During our most recent lookbook shoot in Marrakesh, we invited our creative collaborators to write on their experience while in Morocco. This is the first of the two, where we learn to see Marrakesh through Shawnee’s eyes. Based out of Ghent, Belgium, where she studies architecture, Shawnee is driven by the inspiration that travel yields. Her love of beautiful architecture is what makes her take on a trip to Marrakesh so vibrant.
“Just as the craftsman knows how to torture its stone to the limit of its endurance, so the drivers of Marrakesh know how to exploit the nerves of the pedestrians to just short of breaking point, but both are experts in knowing how to stop in time in order to preserve life or stone.” — Prof. Dirk De Meyer After leaving the rainy Belgian weather behind at the end of February, I was looking forward to setting foot in the North-East African country of Morocco for the very first time. We arrived in the pink city of Marrakesh after sundown, when the warm streetlights washed the whole medina in sand-colored light. It was only the next day that I discovered the whole ancient city is painted in a serene soft pink. Originating from the pigment of the local clay, the vibrant pink walls in the early morning glamorize the city and make it look like a delicate and quiet place. But when the city awakens, the charming medina becomes raw and chaotic as the life of the city rattles through: it’s in the dense traffic of motorcycles practically driving across your toes and the merchants trying to sell local wares at every corner of every street. But it’s when you’re submerged in the souks of Marrakesh that you feel the city is most alive. It’s in the craftsmanship of the merchants on the streets; in the acting and dancing of artists on the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square; in the echoing of prayers early in the morning at the Ben Youssef Mosque; in the vibrant colors dancing among the city walls and doors; and in the smell of food and spices that the locals are selling—all of these vibrant moments intermingle to create a beautiful medley, unique to a wonderful city which plays by its own rules. My Urbo 2 Tote was ideal during our travels, as I could keep my phone and notebook in an interior pocket—it was easily reachable if I wanted to quickly write something down or take a picture with my phone. However, it was also secure enough to be pickpocket resistant—this is an important factor in the dense city of Marrakesh where being robbed is not unusual. In some way, the medina manages to keep a perfect balance between public chaos and private serenity. The public disorder ruling the streets is countered by hidden secret gardens and inner courtyards of riads, enclosed by high walls without windows. When entering Le Jardin Secret, I felt like I was walking into another dimension. As lively as the streets are, these secret oases bring your mind back to peace. The garden was divided into four flower beds by the intersection of two walkways. The sound of water flowing from the marble basin through the garden into the riad made the place feel so peaceful. Master decorators thought about every detail in the design of the garden. From the pointed arches and wooden lintel porticoes of the pavilion in the centre of Le Jardin Secret to the presence of typical Moroccan tadelakt applied on brick and rammed earth walls—everything was perfect. Surrounded by hand-carved cedar wood and stuccos, and the floral ornaments on the ceiling of the pavilion, we lingered to admire the outstanding skills of local craftsmen. Like our local guide Abdel helped us understand, the real beauty of Marrakesh is hidden behind doors. “Show me your home, and I’ll tell you who you are,” he said. We all kept these words in our mind for the rest of our trip: looking up to see magnificent ceilings, and reflecting on how treasured Moroccan beliefs were reflected in the city’s architecture. In Muslim culture, modesty is one of the greatest qualities someone can have. Outside, in the public space, you remain humble. In your home and personal life, that’s where you invest. This value was reflected very strongly in the Bahia Palace, built in the late 19th century. There, we could admire the absolutely magnificent craftsmanship that was present in the design of the stucco and wood on the several ceilings facing the courtyard. The transition between our simple human life and what lies above are marked in accordance with the importance with which Moroccans imbue their religion. In the carved and painted doorways of the Palace, we could read the extraordinary work that had been put into making these magnificent architectural elements. In the floors and stairways we could follow the tile patterns in vibrant turquoise, blue, green and orange colors—an index of the Moroccan essence. On the third day of our trip, we crossed the Atlas mountains to reach the smaller village of Aït Benhaddou, about a three to four hour drive from Marrakesh. That day, Morocco completely blew me away. In less than a few hours, the landscape changed radically. We went from the dense Medina streets, over green hills filled with cacti, through cold and windy rocky mountains capped with snow, to finally reach hot and dry desert. I was astonished as I was absolutely not expecting this change in environment on our way to our destination. The color of the ground changed from green vegetation, to brown, red, yellow and even purple earth-tones. We couldn’t help but make frequent stops to enjoy the magnificent views, and I enjoyed every little moment of the day. Morocco, and more specifically Marrakesh, have conquered my heart—not only as an architecture student and nature-lover—but I feel so much respect for the Moroccan values and beliefs now that I have visited their country and learned about their traditions. There’s still so much I haven’t seen, but now that I’ve tasted some of the fruits of Morocco (figuratively and literally—their dry fruits are amazing), I can only hope for the chance to come back one day, and to discover more of the treasures the country has to offer.
Written and photographed by Shawnee Weynants. Find Shawnee on Instagram.