‘Welcome to Morocco’, a border control officer says reassuringly as he stamps my passport at the Marrakech Menara Airport. His broad smile gives me all the comfort I need as I set foot on Moroccan soil for the first time.
It’s early spring, the third day of Ramadan. The sun begins to set as I leave the airport to meet my taxi driver, who has been calmly waiting for me in the car park for much longer than expected.
I wonder if his patience is a result of the spiritual practice that Muslims observe during the holy month of Ramadan or if it’s simply his natural disposition.
‘It’s time to break the fast. Do you mind if I have some dates?’ he asks politely, as he makes room in the trunk for my heavy bags filled with cameras, lenses and selfie sticks.
I nod, settling into the comfortable back seat of his car and looking through the window at the tangerine-coloured sky.
As we approach the medina, I notice the city ramparts made of reddish-pink sandstone beautifully illuminated by the setting sun. Suddenly, all my travel anxiety gives way to an immense feeling of joy.
Located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in western Morocco, Marrakech is arguably the most alluring and appealing city in the Maghreb region.
The refreshing aroma of mint mingles here with the scents of saffron, ginger and cinnamon.
The voices of traders and hawkers in the souks (open-air markets) blend with the whine of the snake charmers’ pungi flutes in the main square, Djemaa El Fna.
The unassuming doors of riads lead to the splendour of gardens and stunning courtyards.
Marrakech is a city of contrasts and sensory overload with its colourful market stalls, charming alleyways of the medina, intricate mosaic tiles and Moorish architecture of mathematically pleasing proportions.
I stay for a couple of nights at Be Marrakech, a stylish riad located at the heart of the medina. Despite its central location, it’s a real sanctuary of peace.
The only sounds that break the silence are night calls to prayer coming from a nearby mosque and the crowing of roosters at dawn.
The next day, shortly after sunrise, I set off on a photographic journey through the ancient medina. Mochkila, the riad’s cat, still snoozes on a willow chair near the reception desk when I leave the guest house to explore Marrakech.
During Ramadan, Moroccans often choose to spend the fasting time at home, so during the day, the city is a bit quieter than normal. But early in the morning, it is nearly deserted.
Occasionally, I notice the local merchants as they open their shops while some passers-by leisurely walk or cycle through the medina’s secluded alleyways and under the golden keyhole arches.
The morning sunlight seeps through the roof shades, adding to the oneiric atmosphere of the early morning.
I am in awe of the visually appealing pink-tinted buildings, Arabic-style arched windows and doorways adorned with symmetrical curved patterns.
As time passes, the city slowly wakes up from lethargy and resumes its usual rhythm.
I continue my stroll and let myself get lost in the unfamiliar passageways and labyrinth-like streets of the city.
The unpredictable nature of Marrakech fully satisfies my wanderlust. One never knows what will appear around the next corner; perhaps it’s a musician playing a gimbri (a traditional Moroccan instrument), a baker selling chebakia (the Ramadan sesame treat) or a two-wheel cart pulled by a donkey. I welcome the unexpected.
In time, tourists start to wander through the souks in search of the perfect souvenir or simply to soak up the lively atmosphere of the medina.
I walk past the stalls with aromatic spices, tagine pots in all sizes, lamps and lanterns, silver teapots, multicoloured rugs, traditional silk kaftans and pashminas, babouches (Moroccan slippers), artwork and photographs.
I enjoy watching artisans and craftsmen at work stitching clothes, making belts and leather jewellery, repairing shoes and making wood art.
One of the artisans carefully braids a leather cord bracelet and wraps it around my wrist. ‘It’s a gift’, he says, smiling. Others offer me gunpowder green tea with fresh mint or wooden handcrafted pendants.
Now and again I come across a stray cat.
There are many of them roaming the streets of the medina.
At some point, I spot a kitten curled up on a book for sale at the tiny bookstall.
The bookkeeper gleefully points his finger at the title of the book and reads it aloud: ‘M-A-R-R-A-K-E-C-H’. It’s as if he wants to remind me that it’s not a dream and that I am indeed in one of the most vibrant metropolises of North Africa.
And as every vibrant city, Marrakech is also extremely photogenic. I never put my camera down. Although Moroccans tend to be rather discreet, a few locals let me photograph them. In the Souk des Teinturiers (the Dyer’s Market), an artisan joyfully poses for my photos under the skeins of brightly coloured wool.
He proudly shows me his hands stained with a green dye, a large cauldron-like vat where he dyes the fabric and various textiles in a multitude of shades. I’m surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colours.
And if ‘taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second’ (M.Riboud), then doing it in a city as picturesque as Marrakech is a real feast for the senses.