A medina is generally the oldest section of a city in North Africa. Inside a medina exists the remnants of a thriving city. When the word medina is used outside of North Africa it is meant to simply imply a city or town. Artisan shops, palaces, fountains, mosques, monuments, schools and residential homes all make up the core of a medina.
The streets of most medinas are very narrow as they were built long before motorized vehicles were even a thought. Animals, motorcycles and bicycles are the only forms of transportation that can run through most medinas. In some instances the streets were built narrow and confusing to slow down invaders.
Morocco’s medinas have been largely well preserved and most are still operational today. In the cities of Chefchaouen, Essaouira, Fez (Fes), Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat, Tangier, Taza and Tetouan, visitors can enjoy some of the oldest and most intact medinas. If you’re planning to visit, here are a few tips to make navigating Morocco’s medinas much more enjoyable:
- Many large cities have maps available though not all streets and alleys are marked. A map can be a good back up and a way to communicate where you would like to go to a local resident who may be assisting you.
- Consider hiring a legitimate guide for your first medina adventure. In cities such as Fes and Marrakech, they can be very helpful in showing the way to where you’d like to go. After you’ve wandered a bit, you may feel more comfortable going alone.
- The deeper you go into the medina, the lower the prices of products will drop. Avoid shopping on the fringes of the medina as this is where the higher-priced shops exist.
- If you get “lost,” don’t panic. It is human nature to be scared when you aren’t sure where you are and how to get out. Keep in mind that the roads do come out somewhere!
- The majority of Moroccans are very nice and will be happy to help you if you’re lost. While there may be a language barrier it’s not impossible to find someone with whom to communicate. In many cases, they may even walk with you to get you to where you’re going.
- Sometimes the best plan when in the medina is no plan at all. Enjoy walking the roads, taking in the experience. One of the best parts of visiting a medina is you never can tell what you might find. One minute you may be surrounded by dozens of shops and within minutes you can find yourself in a courtyard looking at an 800-year old mosque or palace.
Have you visited medinas in Morocco? What additional tips would you offer a first-time visitor?
Written by Amanda Mouttaki.
Photo by seier+seier.