Think of saturation, what it means in its entirety; to absorb. Marrakech, Morocco, is the epicenter of cultural saturation. Marketplaces have shelves with fresh fruit and spices spilling into the streets by wind blow or even the lonely desert views that many call an ‘out of this world’ experience. As you walk deeper and deeper down the street of the marketplace, you become engulfed in a sea of merchants attempting to hand you hospitality with a cup of their traditional mint tea. Marrakech will take a weary traveler back to what some call ancient times.
With an intrigue to see the artisan center of the world and artisans in their element, Dina Balderes and her family went to Morocco for an artisanal experience. After talking with Dina, their knowledge seemed to be everything they were looking for and more.
Dina and her family chose to stay in a riad, the traditional architectural living area throughout Morocco. These buildings are very traditional in Moroccan culture. A riad is a building that is usually three floors tall on each die of a square, with an open center or ‘common room’ used for vegetation growing, with all the rooms around it. This architectural style is similar to the Spanish. However, in Morocco, there are more floors. In the center, there is usually beautiful detail and coloring; visitors said they felt most a part of the culture while they stayed in buildings such as these.
When you enter every older city in Morocco, you’ll notice that every older city has walls around them; historians say it was how they used to fortify themselves back in the day. After you go through the archways, all built out of stone, you’ll see intricate, beautiful gates. There were several of them around the city. As you walk deeper into the city, you slowly unwrap the Marrakech culture. With inconsistent marketplaces with some storefronts covered, you go into an alleyway inside open arches. Most of them have some type of roof over their heads. Right next to each other. All, calling over. Dina suggests it best not to intimidate easily in Marrakech.
You might start to smell something that you’d describe as anything but good as you walk. You’re probably near the tanneries once you want to throw up and the smell thickens in the air. You will face many merchants offering to show you around; they will most likely overcharge you and demand their money at the end of the tour. In times like these, you need to keep your wits about you. They’re very good at selling things. They’ll follow you; they’ll wine you. They’ll dine you and remain extremely insistent until you purchase from them. Most of them are very kind-loving people who want to share their love for their country with them.
When you enter the leather tannery, the smell will slap you across your face if the heat didn’t first. The people working at the tannery give bunches of mint to visitors and tell them to hold it to their noses to cut the smell. Once you’re in, you’ll see vast vats of whatever you can think of; one even had pigeon feces. Each vat is a different step in the process of treating raw hyde.
One of the most rooted cultural experiences that Dina and her family enjoyed was the farmer’s markets in the Atlas Mountains. About an hour out of the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, where the soil is rich, farmers have moving markets where they sell their agriculture. People bring goods such as livestock, sheep, and goats, with every intention butcher them right there. There, Dina said there were little to no tourists as she enjoyed the culture of the Berber people. She said her favorite part of her time was out of the cities through the mountains, while they stayed in beautiful riads in the mountain range, somewhere where she and her family could embrace nature and culture and feel the nationalism of the people.
During Dina’s time in Morocco, I asked her if there was any point at which she felt unsafe during her time in Marrakesh. She said that an area looking like it was just getting developed seemed dodgy at first, but after a few days, she learned it was fine and just under construction.
The native New Yorker described it as “…like Harlem. You’re uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it after a few days.” She told me she felt safest out in the countryside, but had she not gotten a translator, she wouldn’t have felt nearly as safe because she wouldn’t have been able to communicate.
Imagine feeling the zest of a red for the first time; that’s what it felt like for them. Fish out of the water, but they took every little drip of the Moroccan culture they could get.