The true charm of Marrakech lies inside the medina: a place of endless souks, historical palaces and the famous Djema el Fna square. But Marrakech is also one of Morocco’s most modern cities, home to a yearly international film festival, as well as an arts festival. If you want to have a more complete picture of the city, I’d urge you to stroll around in the Ville Nouvelle, the modern part of Marrakech. Wide boulevards are home to numerous cafés and ice cream parlours, as well as big international brands. In the backstreets, you can find a Moroccan patisserie next to a wine bar. It’s a place where tradition meets modern life.
Here are the things not to miss in the Ville Nouvelle of Marrakech:
Stroll the parks
Marrakech is not all about narrow and dusty streets. In between the salmon-coloured buildings and wide avenues of the Ville Nouvelle, you’ll find a few nice parks that offer you a chance to get away from the busy traffic.
Take Cyberpark for instance, right outside the medina walls, where young Marackchis, mobile in hand, check out the latest news in cyberspace. There’s free wifi in the park, hence its less than glamorous name. But don’t forget to look up from your phone, these well maintained peaceful gardens make Cyberpark one of the nicest open-air cyber spaces in the country!
The charm of Jardin El Harti is less obvious. The swings on the children’s playground, overlooked by two big dinosaurs, could do with some restoration. I visited the place in autumn, when the roses were nearly out of bloom and the place felt quite forsaken. Nevertheless it’s a nice enough place where Moroccan families come to escape some of the busiest central boulevards.
By now it’s time for THE garden of Marrakech and the only place where you’ll see bus loads of tourists in the Ville Nouvelle: the Jardin Majorelle! The garden was created by a French artist (Majorelle), it took him nearly 40 years! Jardin Majorelle was made famous by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who bought the place in 1980. Colour-blocking is the word here: the Majorelle-blue contrasts perfectly with the green of the plants and the red of the pavements. It’s all very pretty and beautifully laid out, but the serenity is often spoiled by large groups, so it just doesn’t do it for me. I’ll take an ordinary city park, full of locals, any day!
Situated next to the Jardin Majorelle is the Yves Saint Laurent museum, dedicated to the fashion designer and to what inspired him. The permanent exhibition holds +/- 50 original pieces of his collection.
Inside the garden you can also find a small museum dedicated to the Berber culture, the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa.
Visit the art galleries
The art scene of Marrakech comes together in the neighbourhood of Gueliz. Tracking down the galleries isn’t always easy though. Even if the boulevards are wide and open, street names seem to be pretty much non-existent…
The first place I manage to track down is the David Bloch Gallery, where the temporary exhibition was by a Parisian graffiti artist, called Mist. You’d expect to find exhibitions like these in galleries in London or New York, I was truly surprised to find one here in Marrakech! A proof that Marrakech is so much more than its medina! The artwork in the galleries is for sale, so it’s not really a museum as such. Entrance is free. Definitely worth a visit!
Address: 8 Rue des Vieux Marrakchis
The BCK Art Gallery hosted an exhibition called “POP Morocco”. From Star Wars to Marilyn Monroe, it’s only small step for the three French artists that were represented here. Free entry.
Address: Rue Ibn Aicha
It’s time to visit one last art gallery, the Galerie Matisse. It was named after the famous contemporary painter, Henri Matisse, and displays a mix of modern art and more traditional Moroccan landscapes, mostly by contemporary Moroccan artists. It’s a small affair, occupying only the ground floor and when I was there it seemed to double up as a meeting place for the galerie guard’s friends and family. Free entry.
Address: 61 Rue de Yougoslavie, Passage Ghandouri
Check out the cool bars
Do you need another proof of how up-to-date and open-minded the Ville Nouvelle of Marrakech is? Then check out some of the cool cafés in the Guéliz neighbourhood. In Café Kechmara, one of the city’s most modern bars, you can appreciate modern art whilst listening to lounge music, sipping a glass of wine or a cocktail. It’s a place where the “beau monde” of Marrakech comes together, albeit in a casual atmosphere.
Address: 3, Rue de la Liberté
When in Marrakech, visit the medina over and over again, but do hop by the Ville Nouvelle as well. Both are very different worlds, but together they show you the diversity of this extraordinary city!
What city have you been to that seemed like a perfect mix between tradition and modern life?