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Sahara

Day 10: Marrakesh

Michael Palin - SaharaThe grandest hotel in Marrakesh, and one of the most famous in the world, is the Mamounia, named after the exotic gardens around it, which were laid out by Pasha Mamoun, a governor of Fez, in the eighteenth century. It was once the official residence of the crown prince, until the French turned it into a hotel of great style, sophistication and expense.

The shopping arcades of the Mamounia do not deal in take-home gifts, unless there's someone you know who might want a 6-foot silver lion sinking its claws into a 5-foot silver antelope, and the shopkeepers are not the sort who will fish out a box of matches and an evening paper from under the counter for you. In fact, they would not dream of calling themselves shopkeepers. They are dealers in and connoisseurs of fine things. Determined not to be intimidated, I enter one of these emporia hoping to find something useful, like a leopard-skin satellite dish or a lapis lazuli shoe-horn, and end up making the acquaintance of an exquisitely jewelled Spaniard called Adolpho de Velasco. He is not even a dealer, he is a designer.

'A big designer,' he corrects me. 'I launch the oriental look in the whole world,' he claims, before adding, endearingly, 'I'm not modest. When I do something that I like, I like people to appreciate it.'

He sees no contradiction between the jet-set playground Marrakesh has now become and the spartan fortress founded nine centuries ago by Abu Bakr and his holy warriors, fresh out of the southern desert.

Marrakesh, he says, has always benefited from a trade in fine things from across the Sahara. 'An enormously rich trade - glass, jewellery, precious stones, spices, silks.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 10
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Marrakesh
  • Book page no: 44

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