Before the 20th century, a Foundouk was a sort of mixed-use commercial property for travelers and merchants who came from across North Africa to trade – a hybrid of hotel and stable in the medina where animals (camels, donkeys, etc.) slept downstairs and people slept upstairs.
‘These were zero star hotel during the day, but at night they turned into 500 stars hotel when you looked up to the sky,’ Mustapha said. ‘These Foundouks turned into artisan workshops today – there are at least 50 in the medina. I have friends in these workshops; one man I know is making shoes more than 60 years in the same shop. I’ve learned a lot from them. They told me about the time of the French in Morocco.’
There aren’t any middlemen in Foundouks; you deal directly with the artisan and pay less than than you would in the souks. One example is Foundouk Sarsar on Rue Mouassine (pictured below).
The following is an excerpt from a wonderful talk I had with Condé Nast Traveler contributing editor Dani Shapiro about her stay at Salisbury, Connecticut’s trademark White Hart Inn (which I’m covering in my Backyard Travel column for Main Street Mag’s March issue).
Paige Darrah: “In the era of Air BnB, where travelers increasingly want to feel that they’re digging in to the culture and connecting to their destination, do you think that hotels have evolved and stepped up their game to offer/accommodate that?”
Dani Shapiro: “A tremendous cultural trend in travel is that people are looking for something both unique and authentic in a way that I think can be very difficult for hotels that are brands, even the most wonderful brands, to replicate or create.Nobody wants to feel like a tourist, they want to feel like they’re having the experience of being a local.For example, I remember the last time I was in Paris I was wanting very much to shop, and feeling like it was harder and harder to find something that wasn’t also available on Madison Avenue or Nolita. Even the smaller brands felt like they were proliferating and that everyone was having the same experience but still wanting so much to have that unique experience.So, to your point Paige, I do think there’s been a shift in travel.I think that hotels (particularly smaller, family-owned ones) are beginning to figure out that travelers are longing to feel at home in the world [wherever they are] and how to help them experience that feeling.”
It seems to me that Marrakech hotels like La Mamounia, Riad El Fenn, and Riad Farnatchi offer this kind of insider experience via Mustapha. You can’t find anything like the Beni Ouarin carpets at Assoufa on Madison Avenue (here’s a previous post about Assoufa).
Q: ‘Hey Mustapha, is Marrakech ‘The Red City’ of Morocco?’
A: ‘Marrakech is the red city (alhamra) means the red in arabic like lalambra which means also the red city. People from other moroccan cities – instead of saying marrakech – they sayalhamra (means the red city).’
Q: ‘Why is it called the Red City? Why not The Pink City, or The Blue City?’
A: ‘Because of terra cotta colour, the clay colour – like Santa Fe New Mexico.’