What You Need To Know
Marrakesh, also known by the French spelling Marrakech is a major city of the Kingdom of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fes and Tangier. It is the capital city of the mid-southwestern region of Marrakesh-Safi.
Marrakesh is possibly the most important of Morocco’s four former imperial cities (cities that were built by Moroccan Berber empires). The region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times, but the actual city was founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin. In the 12th century, the Almoravids built many madrasas (Koranic schools) and mosques in Marrakesh that bear Andalusian influences. The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in red sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the “Red City” or “Ochre City”. Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading centre for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa; Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest square in Africa.
- The official currency of Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham, denoted as MAD or Dhs. The Moroccan Dirham is composed of 100 centimes; notes are available in denominations of (Dhs) 200, 100, 50, 25, and 20, all in new and old varieties and coins are available in denominations of (Dhs) 10, 5, 2 and 1, or 50, 20, 10 and 5 centimes. There are several types of 10 and 5 Dirham coins in circulation.
- The Dirham is officially designated as a closed currency meaning it can only be traded within Morocco , however, Dirhams are being sold and bought in travel agencies and at major airports in several countries. The import and export of the currency is tolerated up to a limit of 1000DH. Currency purchased during a visit to Morocco should be converted back before departing the country, with the exception of the 1000Dh level. Travellers should be advised to keep the receipts of currency exchange, as these will be required for the conversion of Dirham back to foreign currency prior to departure and before you go through passport control. You can change as many Dirhams as you have left. At Marrakech airport the exchange rate is very similar to that in the town centre, so there is not much loss in waiting to the last minute to change your remaining Dirhams.
Most of the main foreign currencies may be exchanged at a Bureau de Change in the airport or port upon arrival, at a bank and in most hotels although smaller hotels in more remote areas may not be able to exchange large amounts at one time without prior notice.
When bringing paper currency into Morocco (U.S. Dollars, British Pounds, Euros etc.), these must be in good condition–no tears or ink marks. Do not bring Scottish, Gibraltar or Northern Irish Sterling notes as they are impossible to cash, as are Australian and New Zealand notes and Singapore Dollars. Beware of bringing in brand new designs of banknotes, for example when the Bank of England introduced the new ‘Adam Smith’ £20 note in March 2007, the Moroccan banks would not change them as their records only showed the older, and at that time still legal, ‘Sir Edward Elgar’ £20 notes.
- ATMs can now be found in abundance in most towns and accept Visa, Maestro, Cirrus etc but these will usually incur charges. You should check with your bank as charges for using ATMs abroad may make exchanging cash a better option.
Using a credit card (VISA etc) to obtain money from ATM’s is also possible but one must remember that interest is charged from the moment money is dispensed. The normal practice of an interest-free period which applies to purchases, typically over 50 days, made on the card does NOT apply to cash withdrawals. Banks will allow cheques to be cashed but must be supported by a guarantee card.
It is advisable not to take travellers cheques as it is very difficult to find a bank that will cash them and although some hotels may still cash these, the commission rates are high and are charged per cheque.
A hot semi-arid climate (Köppen: BSh) predominates at Marrakesh. Average temperatures range from 12 °C (54 °F) in the winter to 32–45 °C (90–113 °F) in the summer. The relatively wet winter and dry summer precipitation pattern of Marrakesh mirrors precipitation patterns found in Mediterranean climates. However, the city receives less rain than is typically found in a Mediterranean climate, resulting in a semi-arid climate classification. Between 1961 and 1990 the city averaged 281.3 millimetres (11.1 in) of precipitation annually. Barrows says of the climate, “The region of Marrakesh is frequently described as desert in character, but, to one familiar with the southwestern parts of the United States, the locality does not suggest the desert, but rather an area of seasonal rainfall, where moisture moves underground rather than by surface streams, and where low brush takes the place of the forests of more heavily watered regions. The location of Marrakesh on the north side of the Atlas, rather than the south, forbids its from being described as a desert city, but it remains the northern focus of the Saharan lines of communication, and its history, its types of dwellers, and its commerce and arts, are all related to the great south Atlas spaces that reach further into the Sahara desert.
Some people will say that there is only one official or national language of Morocco, and it is Modern Standard Arabic, but others will tell you that Berber is also an official Moroccan language. In formal situations you will find people using Modern Standard Arabic, as well as any written documents. Most schools are taught in this dialect of Arabic as well.
Most Moroccans are capable of speaking more than just one of their native languages. At least half of the country’s population is capable of speaking French and many of those involved in the tourism industry are capable of speaking some English and a few other foreign languages as well. This means you should be able to get by in most parts of the country quite easily without even trying very hard. But if you really want to open doors or have a less frustrating adventure, you should really try to speak a little Arabic or French.
Modern Standard Arabic may be the go-to language for formal situations in Morocco, but years under French rule left a lasting impression that cannot be denied. In 1912, French was introduced as the language of the government, educational institutions, and more. Modern Standard Arabic was even eclipsed a bit by this change, and went to being used only in traditional and religious settings.
Today, French is still used for many official and government purposes. It sort of acts as the common language for those in the business and government sectors. It is seen as the language of science, technology, and more, while Modern Standard Arabic is regarded as the more traditional official language. Most Moroccans feel that it is necessary to speak a European language in order to maintain contact with the rest of the world and keep up in terms of technology and science.
Health and security
- Adequate health insurance is strongly recommended. Marrakesh’s public hospitals aren’t great and private hospital care in the city is expensive.
Tap water in Marrakesh is safe though it tastes less than delicious. Some travellers though still suffer problems with the water because of different treatment systems. If you have a sensitive stomach, it’s best to stick to bottled water or bring a water bottle with a filtration system along on your visit.
- Marrakesh is, in general, a safe city. Hustlers and touts though, are part and parcel of the medina experience; keep your wits about you and be prepared for a fair amount of hassle. Pickpockets work on Djemaa el-Fna and, to a lesser extent, around the medina. Carry only the minimum amount of cash.
- In Morocco it’s impossible to exchange traveler cheque. In the whole Marrakesh there is only ONE guy in a small exchange store that exchanges them. To avoid troubles simply don’t take any.
- In Marrakesh you have to forget about maps. They simply don’t work in here, especially in the Medina.
- Constructed by Sultan Ahmed El-Mansour (1578-1607), the Badii Palace is one of the two principal monuments of the Saadian era (the other is the Saadian Tombs). Today it survives only as a denuded ruin, but once it was a model of triumphal ostentation. Walls and ceilings were encrusted with gold from Timbuktu, while the inner court had a massive central pool with an island, flanked by four sunken gardens. At the centre of each of the four massive walls were four pavilions, also flanked by arrangements of pools and fountains.
It took some 25 years to complete the palace and barely were the inaugural celebrations over before the ageing ruler passed away. His palace remained intact for less than a century before the Merenid sultan, Moulay Ismail, had it stripped bare and the riches carted north for his new capital at Meknès.
- Seriously indulgent hammams and spas include those at La Mamounia and Selman Hotels. For those counting the coins, head to Les Bains de Marrakech (2 derb Sedra, Bab Agnaou, Kasbah, +212 524 38 14 28) where the luxurious ambience belies the price of the hammams and massages.
For total authenticity and a thorough scrubdown, head to Hammam El-Bacha (20 rue Fatima Zohra, Dar El-Bacha