Africa Morocco Photo Essays

The Labyrinth of Marrakech

February 9, 2018

By Xenia Alexandra

You wake early and decide to take a walk. It’s quiet right now and the air isn’t ripe with the smell of spices yet. You pass only a handful or two of people. You’re in Marrakech and it hasn’t woken up yet.

A labyrinth of alleyways, all your senses are alive here, even in the early morning hours. You turn a corner and see a man hanging a lantern outside a doorway. A street cat darts by. Turn another corner and there’s three men sitting on chairs, slowly sipping mint tea and talking. It’s 9am now so you head to Madersa Ben Youssef. It’s just opened for the day so it’s only you and a few other early birds. The medina is starting to wake up.

The souk is open for business, and while you try to navigate how vast it is, everyone wants you to buy something – rugs, spices, lanterns, babouches. The multitude of sights, smells and sounds that with which Marrakech is synonymous is well and truly on show.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at times – you want to see everything and experience as much as possible in the time that you have. And maybe because you have an insatiable need to get as much out of this trip as you can, this place tries to get the best of you. You walk through the souk thinking you have it figured out. You think you’ve mastered the art of bargaining. And you think you remember the route back to your riad. But you don’t, and you’re having the best time ever. 

Marrakech throws curveballs and surprises at you from every direction, and herein lies the joy in getting to know it. In unexpectedly getting lost and in waking up early, that’s when you start to slow down and notice something that others may not. You see that on the fringe of the seemingly constant chaos, over the mopeds trying to run you over and everyone trying to sell you something, there are in fact moments of peace and quiet all over here.

There’s the shopkeeper dozing off surrounded by his stack of kasbah rugs. The Berber man shelling peas on a burlap sack. An old woman slowly shuffling by with a cane. A hammam so hidden down an alley that you go now because most likely you won’t find it next time. You find that the pace of life does slow down here.

Much has stayed with me about my time here, but it’s perhaps these moments that I find myself thinking about the most. I wonder if when I come back, I’ll pass by the Berber with his bundles of fresh mint in the same spot again…

Xenia Rollinson is a creative living in New York City and has amassed experience working in all forms of creative production and direction for the likes of Refinery29, Nylon and The New York Times. With an insatiable thirst for travel and adventure, she’s always thinking ‘where to next?’ and can be regularly found documenting moments and life around the world through photographs and words.

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