Marrakech Earthquake September 2023

Our personal experience

Marrakech is the fourth largest city in Morocco, west of the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The Medina is the old walled centre of the city. A Riad is a large, traditional house built around a central courtyard. They are often converted into hotels, as was the case with our accommodation. The Souks are the marketplaces and bazaars

Day 1 – 8th September 2023

10.30am we landed at Marrakech Menara Airport. We had booked a trip into the Mountains for Liz’s birthday and we had a couple of days in a Riad before we were due to set off. We met another couple on our transfer who were doing a similar trip to us and were staying at the same accommodation – Duncan & Beccie – and we ended up spending the day with them exploring Marrakech. That evening we ate a little roof-top restaurant near to the Riad called ViaVia before making our way back to our Riad accommodation.

We were tired after a long day having been up since 2.30. We drifted off to sleep just before 11pm but a few minutes later, at 11 minutes past, by a loud rumbling. The room was shaking, and a deep rumbling noise seemed to be coming from the corners of the room. We jumped up in a panic and tried to find our clothes in the dark. My first reaction was that we needed to get out of the hotel as quickly as possible. Finally dressed, we rushed out onto the Riad balcony and met Duncan who had also been woken up, just as the rumbling became a quieter, continuous noise . Lights were swinging, plants swayed, people were starting to shout outside. A mirror had fallen off the wall and smashed on the floor. We stood there looking at each other wondering what to do. It was quite obvious it was an earthquake. But we had no idea what to do

The low rumble finally stopped and I decided I should go outside to see what was happening and if I could help. The street was quite chaotic – there were people covered in dust and others shouting. People in pyjamas carried children on their hip and motorbikes squeezed through the crowds of people on the street. Rubble covered the ground where part of the building had fallen off. No one seemed to know what to do.  

Exhausted, we eventually managed to get to sleep that evening. Our accommodation didn’t seem to badly damaged and there hadn’t been any more tremors.

Day 2 – 9th September

The next morning we inspected the damage to the hotel. There were some big cracks in the walls and part of the render had fallen off the front of the building, but nothing too serious. We asked the porter about the earthquake as he brought us our breakfast but he didn’t seem to concerned about the earthquake which reassured us. We met another couple – Anders and Magnus – who had been due to take a similar trip to the mountains but who were now also wondering what to do. We walked into the main part of the city the same way as the day before but this time stepping over rubble covered streets. There were cracks high Medina walls and render had fallen off buildings, but life seemed to be carrying on as normal – exactly as it had done the day before.

The news told us the epicentre had been in the High Atlas Mountains, about 44 miles south-west of Marrakech – exactly where we were due to be heading later that day. The damage to the city seemed to be mainly superficial. Lots of collapsed walls but the buildings were still standing. We discussed what the best thing for us to do was. We really wouldn’t have been much use in the mountains helping to clear rubble – I’m pretty sure we would have been more in the way than anything else – and everything within the city seemed to be in-hand with people starting to clear up. So, we decided the best thing we could do to help was to carry on as normal – to be tourists. After all, people still needed to earn a living.

Later that day we walked back to the Tinsmiths Square. We met up with another couple who were also supposed to be on the same trip as us – Harri and Dominie. In the square, people were starting to build makeshift homes. We were told a lot of houses had become too dangerous to live in and people had decided they would be safer staying in the square until their homes could be repaired. We saw a demonstration by people demanding help from the government.

Day 3 – 10th of September

We had received confirmation that the trip to the mountains had been cancelled, as we already suspected. Duncan and Beccie had decided to fly to Fez to continue their holiday; Magnus and Anders to get the train to Tangiers; and Harri and Dominie would catch the train to the coast. Liz and I were going to stay in Marrakech. All flights to the UK were fully booked. The closest we could get would have been Barcelona, so we had no real choice but to stay in Morrocco.

Our Marrakech accommodation had only been provided for the first 2 nights so we booked an Ibis hotel in the north of the city – far outside the Medina. Here things were very different. If we had not known about the earthquake, we would never have known. That evening we ate at a Pizza Hut – the only real dinner option we could find

Day 4 – 11th September

During the day we took quad bikes out into the Palmerie desert area, then swam in the hotel pool in the afternoon to get the dust off us. In the evening, following a recommendation from the hotel receptionist, we ate at a restaurant hidden behind the local petrol station a few yards up the road. the food was accompanied by what felt like litres of sweet, mint tea and feral cats walked around our feet as we ate

Day 5 – 12th September

The final full day of our time in Marrakech we headed back to the Riad for the last night. During the day we visited a traditional Moroccan Hamam, and in the evening we took a cooking class within a traditional Riad and family home. At sunset we had drinks on the roof terrace of the Nomad Restaurant before meandering back through the souks

Day 6 – 13th September

We packed early, said goodbye to Marrakech, and headed for the airport