Resilience in the backstreets of Marrakech and how we can help Morocco after the earthquake

Posted by Anna Baldwin 13th September 2023
Share this post:

Resilience in the backstreets of Marrakech and how we can help Morocco after the earthquake

Our Head of Product Anna was in Marrakech at the time of the recent earthquake which left the country and the rest of the world in shock. She's been speaking to local business owners and finding out how we can most effectively support Morocco during this devastating time.

Soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of one of Africa’s most vibrant cities is always a highlight of any visit to Morocco. My most vivid memories of previous visits to Marrakech focus around the Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the heart of Marrakech’s old city. A labyrinth of narrow, winding passageways, the Medina plays host to an array of small tea houses, steamy hammams, tiled madrasahs and traditional riads, each hiding behind intricately carved wooden doors and set around enchanting interior courtyards. Venture deeper into the backstreets and you’ll be led on a journey through the senses as you suddenly find yourself in the heart of its famous colourful souks. Cloaked in a blanket of incense, here you’ll find a treasure trove of spices, textiles, jewellery and handicrafts, sold alongside skilled craftsmen whose open workshops are filled to the brim with tools and materials sourced from all over the country. On a normal day, the streets are overflowing with people, locals busily buying and selling, going about their daily business, whilst curious tourists excitedly feast on delicious Moroccan treats in between haggling over the endless display of souvenirs. But today is not a normal day.

It’s been two days since the earthquake, the worst Morocco has seen in over 100 years, and the Medina’s streets are deadly quiet. My guide, Souf, and I exchange stories about our experience of that fateful night. Luckily he and his family were unharmed, but their home was damaged, and whilst the family have temporarily moved to the countryside, he has remained in the city and is currently staying with friends. He clearly has had very little sleep. This is the first time he’s returned to the Medina since the earthquake, he tells me, and as we start to enter the maze of backstreets, it becomes clear that both of us are unsure what we might find, beyond the devastating images already shared between friends and across the media.

As we turn the first corner into the old wool market area, Souf shouts out to a friend he has spotted opening up his clothes shop. Mohammed gives us a huge smile and happily greets his friend. His family and friends are all okay, he tells us, and he was back in his shop the morning after the earthquake, setting things up like any other morning. 

“Our thoughts are with the communities in the mountains, they are the ones who truly need help”, he says, “For us, we are fine. For years many of us have worked alongside each other without talking, but now we are talking and hugging and supporting each other. Something positive always comes out of something negative.”

His positivity is infectious, and already I can see the effects on Souf. 

"Thank you for staying here", Mohammed says to me, “Morocco needs you and we are here ready to welcome your friends.”

As we continue on, there are clear signs of the earthquake as we pass by crumbling walls and large piles of rubble and broken handicrafts, carefully swept to the side and awaiting further clearance. We come to a metal workshop that has partly caved in, many of the tools broken or crushed, but the owner calmly insists that he will be able to rebuild it soon. 

"I am lucky", he says, with a smile.

But as we wander from street to street, for every pile of rubble we pass, there is another shop opening up. This time, the shop is surrounded by a group of tourists, and inside, the shopkeeper is busily closing a sale, fashioning an even bigger smile than Mohammed's.

Sissi came to Marrakech from Senegal many years ago to study at university and is well-known and well-liked in the community. Souf tells Sissi how he saw him riding his scooter around in the early hours after the earthquake, carrying a load of bags. 

“Yes”, replies Sissi, laughing, "I was moving a few things around. I have some broken items but not a lot. All will be fine. Inshallah.”

He turns to me and nods, “What you are doing is very important, thank you. Tourists must come, please show them we are waiting!”

As we enter the magnificent Ben Youssef Madrasa, the main courtyard is quietly buzzing with tourists. 

First built in the 14th century, the madrasa was once the largest Islamic school in North Africa, and today stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its stunning architecture and intricate geometric tilework are a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of Moroccan artisans and draw people in from all over the world. Today seems to be no exception. 

