Being here is to journey back in time, to a place where narrow lanes were deliberately built “three donkeys wide” in a labyrinth of twists and turns to confuse invaders. Wandering in this mystical place, you rub shoulders with djalaba-clad men and women going about their daily chores much as they have for millennia.
Walking between these ancient exterior walls, It’s impossible to know what exists behind them, because they present a solid blank face to the outside. There are no street signs and no way to get your bearings. The massive stucco walls up to four stories high rise steeply around you, and you catch only occasional glimpses of sky. Sometimes the walls hide a crumbling unrestored family dwelling, other times the palatial home of a wealthy aristocratic family.
Many are riads, traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with an inward-facing interior garden or courtyard. They were originally built with tall impenetrable walls to shelter their occupants from the outside world and to afford privacy for women.
We’re staying at the Riad Myra in the old medina, our home for the next five nights. To get there, we walked down a narrow cobbled alley, turned left, turned right, and turned left again.
When we found the brass plaque with the name of our riad, we tapped the iron knocker on the massive carved door, and were ushered by a lovely woman into another world, a magnificent interior space open to the sky three stories up, with massive blue and white tiled columns rising on all sides, enormous carved cedar doors leading to individual guest rooms, a fountain with rose petals floating in clear water, plush divans, and soft Arabic music playing.