Traversing the alleyways and souks of Marrakech, particularly in the Medina (Old City), it is easy to believe you have been transported back in time or stumbled onto a movie set for a medieval Arabian Nights production. It is this enchanting, fairytale quality that brings thousands of sightseers to the most-visited of Morocco's three imperial cities, Marrakech. The heart of the Medina is Djemaa el-Fna, an irregular 'square' which is a hive of activity - and the place to which tourists are drawn time and again to soak up the carnival-esque environment. Tourism, though, has not spoilt the atmosphere, if anything, it has only added to it. The modern side of Marrakech (called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle), with its luxury hotels, banks and streets bursting with motor scooters, blends well with the past in a metropolis made up of people from the Berber Atlas tribes, Mahgrebis from the plains, and Saharan nomads, among others.
Marrakech, Morocco © Acp
Marrakech was founded in 1062 by Youssef bin Tachfine of the Almoravid dynasty, and his son perfected the city by bringing in architects and craftsmen from Cordoba to build palaces, baths, mosques and a subterranean water system. The city walls were raised from the red mud of the plains, with the snow-covered peaks of the High Atlas Mountains forming the city's backdrop, though they are often hidden by the heat haze which blankets Marrakech.
One of the many ways to soak up the sights and sounds of Marrakech is in one of the hundreds of horse-drawn carriages (known as caleches) that are for hire, but it is also necessary to take in the Medina's souks on foot, plunging into the hurly-burly maelstrom of passages where tradesmen ply various crafts, from cloth dyeing, copper beating, and leather working, to herbalists, perfumers and slipper makers.
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