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Christmas in Morocco

This year we spent our Christmas holidays in Marrakech, Morocco which was established in the 11th century.  The fortified old city of Marrakech is known as the Red City. It is known as the red city because its pink-tinted buildings reflect the light like a rose quarts gem. It is also known as the “Red City” due to its famous and inviting red walls, alleys and plazas.  The old city of Marrakech is shaped like a teardrop, rimmed with about ten miles of wall. The name Marrakech originates from the Amazigh (Berber) words mur (n) akush, which means "Land of God."   Strategically placed gates in the wall allow access into the old city.
001 Marrakech - Gates into old city

The Medina (old city) is packed with Riads and Dars (old grand houses converted into hotels and inns).  Riads should have gardens; smaller Dars have open courtyards. However the term Riad is used very loosely today to describe a house with an internal open-air center.  We stayed at Riad LePlein Sud, which was a 300 year old house with 6 guestrooms.
002 Marrakech - Riad LePlein Sud hotel

The old city is full of endless labyrinths of souks (bazaars) and alleyways covering all of the Medina.  The streets are narrow and lined with shops where you can buy almost anything from spices to shoes, jellabas to kaftans, tea pots to tagines and much, much more.  It is easy to get lost and we managed to do so several times.
003a Marrakech - Old City street scenes

003b Marrakech Jemaa El Fnaa (largest Souk)

003c Marrakech old city streets

003d Marrakech old city streets

Along the narrow passageways in the old city, we noticed several portable gas stations.  Most of the streets were too narrow for cars, but there were plenty of motorbikes and motor scooters, that needed a place to refuel.
004 Marrakech - Portable gas station

Jemaa el-Fnaa is a huge and bustling square the heart of the old city.  Here you can find snake charmers, performing Barbary apes, storytellers, water sellers in vibrant red outfits, henna tattooists, a variety of vendors selling foods and drinks such as grilled meat, lamb brains, snails, sausage links, couscous, and countless other colorful stuff too numerous to mention.
005 Marrakech - Jemaa El Fnaa Souk

The design in the sidewalks along the main streets made a dizzying effect. Although the sidewalk was flat, it seemed to ripple.
006 Marrakech - dizzying sidewalk design

The Mellah is the old Jewish quarter of Marrakesh.  It was established in the 16th century and is now populated mainly by Muslims.  There is only one remaining Jewish Synagogue in Marrakesh.   The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on 31 March 1492, by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of practicing Jews from Spain by 31 July of that year.  Many of the Spanish Jews migrated to Morocco.  Notice the date over the entrance to the synagogue.
007 Marrakech - Laazama Jewish Synagogue

A view of the interior of the Laazama Jewish Synagogue.
008 Marrakech - Laazama Jewish Synagogue

One day we left the old city and walked to Guéliz, which is also known as the new town or Ville Nouvelle.   This part of Marrakech was founded by the French colonials.  Its streets are lined with orange trees.
010 Marrakech Ville Nouvelle - Orange Trees along streets

Ville Nouvelle’s leafy side streets are dotted with charming shops where everything has a price tag and there is no need to haggle like is commonly done in the old city.   The new city has modern stores and the only Christmas decorations that we could find in the city.
011 Marrakech Ville Nouvelle - Bon Noel Decorations

We were able to find only one Christian church – a Catholic Church of the Holy Martyrs which has weekly evening services in French.  Interestingly it was across the street from a large mosque and the entrance to the church was guarded by city policemen.
012 Marrakech Ville Nouvelle -Catholic Church of the Holy Martyrs

All our meals were Moroccan cuisine.   Christmas dinner included shish-k-babs.
015 Marrakech - Christmas dinner

We took a one day trip into the Atlas Mountains.  Our drive took us through the Ourika Valley.
019 Marrakech - Driving to Atlas Mountains

The road wound along a mountain river.   All along the river there were shaky bridges across the river to dozens of restaurants beside the flowing riverbed.
020 Riverside Restaurants along road to Atlas Mountains

We watching a young Moroccan boy playing with homemade toys.
021 Morocco - Child at play

In order to view the Ourika Valley waterfalls we followed an unsigned path tucked away behind the colorful restaurants of Setti Fatma, and wound our way past souvenir stalls and elaborate displays of tins of Coca Cola being cooled by the water from the stream. 
022 Morocco - hiking to Ouzoud Waterfalls in Atlas Mountains

There were actually a series of seven waterfalls.  Each one was higher up the mountain and even more beautiful than the waterfall before.
023 Morocco - hiking to Ouzoud Waterfalls in Atlas Mountains (14)

The further up the mountain we went, the more snow we encountered.   We had to travel to Africa just to experience a white Christmas.   Crossing over huge rock formations and avoiding slipping in the stream, we finally got to the seventh waterfall.
024 Morocco - hiking to Ouzoud Waterfalls in Atlas Mountains (33)

After our trek to see the waterfalls, we stopped to have some Moroccan mint tea at one of the restaurants along the river.   Here is Richard pouring mint tea in a typical Moroccan fashion.
025 Morocco - Tea time in the Atlas Mountains (5)

To see more photos, find us on Facebook (Richard-Suzanna Hanham)!

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

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Dec 16 Morocco