Raw Inspiration: Marrakesh, the Sahara and Fes in 4 Days – by Helena Roy

Following an impromptu decision, I decided to head to Morocco in late June. The trip was to be just as spontaneous as its impetus – travelling haphazardly through Marrakesh, onto the edge of the Sahara, and finally Fes.

The view in the morning from the overnight train to Marrakesh

Marrakesh assaults the senses. It remains one of those fantastic cities that is itself an exhibition. Snaking through the medina on foot exposes you to a strangely harmonious multitude of tensions and fusions. Life remains steeped in history but constantly developing – donkeys pull carts of a myriad of spices (supporting ancient culinary culture) past bright red Coca-Cola parasols in cafes full of people jabbering on mobiles.

A water-seller in Marrakesh
Fresh fruit on sale in Marrakesh
Intricate henna tattoos in Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh
Spices in Marrakesh
Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh
The Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakesh

The colours are vibrant to the point of chaos. Fruit, market stalls, adverts – bright primaries are mixed with metallic tones, making a mosaic out of the city that mirrors the intricate tiling of its ancient Islamic architecture. A highlight of Marrakesh is the Jardin Majorelle – home of Yves Saint Laurent. A serene oasis just outside of the medina, it chooses the brightest of Marrakesh colours and emphasises them in horticulture and architecture. Visiting the garden provides material evidence of the torrent of inspiration Marrakesh imparts.

Cactus in the Jardin Majorelle
Flowers in the Jardin Majorelle
Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle

The contrast between Moroccan cities and the desert could not be starker. Travelling through Morocco, the landscape offers itself as a gallery. Canyons, mountains and dunes offer colours, contours and contrasts as inspiring as the greatest painted masterpiece.

Driving through the Atlas Mountains
A canyon close to the Draa Valley
Endless dunes in the Sahara
Dwarfed by the dunes in the Sahara

After arriving at Fes around 3am, taxi drivers promptly explained that no car can go in the medina. The maze of street feels, at night, like Venice without the water: ancient alleys, constant turns and signs pointing in opposite directions. In the morning, the ancient city – grittier than Marrakesh – is bathed with sunlight, and the compressed medina rooftops hint at the confusion below. The tanneries in Fes offer a glimpse of ancient, hard life – tubs of dyes are filled with people colouring leather, whilst canary yellow hides dry in the sun.

Canary yellow hides drying in Fes
The multicoloured tubs dying leather in Fes

I didn’t visit galleries or intensely study art in Morocco, but it is a place that offers inspiration. It gives a greater understanding of landscape and colour, and adds a new dimension to admiring paintings and architecture. Take Yves Saint Laurent as an example – I did not analyse his prints or fashion, but viewing the source of his inspiration has made it infinitely easier to appreciate and relate to his work. Experiencing the raw source of inspiration for artists can open up a whole new world of understanding relating to their material work.

Four days does not do Morocco justice, but it is indubitably an experience. Nor does this post adequately describe all there is to see and do. Never having visited North Africa, I was hoping for a quick and intense shot of the culture. If there is one place to go for such a varied and concentrated experience, it is Morocco. My only sufficient advice can be: visit it. I can assure you, it will always leave you wanting more.

One thought on “Raw Inspiration: Marrakesh, the Sahara and Fes in 4 Days – by Helena Roy”

  1. Hello – I was in Morocco a couple of years ago. I was, too surprised by the variety and sheer amount to see. It is, however a country perilously balanced between the needs of the locals, the tourists and the requirements of the artifacts themselves. I often saw objects and architecture that had been altered to please the tourist or attract more trade. I found this somewhat sad, but presumably this is how ‘things’ ‘places’ and people ultimately evolve. I rather wished I could have changed this approach – what existed was beautiful enough I wanted to tell them!

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