MOROCCO – The historic neighborhood in Marrakesh was deserted on September 10th after the historic earthquake in Morocco, but many tourists chose not to leave.

Kirian Ficher, a 35-year-old from Germany, who is participating in a guided tour of the old city of Marrakesh, said, “We won’t let the earthquake ruin everything.” He added that so far, the authorities have not issued any major risk warnings, so they are “sticking to the plan.” However, Ficher’s group only consists of four people, not a large group. They were evacuated from their hotel when the earthquake occurred at 11 p.m.

Tourism is considered the lifeblood of the North African nation’s economy, and Marrakesh is a major destination. On September 8th, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake killed over 2,100 people. The most affected areas were the Al-Haouz province (72 km from Marrakesh) and Taroudant. Officials and experts are concerned that the disaster will lead to a decline in tourist numbers, similar to the pandemic era.

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Eric Falt, the regional director of UNESCO, is currently surveying the devastated area in the old town district of Marrakesh. Photo: AFP

According to scientists, this is the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Morocco, causing widespread damage to the villages in the Atlas Mountains region in the southwest of the country.

At the Bahia Palace, a top tourist attraction in the city built in the 1860s, a small group of tourists stood silently outside the nail-studded wooden doors. The site is now closed due to earthquake damage. Many ornate green-tiled clay bricks are shattered and scattered on the ground. Cracks have appeared on the pink walls of many buildings, and some houses are now just piles of rubble.

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Buildings on the streets of Marrakesh have been destroyed due to the earthquake, as seen in photos taken on September 9th. Photo: Reuters

Local guide Abderrazzaq Ouled, however, said that tours can still continue. “Most tourist tours are still feasible,” he said.

“We were unsure whether to leave or not,” said Dominik Huber, 26. However, he chose to stay because he felt the situation was “relatively safe” and believed that staying could contribute in a small way to helping the local people.

Not far away, three Italian tourists were asking the police if the city’s UNESCO-recognized heritage sites were open. Like the German tourists, they also decided to stay.

Marrakesh has many structures listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1985. The vast Jemaa el-Fna square is one of them, known for snake charmers, acrobats, and henna artists. Currently, the square features images of people sleeping under blankets because their homes have been damaged.

In the first half of the year, around 6.5 million tourists visited Morocco, a 92% increase compared to the same period in 2022. Marrakesh attracted over 4.3 million visitors.

“The old neighborhoods are the pride and soul of Marrakesh. Tourism accounts for 99% of our income. If that area dies, everything will come to a halt, just like during the pandemic,” said Ziani, a local resident, standing on the shattered marble steps of his now-ruined business.

“We can only pray and hope that such a horrific time, like the pandemic, doesn’t happen again,” Ziani said.