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48
Marrakech
Amanda travels to the Morrocan city and discovers how modernity meets tradition.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2011 13:36 GMT

In the Berber city of Marrakech, in the foothills of Morocco's Atlas Mountains, Amanda and the 48 team reveal the hidden side of life in a city regularly visited by millions for its exotic chic, but truly seen by few.
 
A stop-off for nomadic traders on the Saharan caravan routes from the 11th century, Marrakech is now firmly on the European tourist trail.

Amanda's local guides, Lahcen and Zineb, take her into the winding heart of a city which, while increasingly embracing modernity, also respects a traditional way of life that has remained virtually unchanged for centuries.
 
The narrow streets of the fortified old city, the medina, are flanked by high walls whose windowless facades hide stunning 'riads' - traditional courtyard houses based around beautiful gardens.

Amanda and Lahcen in the Medina

In the last decade the prospect of owning one of these small palaces for the price of a flat in Paris has sparked a property boom, and now over a thousand of these traditional homes are owned by foreigners, who renovate and convert them to luxury hotels.

We meet one of the few local Marrakchi developers, Abdelatif Aït Ben Abdellah, who is passionate about involving more Moroccans in the preservation of their heritage.
 
Marrakech still holds dear many traditions which pre-date Islam's introduction by the Arabs in the 7th century, as Amanda finds out when she gets a rare glimpse into the world of Moroccan magic with a visit to a local sorceress, who uses molten metal to fight curses, predict the future and solve the problems of her clients.
 
Amanda and the crew then go somewhere else where women talk about their problems - a tea party. While being treated to a feast of sweets, three generations of women explain how they feel about changes to the family code introduced by King Mohammed VI. Among other things, the new law increases the rights of wives within marriage and divorce.

Black-belt karate coach Fatime Zahra

After tea, Amanda gets a lesson from female black-belt karate trainer Fatime Zahra, one of the many women taking part in Morocco's most popular sport.
 
The Red City's alluring combination of exoticism and chic has always proved irresistible for Europeans, particularly its former colonial masters, France and Spain. The country's tourist-friendly young king, Mohammed VI, has paved the way for an ever-increasing flood, pledging to bring in 10 million visitors a year by 2010.

While some remain sceptical about the 'invasion', locals welcome the tourist dollars amid urban unemployment of 15 per cent. Internationally acclaimed chef Moha Fedal, who has cooked for statesmen, royals, and Hollywood stars, is one Marrakchi benefiting from the influx.

Having introduced Amanda to the vibrant local produce in the Jewish quarter's food market, Moha teaches her how to prepare a traditional chicken tajine. 
 
Although life for most Moroccan women remains in the domestic sphere, an ever increasing number are seeking further education, and careers. Some are even braving politics - as Amanda discovers when she meets Asma Chaabi, Morocco's first elected female mayor.

She takes Amanda to visit a cooperative of Berber women in her region who extract argan oil, from the trees unique to the Arganeraie region. Produced by Berbers for centuries this 'liquid gold' is prized all over the world for both its flavour and its health and beauty benefits.

 Amanda and Zineb with chef Moha

But the profits to be made have led to industrial production by international companies swallowing much of the market.

The women Amanda meet work for a cooperative that helps Berbers keep some of the money, and has also transformed the lives of the Berber women by giving them a wage and a stake in their business.
 
For most Moroccans, the extended family is very much the centre of their lives - and that includes their social lives. Night clubs and bars have sprung up to cater for the city's tourists, but they have little to offer the average Marrakchi.

For her final night in the city, Amanda is invited to celebrate the seventh birthday of Rim, the daughter of guide Zineb, at a typical house party - with guests aged seven to 70.

Marrakech can be seen on Monday, February 14, at 0830GMT.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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