the calm

Riad Carina

Now that I’ve written about the chaos, let me write about the calm. The other side of Marrakesh is a hidden, quiet side, tucked away and protected by the thick walls of the city’s buildings. What a difference is discovered there! Without these balancing spaces and moments, Marrakesh would simply overwhelm and exhaust. But with them, the city transforms and takes on the character that we found so seductive.

The spaces that provide this calm are of two orders: interior courtyards and rooftop terraces. There was no better example of the strength of these elements than our riad. On arrival, we passed through the thick wooden door, and stepped into a three storey space that was open to the sky. A small fountain trickled in one corner. Songbirds flitted about, chirping cheerfully. We looked from the tiled floor to the wooden railings to the vibrantly coloured cushions, and whispered to each other: “wow”.

Entering the riad

This is something I must dwell on for a moment. The sense of peace and quiet within the riad was so powerful that Meghan and I actually whispered for nearly our entire stay. It wasn’t even because we were trying not to disturb others. Somehow, it just felt right. I can’t remember any previous period of time when we’ve been able to have entire afternoons of conversation in such soft voices. The incredible thing is that this silence was separated from the chaos outside by only simple walls and a door. And even though the courtyard was open to the sky, the noise of the city simply seemed to pass above it.

We discovered other courtyards in other buildings as well. One restaurant we visited required us to walk about 150 feet down a poorly lit narrow alleyway and around two blind corners before we found the entrance, but once there, it opened into a candlelit courtyard full of tables and fountains and cool night air. Even the courtyards of the public buildings we visited had a pervading calmness to them, regardless of the throngs of tourists that we shared them with.

Roof terrace

The other fantastic feature of so many of the buildings and restaurants we visited was the rooftop terrace. These were often extensions of the courtyard, overlooking them from above. But there was a slightly different experience to be had from up there. Where the courtyards hid the city from your consciousness, the rooftops brought it gently back, while still offering enough of a separation to keep the chaos at a distance. There were varying degrees of this too. For example, on our riad terrace we had no view over the city — the only view we had was of the sky and a portion of an ancient palace wall. The sounds of the busy city seemed to float somewhere just over our heads. On the other hand, the terrace of the Kosybar, a nearby restaurant, overlooked a busy square directly. Sitting on the terrace allowed you to observe the city below, and listen to the sounds of the traffic and the people as they merged to form a background soundtrack. It was a little like arriving at the top of a hill and turning back to see where you came from. It was a new perspective, and an important one.

This calm side of Marrakesh is perhaps what captured us the most. And yet it doesn’t stand alone. On reflection, the magic of the city is that it houses both chaos and calm, stress and relaxation, noise and silence. It does this with greater contrast than any other city that we’ve visited so far in our travels. Each side emphasizes the qualities of the other, and their contrast is wonderfully complimentary. It really has to be experienced to be believed, and it’s an experience that we hope to revisit one day.


  1. Cousin Julie

  2. Mark – what is this restaurant called?

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