Jemaa el Fna Square, Marrakech

Jemaa el Fna Square, Marrakech, Morocco

Jemaa el Fna Square, Marrakech, Morocco

Jemaa el Fna square on the edge of the souk of Marrakech is short-attention-span theater en plein air. Early in the day, it can be almost sleepy, with scattered peddlers and juice venders, but as the sun drops in the sky the place begins to sizzle and pop. If there was a lid, it would blow right off. A throbbing mass of humanity swims around the food stalls, story tellers, musicians, acrobats, sellers of potions, magicians, tooth-pullers, henna artists, snake charmers, monkey guys, and vendors of all sorts. A good share of the throbbing mass is tourists, either intoxicated by the surging energy or dazed and confused by it, but the square really belongs to the people of Marrakech. While there’s no shortage of really tiresome and pushy peddling, taken as a whole, Jemaa el Fna is a sanctuary of authentic culture, and has, in fact, been declared so by UNESCO. Continue reading

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The spectacular Todra Gorge is located in the eastern High Atlas Mountains. Walls rise 500 feet on either side of this narrow canyon, only 33 feet wide in spots. The nearest town is Tinghir. Residents in the area are mostly the indigenous Amazigh, sometimes known as Berbers. Kelaa M’Gouna, famous for roses, is close enough to combine with Todra Gorge in a day of touring, as is another series of gorges, the Dades Gorges.

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This North African country was the first to acknowledge the independence of the United States of America.* In 1777, seeking to expand foreign trade, the country’s sultan opened his ports to several European countries with which he did not have treaties, and to the brand new nation of the USA. In treating the United States just as he did partner countries with formal agreements, he legitimized its independence.

The Americans were focused on their revolutionary war at the time and it took a few years for a proper response. Ultimately, a Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed by both nations in 1786. Although renegotiated some 50 years later, this treaty is still in effect and is America’s longest standing treaty.

*France was the first to formally recognize US independence by treaty, in 1778.

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In the remote M’Goun Valley, high in the Atlas Mountains, early May is rose festival time. Three-four thousand tons of super-fragrant Damask and Cabbage roses are hand-picked in the valley each spring. Most of the harvest is processed into rose oil bound for the perfumeries of Europe. The rose festival in the town of El Kelaa M’Gouna celebrates the harvest with three days of music, dancing, and food, a parade, the coronation of a Rose Queen and, of course, every rose product imaginable.

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