The medinas of Morocco are fascinating, a colourful alien culture which is within easy reach of most of Europe. Most are vibrant labyrinths, bustling hives of activity which offer a snapshot of the culture of the North African country.
Since the ‘Arab Spring’ revolution there has been a downturn in visitor numbers to parts of the region. The unrest causing some to at least temporarily to remove it from their travel plans. In recent months the situation in Egypt has grown increasingly more uncertain, events in Algiers and even moderate Tunisia have given travellers further cause for concern.
Morocco is generally considered a safe destination; a moderate state and yet it has had it own recent troubles. The famous Café Argana bombing in 2011 is possibly the single most high-profile act of terrorism which has taken place since the first acts of protest sparked the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia.
I visited Marrakech and even enjoyed a coffee on several occasions in Café Argana several months before the bombing and later returned visiting Essaouira in April 2012. At the time, they were restoring the café to it’s former glory through government funding and was due to reopen several months later. There wasn’t a moment on either visit I felt in danger or threatened, most people remain friendly and welcoming, eager to encourage tourists to visit their country. Tourism dollars are vital here, the artisans of the souks and hoteliers of the riads all rely on the income which tourists provide.
It is exploring the maze of narrow streets that make up the medinas, the original walled towns that bring back the most vivid memories. There is usually a cacophony of sound, tourists, vendors and locals adding to the general mêlée. Attempting to be heard above the roaring two-stroke engines of scooter riding youths. Beyond the stench of diesel fuel, there is often an intoxicating mix of aromas drifting between the simple stone buildings. Saffron, cardamom, cinnamon or other unidentified spices tantalising the nostrils from a distant corner of the maze.
They appear to overflow with colour, vibrant hues daubed like brush stokes on an artist’s palette. An urban rainbow of bright shades displaying all the colours of the spectrum, splashed throughout the ancient cities. Striking fabrics in reds, greens and blues adorn plain grey or beige walls, and fragrant spices are piled high in orange, red and shades of yellow in huge containers like giant racks.
The displays seem almost mosaic like, the sandals, bags, ceramics and cloth laid out by vendors to ensure the greatest impact. By ensuring they display their products attractively catching the eye of the casual observer they will hopefully entice a sale. The artistry of the vendor combining with the skill of the craftsman, to produce a retail mosaic.
Morocco has not remained untouched by the ‘Arab Spring’ revolution, still the country appears more interested in a tourism revolution. It is a fascinating country, every town and medina seems to have its own distinct character. They are ripe for exploring. There is something of interest around almost every corner, a day spent in the medina is almost an expedition. They are easily accessible and offer one of the few opportunities many of us will ever have to truly explore a culture alien to our own.