The beautiful country of Morocco is shaded by a variety of colors and cloaked in a blanket of mystery. Proudly upholding history and traditions through ancient monuments, its’ charm is reflected in the exotic mixture of Spanish, African and Islamic architecture.
Enchanting courtyards everywhere are adorned with sprawling gardens. Throughout the mosques, minarets and palaces, there are magnificent doors of engraved wood and bronze. Intricate geometrical patterns, crafted by hand from bright colored mosaics or inlaid mother of pearl, enhance the beauty.
Most of the buildings feature large, intimidating u-shaped archways and beautiful domes that complete them. And it is not uncommon to see the tops of these domes adorned with nests complete with an array of birds, as if direct from central casting in Hollywood.
In all the villages and towns there are outdoor markets displaying some of the finest Moroccan crafts, and the vendors themselves are a large part of the appeal. Leather and curio stalls vie for shoppers’ attention. And craftsmen dye wool in huge boiling cauldrons next to the stand of a dentist or barber. All the while, their neighbors measure out, on old lead scales, olives or spices that are stacked in the shape of pyramids,
One of the main aesthetic attractions is food. Open air food stalls offer big bowls of snail soup and dried fruit sellers line the countless alleyways. At every turn fruit and vegetable merchants are haggling over the price of their produce. Herbal medicines that will cure anything from baldness to impotence are sold alongside century old carpets.
When it comes to the souks in larger cities, an entire area can be devoted to a particular product – lanterns, ceramics, accessories, jewelry, rugs. The souks are cavernous and seem endless. Crowds are thick but that’s part of the charm – especially if you have the privilege of sharing the narrow passageway with wagons loaded with leather goods or burros carrying produce in their saddlebags.
The huge square in Marrakesh, Jmaa el Fna – packed with organ grinders, snake charmers, palm readers, storytellers and tourists – is at the entrance to the Grand Souk. Mind-boggling characters, colors and choices lead you into a bewildering but fascinating world of haggling. If you’re bargain hunting, it’s best to head for the specialty markets deep inside the souk.
Bargaining is an accepted and almost obligatory Moroccan shopping custom. Everyone knows that what an item is marked is only a starting point. And vendors expect you to offer a lower price. The more time, discussion and patience you are willing to give to the process – especially over a cup of mint tea – the better the price will be.
There are many different ways that Moroccans creatively express themselves and the winding alleyways are full of local artwork. Kiosks are colorful and the vendors thankful for your interest in what they do. These markets are a way of life in Morocco and you usually won’t have to go too far to find one. They are arguably the most exciting, colorful and enticing aspects of the culture.
Morocco is the kind of country I love to visit, where the almost medieval-like hustle and bustle is a world away from my own life. The culture is so different from what I know and the sights, sounds, smells and tastes are like a wakeup call to the senses. Whether it’s a grandfather treating his grandchild to an ice cream cone while he’s babysitting or three generations of the same family selling ceramic pots in the local market, just like in our country, the Sandwich Generation is front and center.
Hospitality is a major part of the Moroccan culture and we spent an evening in the home of our guide, Jamal, and his wife in Marrakesh, talking with them and their three daughters. Traditionally men take to the streets and women are in charge of the home. Although Fouzia has a Ph.D. in languages, she sees her primary job as raising the girls. And Jamel says, she holds the power in the family, especially since he travels so much with his work.
Despite the language barrier, women speak a universal body language. And it was apparent that, underneath the traditional clothes, Fouzia is like women everywhere – she is working hard, concerned about her children and parents, loving her family.
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