Friday, February 23, 2018

Morocco (Part 1) : A Mosaic of Creativity and Craftsmanship in Marrakesh

Marrakesh, is a place of unusual intrigue. I almost wouldn't be surprised to view a flying camel across the sky. Musical instruments were a plenty in the market.

The beguiling entrance to Jemma el-Fraa, the largest and most famous market in Africa. You can find snake charmers, magicians, herb-sellers, mystics, storytellers, henna artists, and even "dentists" on the square ready to pull a tooth that needs removing. The real excitement happens when the sun goes down. The musicians come out in droves to sing, dance, and chant. Storytellers mesmerize with their ancient tales. You can catch wafts of tangines, spices, and citrus billowing in the air. Venders and craftsman sell their wares in the 18 overlapping "souqs" (markets). If you enter in the Medina (or old city), there is no end to the surprises.

If ever there was a place to ride a magic carpet, it would be in Morocco. In Marrakesh, the fourth largest city, a rich history of French, Berber, Arabic, Jewish, and Northern Africa worlds collide. It is called "The Red City" or "Ochre City" because of the red palace and mosque walls. Europe, the Middle East, and Africa all intersect together here, like the beautiful motifs and designs in the ceramics and carpets displayed everywhere. The Atlas Mountains, with a mantle of snow covering them are easily seen; the Sub-Sahara desert is not far away. Palm groves, olive and citrus trees plentifully dot the valley where a river flows. For centuries it has been an important post of trade and commerce. Now Marrakesh celebrates the past and interweaves the modern.

With its corridors and alleyways of artisans in the market, storytellers in the plaza, and with music and spices twirling around in the wind together, it is a place of endless discovery. As you dine on a rooftop or meander through the streets, you are allured by the craftsmanship everywhere. You enter into another world, and many other worlds--all at the same time when you explore the market. There are fabrics, carpets, yarns, leather, metalwork, ceramics, clay, woodworking that dazzle and enchant. It is a place where working with your hands is heralded. Artisans are making their wares right before you. Creativity obviously matters here.

For the entire five days of being in Marrakesh, I saw a splendor and artistry in the handicrafts that made me want to go home to pound, paint and carve. In fact, my son with autism even noticed the creativity in the the air. He said when we got home, "I want to now make more things with my hands. I want to make things like in Morocco. Let's do some carving NOW. I have plans!"

If there seems to be an usually large amount of pictures in this post, this is true. Each area or "souq" could be a post. It is my hope that you can pretend for a few minutes you are in Marrakesh, on a camel or flying carpet, meandering in the market or many souqs. More than anything, I give tribute to the creative artisans who daily pick up their brush, hammer, knife, chisel, sewing machine, loom, potter's wheel, or anything else to create. I am in awe of their tenacious and steady desire to make beautiful things, whether if it is a simple lentil ladle or framed painting to admire. Each and every one were true artists to me. I was in awe and wonder every moment while in Marrakesh.

In every section of the market, there was an introduction to the area--the history and people who made it be important.  This is plaque at the entreat to the dying area.

The Knife Souq and the Sharpeners 

The knife sharpeners are particularly busy during Eid, after Ramadan, and some festivals, when people come to sharpen their knives.
Which knife do you want to buy?

The Jewelry Marking Souq

Berber beads close up
A jewelry maker in the market who strings old Berber trading beads. 

Old Berber beads (I prefer the smaller variety).


Our friend, who (in the blue jacket) who is in a long line of coppersmiths for many generation,  said, "I am the youngest of nine children. Everyone else never had an education. The only thing they know is to make beautiful things with copper." His story touched my heart because I am the oldest of nine children, like his brother who is pouring some mint tea for us. I like this Moroccan quote, "Let us sit bent, but talk straight." Everyone is always willing to sit down and speak with a stranger.

My friend's brother showing us how does his coppersmithing.
Working on the sauna tub....

A copper sauna tub? The biggest pans you have ever seen? It seemed these men could make anything with copper.
Sam looking at some tea pots.

This beauty of a bathtub was going to a customer in the UK.

Storytelling and Music
Moroccans have been telling stories in their marketplaces and homes for centuries--passing down the stories of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and 'The Fisherman and the Genie."
One Moroccan saying says, "He is a good storyteller who can turn a man's ears into his eyes." The Jemma el-Fraa is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site because of the centuries of storytellers and musicians who have performed here.

The plaza lights up at night, with many people coming to be entertained, eat, and shop.

The Artwork
Artwork hangs everywhere in the souqs

Berber wall hangings, wool woven into an art piece were on many walls.

Just another ordinary wall made more beautiful with paint around the market.

The Tanning Area
Cutting out the the leather to make the large 'Puffs" to sit on.


A craftsman making a picture

These metal lights, made with bronze and copper dazzle me every time. The Arabic designs punched into the metal glisten and shine on the walls and floors--bringing exquisite and ancient beauty to any room.

Joseph pretending to be Indiana Jones.

A young man from the mountains, he is a mixture of Berber and Arabic. He brings the baskets from the villages in the mountains that they women make. He was a savvy businessman, funny and colorful. He speaks Arabic, English, French, and Berber.


An expert woodcarver who carves with his feet!
Painting some cabinets in the woodworking souq

This woodcarver who makes lades and other kitchen wares wanted to show his karate skills for the picture. He was a funny one!
Giving a glaze to the most beautiful trunk I have ever seen, cut with different designs of wood and shell.

My son-in-law, Sam, who was in his "hobby heaven" watching all the craftspeople. 
Painting the mosaics on the woodwork
These are the patterns, made out of cardboard or leather, that  are made for windows, mirrors, beds, dressers. This man was proud to show me all of his designs.

Cutting the designs in the woodworking area
Beautiful cut wood to put on furniture, windows, etc.

Pottery, Tilework, Ceramics

A little boy playing on the tiles in a palace that was made in the 1200's in Marrakesh When was the last time you had fun playing with leaves?

The tiles enchant me every time. This stairway makes you want to run up and down the stairs. Ha!

The dazzling pottery with endless colors and shades. The pottery, with it its rich Arabic designs, are masterpieces, each and every one.

A potter looking for a customer
The ceramics, with all of its Arabic designs and colors were a constant array of beauty.
Ceramics in all their splendor....

The Dyeing Market

White wool ready to dye

Beautiful dyes made from saffron, flowers for the wool

Dyes being prepared for the wood to dunk and soak

Loading all the dyed crimson red yard to the market,

This is the area where everything is made of dyed wool. This man is making slippers.

Wood yarn is hanging up to dry in the Dyeing market

A rainbow of finished yarn to choose from. My knitter daughter was in heaven.


These woven blankets are called "The Wedding Blankets."

Pillows, blankets, carpets in every color you could want....

There you go! I just wanted to give you a short tour around "The Souqs" (or markets) in Marrakesh. Maybe you will now want to create somethings of beauty now.