Chez Ali Marrakech, Walt Disney meets Ali Baba
Probably the most unusual experience I had in Marrakech was a visit to Chez Ali. It can only be described as Disney meets The Arabian Nights. The first time I went I was leading an educational group. On the itinerary it was billed as ‘Fantasia, Moroccan Dinner and Cultural Show’ and I had no idea what to expect.
We were picked up from our hotel at 7.30 and driven in our little mini bus a few miles outside of the city to the Palmeraie. The entrance is a large arch flanked by two rows of horsemen dressed in white and carrying old-fashioned muskets and women dressed as Moroccan brides. You can take photos of them but be warned, you may be expected to pay.
Inside we found a large arena surrounded by a number of sumptuous open sided Ciadel tents where we were led to tables. The food was wonderful and far more than we could manage, starting with harira soup and traditional Moroccan flat bread then lamb tagine with vegetable couscous rounded off with traditional pastries and mint tea. There was also wine or beer for those who wanted it, although there was an extra charge for this. Throughout our meal, we were entertained by traditional Moroccan musicians and a group of women in colourful Berber costumes who danced and sang. The high-pitched ululating sounds they made were astonishing. We all tried to copy but none of us could work out how they did it.
After dinner we were led to stone seats beside the arena. These weren’t terribly comfortable but before long the show started and we didn’t even notice. The horsemen we saw at the entrance began to show off their amazing acrobatic horse riding skills. They galloped up and down the arena, jumping on and off their horses, standing in the saddle and firing their muskets. The noise of the first gun frightened me to death because I’d thought the muskets were just for decoration, but I soon got used to it. It was truly breath taking and is apparently a war ceremony and mock battle.
Then came a display of belly dancing and juggling at the end of which the arena darkened and all went quiet. We weren’t sure if the show was over or not, but as everyone seemed to be staying in their seats we waited. A spotlight focussed on the right hand end of the arena and we thought perhaps there would be more horsemen. Instead a magic carpet, complete with a seated Aladdin slowly rose into the air and crossed the arena.
To us adults it was obvious that it was pulled along on a kind of wire but the children in the audience had their eyes wide in amazement. The finale of the show was a deafening and quite remarkable firework display. All the horsemen, jugglers and dancers then came out to take their bows. Everyone agreed it had been a wonderful evening and quite the strangest thing they had seen. The whole show lasted about four hours and we were back at our hotel before midnight. If you are planning to go to Chez Ali go with an open mind. It is a touch over the top. It may also feel quite cold after the heat of the day in the city so it’s worthwhile wearing warm clothes and perhaps taking a little cushion.