From a young age, my love of travel has always come from a desire for the new, to see new place and experience new things. So when it comes to revisiting places, I feel the same as I do about returning to a well-loved book. It feels almost self-indulgent when there’s so many other places to visit (or books to read). And what if seeing things a second time around changes my experience? What if some of the magic of seeing a place with a fresh perspective is lost in the return or that somehow my memory of the place becomes tarnished? So when I was invited back to Marrakech by the Moroccan Tourist Office, part of me was sceptical that my second visit might not be every bit as intoxicating as my first trip.
With its vibrant colours, spice and culture, Marrakech fascinated me long before I ever got the opportunity to visit it. Although my first visit to Marrakech back in November was relatively short, the trip gave me a perfect snapshot of a city which was every bit as captivating as I’d hoped. This time around, the trip’s focus was the sixth Marrakech Biennale. Having started in 2005, the festival brings art to the very heart of the city where it can be experienced and enjoyed in a public space. Not being much of an art critic, I found some pieces confusing and contrived, while others moved me deeply. What the festival, and my second trip to Marrakech, did make me see though was that culture, art and creativity is very much the beating pulse. Whether its a contemporary piece produced my a renowned artist, or an intricate engraving carved by hand in the heart of the medina. And in a way both have equal importance in shaping and preserving Morocco’s unique national identity.
If my first visit exposed me to the city’s melting pot of cultures, my second trip to Marrakech, became more of a study of its people. The artisans, craftsmen and traders who bring the city to life. In the square, old women pounding henna leaves into pastes told me about Berber life and the traditions of their grandparents. In the maze of the medina I learned about traditional dying techniques from men hand carding wool. In a secluded riad, I was taught the correct way of dicing an onion and how to prepare a tagine (which I’ll share more about soon). A medicine man whose family had traded spices in the souk for centuries showed me how to judge the quality of saffron. I realised that seeing Marrakech the first time, I’d barely scratched the surface. Rather than reducing the overwhelming attack that the city is on the senses, in returning to Marrakech was like revisiting a complicated book or painting. Each time I looked, I noticed something new, hidden in plain sight the whole time.
Special thanks to the Moroccan National Tourist office and Sofitel Marrakech for having me as their guest.