As a child, I loved horse shows. We went almost every year to the horse show at Madison Square Garden. In the ’80s, I traveled to Morocco – land of Arabian horses – venturing throughout the country, but especially the imperial cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and Marrakech.
The second oldest of the imperial cities, Marrakech is also called the “Pearl of the South.” Coming across the High Atlas mountains, you see this walled, rose-colored jewel. Among the fine monuments you’ll want to visit are the Koutoubia Mosque, the Saadian Tombs, the Bahia Palace, the Jewish Quarter and the Menara Gardens and Pavilion.
Everyone from Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt to The Beatles has enjoyed the mystique of Marrakech, which is bound up in its teeming color and changeability. You can see that in one of the most famous squares in the world, the Djemaa-el-Fna market, which is noisy, smelly, crowded, fabulous and fun. The Medina – the old, walled part of the city – was once a place where nothing had changed for hundreds of years. Now, mopeds fight donkeys for right of way in the narrow alleyways filled with shops featuring an array of foods, spices, carpets, jewelry, shoes and just about everything else. In the evening, hundreds of stalls are set up to offer cheap and delicious fresh food. After dinner, you can see folk singers, dancers, fortune-tellers, snake charmers and fire-swallowers all performing until dawn.
The adventurous horseman, or woman, can discover the country on the back of an “Arab Barb,” an outstanding race characterized by the fiery spirit of the Arab steed and the excellent training of an English Thoroughbred. On horseback, you can travel for a half-day or a full day to discover the charming Berber villages around Marrakesh, or you can pass through olive groves on your way to the Atlas Mountains.
On my last evening in Marrakech, my hosts introduced me to a colorful cultural show called “Fantasia.” Never will I forget sitting on cushions in exotic Berber tents under the desert sky, eating a huge banquet of traditional Moroccan foods and being entertained by a chorus of boys and girls in traditional dress, accompanied by Arabian music. After the dinner, the show began with belly dancers, jugglers and even a sultan flying overhead on a carpet.
I, however, was eagerly awaiting the thunderous hoofs of the Arabian horses; their riders carrying red flags and shooting rifles into the sky. That performance is very difficult, because it depends on the synchronization of the horses in one long chorus line. When the horsemen fire their guns, it sounds as if it is a single shot.
“Fantasia” was originally a war ceremony that consisted of the best riders of the various tribes. The performance is inspired from historical attacks by Berbers and desert knights. Now “Fantasia” is a cultural piece and a form of martial art that you can enjoy every evening, along with that Moroccan feast.
The show is also part of one of the most famous festivals in Marrakech, the Popular Arts Festival in July when thousands of horsemen come together.
“Fantasia” is a little touristy, but I’m sure you will never forget this experience. Where else can you dream of 1,001 Arabian nights?
Visit Cappy’s Travel at 195 North Bedford Road, Mount Kisco, call (914) 241-0383 or email Cappy@travel-by-net.com.