marrakesh115. Marrakesh

   Last, but far from least, we visited the Djemaa el Fna (assembly of the dead) and the nearby Koutoubia minaret, which is the symbol of Marrakesh.  If you have seen the remake of Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” you may recognize the Djemaa el Fna as the large colorful plaza where Jimmy Stewart learns the secret from a dying man that causes him and Doris Day so much trouble for the rest of the film.  It is a large open area surrounded by cafes & vendors that fills up as the day lengthens with food carts (particularly orange juice – Moroccan oranges are bitter and tough, not great to eat) & snake charmers,monkeys,  acrobats & other entertainers (who charge a Euro, or more if they think you are gullible, to take their picture).  We were there in late afternoon, so many people were still setting up their stalls; things reportedly get really interesting at night.  Although you have to be careful (you have seen Indiana Jones, so you know how easy it is to get abducted in such places); I turned away for a minute to take a picture and some guy came up and took Mary’s hand & tried to pick her up.

132. Marrakesh134. Marrakesh

135. Marrakesh139. Marrakesh

140. Marrakesh137. Marrakesh

The Koutoubia Minaret is about 180 feet tall.  It was built in the 12th Century, and the mosque associated with it had to be rebuilt twice (once to correct its alignment with Mecca).  It can be seen all over the old part of the city & is quite beautiful.

144a. Marrakesh_Minaret stitch24a. Marrakesh Rick at Koutoubia Minaret

28. Marrakesh

   Then there were a few more random things worth seeing: the Theatre Royale, a view of the High Atlas mountains from Marrakesh, and the city walls (which look a lot like Taroudent’s, but aren’t quite as old).

14. Marrakesh124a. Marrakesh High Atlas Mountains

163a. Marrakesh city walls

   The trip back to Casablanca was long, but there was a dramatic sunset about halfway there.

167a. Road from Marrakesh to Casablanca sunset

Back in Casablanca there were two more stops before reaching the ship (where they had kept the dining room open for us, and we enjoyed a terrific Morrocan style dinner).  First we stopped to see the Hassan II Mosque, which was near the ship.  Built recently (1989) this is supposedly the largest mosque in the world.  It holds about 20,000 worshipers inside the sanctuary and another 80-100,000 in the courtyard.  It has a retractable roof (3.5 minutes to open) & has the world’s tallest minaret at 689 feet.  OK, that was pretty impressive, but the other stop was at (what else?) Rick’s Cafe.  As I mentioned at the beginning, the film Casablanca was filmed entirely in Hollywood, so Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman never set foot in this place.  It was built just 9 years ago by a woman from Portland Oregon named Kathy Kriger, so it is strictly a tourist attraction.  I am sure that if we had gone inside Sam would have played it again (and again), but we didn’t get out of the bus for this one, and were only too happy to finally reach the ship.

179. Casablanca

183. Casablanca184. Casablanca

8 responses

  1. Mike Levitt

    Loved this episode of the journey! Lots of fascinating and beautiful pics. These guys have really mastered the decorative arts. The details of the ceilings, walls, etc. are amazing. By the way, we are all relieved that Mary didn’t allow herself to be abducted by the mysterious Moroccan seducer!

    March 31, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    • Yes, I was relieved by that too . . . it was really less than a minute. Those guys work fast! As for the decorative arts, there is more and (if you can believe it) better to come in the episode about the Alhambra in Granada.

      April 5, 2013 at 8:59 am

  2. Phyllis

    OMG the tilework is fabulous- we only have smatterings of that look here
    So, what are the smells of the marketplace like? Stinky? Exotic spices? nada?

    March 31, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    • More great tile work yet to come. I didn’t notice any bad smells in the marketplace, but there were some aromas I thought were pleasing. I can’t say I remember any smells in particular (except for horses carrying poop bags, which smelled pretty bad).

      April 5, 2013 at 8:59 am

  3. Brian Robinson

    Not only did Goldblum’s character do all of that magic stuff, he also managed to contact everything wirelessly with a computer that had no internal modem (and had no room for one). I also didn’t see any external dongle, and he wouldn’t have been able to use one anyway since there was no internal bus in the laptop that could have carried the (fast!!) communications he needed to do all of this stuff.

    Like you said, magic technology — literally.

    I was a little overcome by all of the images you had here — complex patterns and colors. But beautiful. However, it was the sunset that really wowed me, if those are the real colors.

    March 31, 2013 at 5:09 pm

  4. Cecile Deaton

    ditto OMG the tilework. This was a long day for you two, but I think, well worth it. Marrakesh was fascinating. My father was in Casablanca in WWII and his description was very similiar to yours. Just a dirty place without the charm and excitement of Hollywood’s romantic vision. In fact, his story included drunken sailors, not wearing white dinner jackets, and arrests for being in off limits dock areas. Actually his story might make a good movie also–more like McHale’s Navy than Jazzy nightclubs.

    April 1, 2013 at 1:03 pm

  5. Janet

    Rick, how do you remember all the facts about where you’ve been…..unless you have a tape recorder as a brain!!! ;-). With everything that is going on with my brother reading your blog allows me to escape for a little while!!! Love you guys!!!!

    April 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    • Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t really remember everything. We have information on each port we brought with us & they hand out stuff on the ship. But I do remember a lot the guides tell us (sometimes I repeat it on the blog & then another guide tells us something different, but I do my best to get it right). I’m glad you are enjoying this stuff, & my best to your brother (and to you).


      April 5, 2013 at 9:00 am

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