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Notes on the Geography of Morocco: Marrakech Periphery

Marrakech in 1890 had an estimated 40,000 people. By the 1930s it had zoomed to 190,000, of whom 7,000 were Europeans. By 1950, the city had almost a quarter million people, and now it has well over 800,000 (some say 900,000). They have to live somewhere, and it mostly isn't in the old walled city. Instead, it's in the city's newer quarters, which began growing with the French-built Ville Nouvelle and which continues growing today in farther suburbs.

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A snippet of the new city, which began with Resident General Hubert Lyautey's asking for a plan from Henri Prost, a city planner who from 1914 to 1922 developed plans not only for Marrakech but for Fes, Meknes, Rabat, and Casablanca. Later, Prost worked in Algiers, Istanbul, and back home in France.

Here in Marrakech, he laid out a Grande Avenue (now Ave. Mohammed V), which began in the heart of the old city and stretched about two miles to the northwest, where it terminated at the foot of a dramatically scarped hill, Gueliz, and at the adjoining Camp Mangin, a military base named for the French officer who had helped subdue a local rebellion in 1912. Midway along its course, this grand avenue was crossed by another avenue coming in from the train station a few blocks to the west. This second street, Avenue du Haouz (now Avenue Hassan II), crossed the grand avenue at a circle from which streets radiated like spokes of a wheel, particularly in the northwest quadrant. By 1935, the bulk of the new city was in the dozen blocks of this quadrant. Provision was made for expansion, however, not only east of the circle but farther west, where the broad Avenue de France (now Ave. Mohammed VI) ran through open country as late as 1935. (These details come from Plan de Marrakech, a French map of the city, published in 1935 at a scale of 1:10,000 and reprinted in 1942 by the U.S. Army Map Service. Good luck finding it!)

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Another snippet.

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Most housing here is multi-story, but there are estates with space, such as the famous Jardin de Majorelle, built in the 1920s by Jacques Majorelle but later owned by Yves Saint-Laurent.

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Its entrance, with a pond reminiscent of those found in the old city's courtyard homes.

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Meticulously maintained cacti.

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Where to shop in the new city? Tourists may not come to Marjane, the dominant Moroccan chain of hypermarts, but plenty of Moroccans do.

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You can learn a lot here, such as the importance of olive and other cooking oils.

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And of flour.

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And of butter, here in large lumps.

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And of seafood, here with rays.

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But we've come to buy a home, haven't we? Here's Garden City, built by Mayfair Morocco, a company with projects in Casablanca and Tangier as well as several here in Marrakesh.

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The brochure advertises authentic architecture with a "very refined touch of modernity." Translation: you get air conditioning and underground parking.

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The exteriors are treated with lime and sand; interior floors are marble.

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Twenty percent down, with local financing available for the rest.

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Across the street.

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Another project, close to the airport.

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Closer. (Thinking Santa Fe?)

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How many weeks a year do you think half these units will be occupied?

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