Discover Marrakech, where the symmetry of Moorish architecture is infused with Andalusian accents and complex patterns gleam in navy and pearl white.
In my mind, Marrakech consists of golden sands, dry heat, and unblemished blue skies. But as we land, the landscape is masked in grey rain. En route to our hotel, the driver cheerily reminds me the rain was much needed. I’m unable to match his enthusiasm. Having looked forward to an escape from the English winter chill, I’m dismayed to find it has followed me here.
I crane my neck as we pass beneath the archways of Royal Mansour, and gaze at the pomegranate trees. The property’s entrance doors, made of bronze and rich cedar, are intricately carved. The pleasing symmetry of Moorish architecture is infused with Andalusian accents. A central fountain patters over smooth tadelakt plaster; zellige tiles sprawl across the floors and walls in complex patterns, gleaming in navy and pearl white. It’s pure visual majesty.
The pathways through Royal Mansour’s 53 riads are labyrinthine, with dusty pink walls expanding upwards and casting angular shadows. Despite the riads‘ proximity to one another, privacy is paramount. Each one has its own private courtyard and a rooftop plunge pool. They are furnished with brocaded silks and antiques; the bathroom lined with black onyx and veined marble. Luxury and quietude exist in equal measure.
The next day, the sun reclaims its rightful place within a cloud-speckled sky. The rain is already a distant memory. I’m ready to venture out, beyond the walls of my peaceful riad.
Winter in Marrakech is an entirely different experience from the oppressive heat of its summer, and I’m still taken aback by the cold. I bundle up with layers of scarves and jumpers, and look into the distance, where an outline of the regal, snowcapped Atlas Mountains emerge, before plunging headfirst into the medina.
Mopeds splutter as they weave through the tight back alleys. Metal spoons clatter on bubbling pots; chatter is incessant; and the whine of the snake charmer’s punjiinfiltrate my mind until I am deaf to my own thoughts. The frantic nature of the streets begins to influence my pace, almost racing. The heady scents of mint tea, smoke, fuel, and dust kicked up from the dirt path are so intense they stick to the back of my throat. I cover my nose and mouth with the collar of my shirt, squinting as my eyes burn at the cacophony.
Piles of bread, nylon jerseys, woven baskets, leather slippers, trinkets, and fruit blur in an overabundance of colour and texture. For a split second, I pause and stare at the confectionary-shaped lights, which hang through wooden slats above the souk. Their glass is thick and candy coloured – apple green, cherry red, and tangerine.
“Where you going? You need help?”
The help is unsolicited.
The Koutoubia Mosque is the North Star, floodlit in the gathering dark, guiding me. Rugs gently billow, draped over bannisters of roof terraces. Very few places I’ve been to balance serenity and chaos so well. The brimming vibrancy and life of Marrakech needs the quietude of riads, like the ones at Royal Mansour. Too much of one instils restlessness. Not enough of the other instills yearning. I need both to appreciate this place as a whole.
The wind carries the call to prayer. I am still.
All images: Richard Stapleton
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