After exploring the interior, Souf and I stand silently in the courtyard soaking up the incredible craftsmanship, and we realise the building seems completely unharmed. Not one crack is visible.

As time goes on, we bump into more and more of Souf’s friends, each of them running a different business, each harbouring a unique skill or talent, all of them eagerly awaiting their foreign visitors. Mohammed Sudani is a talented musician and insists on giving me some tea and playing the sintir. In addition to his music, he is in charge of heating up the next-door hammam, and he also makes an excellent tagine, he tells me proudly.

Next, I’m introduced to the famous Haj Belkabir, owner of the small but significant Patisserie Belkabir, located right in the middle of Souk Semarine. The family business has been around for over 60 years, and Souf tells me how he used to come and buy sweets from Haj when he was a boy. Haj tells us that he was only closed for one day after the earthquake, but now it is business as usual. And it really looks like it is.

Tourists are lining up behind us to sample some of his mouth-watering treats, and as I look further down the souk, I suddenly realise that it is busy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the streets are overflowing as before, but they are busy. As I look back at Souf, I see him talking energetically to another friend, laughing and smiling, and for the first time in days, I feel a sense of normality returning, and a real sense of hope.

Between the smiles and reunions, it’s of course impossible to forget the devastation that lies behind it all, as the growing piles of rubble and cordoned-off streets lurk behind every corner. As we approach the areas that were most badly affected, we meet two ladies standing outside their house, telling me they would love to invite me in for tea, but they can’t. Pulling out a phone, they show me photos of the inside, covered in cracks and with their neighbours’ house partly collapsed into theirs. They usually run their business from here, but now they have had to close. 

“We have no idea what we will do,” one of them tells me, "No one has come yet, if you know anyone who can help, please tell us.”

As Souf and I say goodbye, I ask him if he will be able to get some rest. He smiles and tells me, “First I will join some friends and go into the mountains to help. But yes, then I will get some rest.”


After multiple discussions here on the ground with both local and international communities, there have been two key takeaways as to how we can most effectively help in a crisis such as this.


The obvious and most immediate one is providing monetary support of any kind, to those organisations who are funnelling the money where it really needs to go on the ground. It is important to leave the relief work to those that are experts in their field, and to those local communities and organisations who can most effectively help each other. 

Wild Frontiers has made a donation to a charity in Morocco called 'Education for All', which offers education to girls from remote Atlas Mountain villages. The school's boarding houses were damaged during the earthquake, and now require major repairs. In addition to supporting the repair work, Education for All is also working to support the students and their families whose villages have been devastated by the earthquake.

This work and support is ongoing. If you would like to show your support for this grassroots charity, please donate here - Education For All Morocco | Allowing girls from rural families to continue their education (


The other key takeaway, a message emphasised by everyone I’ve met this past week is – please don’t cancel your travel plans to Morocco. For the majority of the country, and definitely in the majority of the city of Marrakech, it is still business as usual. Of course, there will be unease regarding the safety of travel in the coming weeks, considering the risks of experiencing any aftershocks, and the instability of some of those areas worst hit, and during this time you should approach any travel plans with caution and discuss any concerns with your tour operator and local authorities. It goes without saying that in the immediate future, we should avoid those areas that have been worst affected so as not to get in the way of the urgent relief work that is being carried out. But if we avoid Morocco completely, the country will not only be facing a natural disaster but also a catastrophic economic one, worsened by the hangover of the pandemic which is still being felt in many areas. 

Shortening the recovery curve is key to Morocco getting through this, and the role of tourism plays a huge part in helping the recovery become a reality. My interactions with business owners in the Medina, as well as other locals throughout the city, have only emphasised the vital importance of the tourism industry to the people of Morocco. If you choose not to travel, then consider postponing, not cancelling completely. If you choose to travel, then travel with empathy and respect for what has happened, and understand that your presence here is of vital importance to the long-term wellbeing and lives of the Moroccan people. As a company, Wild Frontiers will be prioritising plans we already had in place to develop tours in Morocco, and we are looking forward to sharing the country’s beauty with our travellers in the near future.

Share this post:

Related tours