With 19 gates, or babs, piercing the medina’s walls, each arched doorway leads to something unexpected.
Bab El Khemis, named for the Thursday market where camels and mules were once sold, now opens out on to the local flea market selling everything from tagine pots to old radios and ancient riad doors.
Tracing the city walls south from Bab El Khemis, takes you through the self-contained neighborhoods that tourists rarely visit. Kids play football along the streets, a barber waits for customers and sheep heads hang out of dark butcher stores.
Eventually the streets lead to the food markets of Bab Ailen. Here donkey carts weave between stalls overflowing with preserved lemons and fresh sardines, and friends touch their hearts while they ask about everything from each other’s health to the price of dates.
As the jellaba-clad shoppers continue south through the market, those in the know stock up on handfuls of mint before reaching Bab Debbaugh, where the sweet scent of herbs and orange blossom is replaced by the pungent smell of blood and pigeon droppings – the entryway to the city’s medieval tannery.
Weaving past the skins stretched out to dry in the sun, past the synagogues of the old Jewish quarter and towards the towering Koutoubia mosque, leads to Bab Agnaou.
The most elaborate of Marrakech’s monumental gates, Bab Agnaou is a testament to the craftsmanship at the heart of the city. Once a guard tower for the city’s kasbah it now acts as the doorway from the city’s ancient medina into Gueliz, the ville nouvelle built under the French protectorate.
Here the twisting medina streets are replaced by spacious boulevards and the ancient ochre ramparts seem to be just holding the modern world at bay.
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