So you can take it or leave it, or make of it what you will, but it's there, it's present, right in the midst of the everyday, and that, in turn, makes it the most democratic of biennales. One much-loved local hangout is the idyllic Menara Gardens, with its serried rows of ancient olive trees, surrounding a central pavilion and water reservoir, which is used to irrigate the still-cultivated groves.
It's a place where friends come to chat, families bring children to play, and lovers find a secret spot to kiss in the shade of evening. It's about three-quarters of an hour's walk from Djemaa el Fna, but a taxi can be had for about 30 dirhams, depending on your haggling ability. The Gardens is home to what is, for me, one of the most moving and relevant pieces of art of the entire Biennale: The work takes several forms; a book an artwork in itself outlining the project; an installation in the Menara Gardens; but in the main, the work is a working windmill in Syria itself that supplies electrical power to an unknown source Malas prefers not to say for fear it would become a bombing target.
The windmill is "an act of creative resistance, one that 'takes the power' literally". He was setting up his installation in the pavilion when I arrived, and explained the genesis of the work.
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They burnt the pellets in furnaces - a dangerous process that produces toxic gases - and this way, made a type of fuel, similar to diesel, which they were able to use to power stand-alone generators. He is able to run a generator with this; 14 months later, there are 40 water wheels operating in that area.
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I wanted to tie this project in with the longer history of energy production in Syria. I chose four stories [the telegraph; the tram; the dam, and torture].
Of course, man - or woman, come to that - cannot live by art alone, and the Red City teems with incredible eateries and tea houses. In the medina, I fell head over heels in love with the gorgeously green tiles, plants, doors; all shades from emerald to olive are here Le Jardin, which played host to a Biennale after-party.
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During the day, the 17th-Century mansion - which is a sister property to the equally tasty Cafe Des Epices and Nomad - serves organic foods in the shaded courtyard, while at night you can catch old black-and-white movies in what is an utterly romantic setting, among the lush greenery of the garden. Also in the medina is the newly opened restaurant La Famille, which opens daily until 5pm. It's located on the street that runs from the Bahia Palace to Djemaa el Fna and is a little oasis of calm and delicious food away from the hubbub outside. Or, if you fancy being entertained by traditional belly dancers warning: The food just keeps coming, and it's incredibly delicious, with much of it veggie, although there's no shortage of meat dishes, either.
There's a lovely roof terrace here, too, if you fancy pairing a glass of Moroccan red it's excellent with a sunset to die for. To be honest, finding somewhere in the labyrinthine medina is largely pot luck - my sense of direction is questionable, to say the least - but there are so many beguiling spots that it doesn't really matter if you can't find your original destination; often, what you stumble across is better. A self-taught artist who once worked in Woolworths, Hajjaj's work - much of which comprises reclaimed materials - is now highly sought after by collectors and museums, and, because he divides his time between London and Marrakech, you're likely to find him home, should you drop in.
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It's vital, though, when you visit the medina, to take the time to get lost. Utterly, completely, gloriously lost. Inhale the intoxicating mix of mint mingled with cinnamon and star anise; get a little light-headed from the heady traces of hashish lingering in the dust-speckled air, as you wend your way through the serpentine streets, past souk after souk: Immerse yourself in the pulsating throb of it, at least once. And, after I did, it was back to the Sofitel for a leisurely swim in its glorious pool, and, one dickying up later, it was off to Le Palace, a mere hop, skip and a jump from the hotel.
It is, hands down, the most romantic restaurant I have ever had the pleasure of dining in. Inside, it's dark - always a boon when you're the wrong side of 40 - with a vaguely 's ambience: The food was as divine as the setting: Marrakech is unlike anywhere else I've ever been; it has a uniquely bohemian vibe that captivates; it's chic; it's classy; it's old; it's new; it's laid-back; it's frantic; it's vibrant and tolerant and cosmopolitan and ancient.
And, as I stood at the pool in the Crystal Pavilion of El Badi Palace, with the swallows swooping and soaring around me, the storks nesting in the red ruins, and the work of Oman artist Radhika Khimji, a deflated parachute, draped like a giant jellyfish on the palace wall, I felt I had become what curator Reem Fadda had set out to achieve with this Biennale: While fortunate for me, the fewer number of visitors Jordan has seen in recent years has brought economic hardship to those who heavily rely on tourism.
The Myth of the red city! - Marrakech
Jordan is safe and peaceful despite the turmoil in its neighbouring countries. I spoke with one Bedouin whose donkey I rode back to the Visitor Centre just to support the local economy. The significant decline in business, he told me, has been painful. Search for hotels in Wadi Musa at Booking.
This post includes an affiliate link that allows me to earn a modest commission from Booking. Thank you for your support! Thanks for the article, Petra is on my bucket list my actual name is Jordan so it has to be haha. Camel riding, is it ethical? Elephants get a lot of press but not so sure about camels….
Their treatment varies widely, depending on the owner.
Medina of Marrakech
This article tells you what to look for when thinking about riding a camel: The Moorish minaret is an impressive landmark that can be seen from the Djemaa el-Fna. It has floor-to ceiling adornments of painted, guilded inlaid woodwork. Kui-Zin offers authentic Moroccan and Mediterranean fayre at reasonable prices with friendly service. Live oriental music is played each evening. The atmosphere is welcoming and the service excellent.
The Red City - Wikipedia
About three hours by taxi from Marrakesh, it is worth the trip. Take a jacket as it is cooler here and wear sensible shoes or trainers.
Plan your day — know exactly where you want to go before leaving. Outside your riad or hotel, locals in their dozens will offer to guide you.
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