Saturday, 15 March 2014

14-15th March

At 09:30 we met our guide for Marrakech in reception. Abdullah was a pleasant guy with lots of information. I asked him what the agenda was for the day as I wanted to avoid any carpet sales. He deftly avoided the answer, which had me a bit concerned, but there was no need to worry.
Inside the first tomb

First stop was the Saadian tombs. These are some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in Morocco. The first tomb has all of the male heirs, the women all being in another tomb close by. This tomb has a beautiful cedar wood ceiling with gold leaf inlay In between the two tombs, the slaves are buried. Apart from the first burial plot closest to the mihrab (altar) all the others in accordance with Islamic tradition are unknown. In the male tomb the first plot is that of the first sultan and in the second is his mother. You can tell from the size of some that they were children.

One of the covered courtyards
The next stop was the Palais Bahia, this is owned by the Ministry of Culture which is bit like the National Trust in the UK other than it is goverment run. It is currently having an area refurbished so that we could only see part of what is normally open to the public. We entered into a compound that is lined with oranges and other plants. These are Seville oranges, but it is not the fruit that they’re grown for, but the flowers which are harvested to make orange water for cooking. On the other side we entered a normal looking building that was anything but as it opened up into a courtyard. It has an exquisite reception area which overlooked a courtyard with a fountain. Also off this courtyard is an administrative office and an area for conducting business. None of is furnished now, but would have been very comfortable in its day. The next courtyard is for family and had rooms on either side for each of the Sultans 4 wives and their families. Beyond that was another courtyard which was for the Sultan himself. This is where he would entertain his family with a room that was specifically for him and an area where he would entertain one of his wives. Each successive courtyard was more and more lavish culminating in the Sultans personal quarter.
The dyers palate

From here we walked into the medina, as it was a Friday it was relatively quiet. We stopped at a dyers workshops (souks) and had the colours explained to us. Interestingly the colours on the palate didn’t produce the dye colours that you would expect - for example, an iridescent green dye actually produced a purple stain when mixed with water. The next stop was the woodworkers souk. Here Tamsin and Hanna were given a necklace that he produced on a Berber lathe using a bow and his feet to hold and turn the wood whilst using his hands to carve the wood. We bought some lovely bowls for crisps etc. We also walked through the metalwork souk and the leatherwork souk.

We entered the main square of Place Jemaa el-Fna. This is the place to be at night.  However there were still many stalls mainly based on horse carriages that sold oranges, fruits, vegetables as well as nuts and dates.

A view of the Majorelle gardens
From here we got into a car and went to the Majorelle garden. The gardens here were started by Jacques Majorelle in 1919 and contain many plants, mainly succulents from around the world. The gardens were renovated by Yves St Laurents and Pierre Berge and opened to the public place. Tamsin has tried to create a pastiche of this garden in Portugal and was keen to see how it stacked up – many photos were taken.

We returned to our hotel for the afternoon and decided to go back to the square for the evening. Here we were accosted by almost every food stall owner there. Almost all could speak with a cockney accent complete with rhyming slang, a bit like spivs. There patter was amusing as they seem to have an answer to everything we manage to move on until we came full circle and decided to eat at the first place where the “spiv” told us he had lived in Essex!!!? We wanted to have one plate to share, the idea being that we would work through the menu, sadly they had other ideas and brought us 3 plates of the same rather than one. Needless to say we filled up fast. I think we all lost out in the end as I’m sure we would have taken longer and ordered more food – oh well.

Sat 15th. Tamsin and I had a Moroccan cookery course booked with a 09:30 pick up – or so we thought. The receptionist came and found us at 09:00. The taxi took us across town to another hotel. Here we met Wafa who was running the course and the other 7 people taking part. After a quick introduction that included the various types of tagine we moved to the kitchen and took up our stations. First we were shown how to make bread and each of us got to knead the dough. We were then taken to the hotel shop and shown all the herbs and spices that are used in cooking here.

Rose "sculpted" by TJV
Our kitchen after we'd finished.
On our return we started chopping vegetables. I was making a vegetable tagine and Tamsin a classic chicken with lemons, both with a side of cooked vegetables and a salad. Guiding us through this process were two cooks the Dada (head chef) and her helper. They showed us what to do from their station and walked around helping us if needed. In preparing the tomatoes we had to skin them like an apple and use the skin to make a “rose” to decorate it.  During all this was quite a bit of banter from the chefs and participants and was a lot of fun. When we had finished cooking the food we went outside to a table to eat it. At the end we were all full and returned to the kitchen to pick up or cooking diploma and a surprise small tagine. All in all a lot of fun.

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