While there’s always something to do in Marrakech, there are a number of must-visit places to go to before you leave.
The Medina of Marrakech was inscribed in 1985 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the 11th Century and served as a Capital. Marrakech herself was a capital during the Almoravide and Almohade dynasties.
The Koutoubia Mosque dates back to the 12th century and is a major landmark in Marrakech. It has been a source of inspiration for the design and construction of the Hassan Tower of Rabat and the Giralda of Seville. The red stone mosque covers about 480 square metres and its minaret stands 77 metres high. The mosque has undergone constant restoration since the 90’s and hence almost looks like it was built yesterday.
Also built in the 12th century by Ali ibn Yusuf, the Ben Youssef Mosque is Marrakech’s oldest mosque. It is located in the medina and its distinct feature is the green tiled roof and its minaret. The mosque was rebuilt after it had fallen to ruin and an added feature, Madrassa and the library next to it, was included in its reconstruction. The high arches and the seven-point stars are signature of the Ben Youssef.
Crafted over history in true Islamic form, the Palaces of Marrakech are the wealth of the city. The Royal Palace, the El Badi Palace and the Bahia Palace have been given the most importance.
The El BadiPalace is a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace. The El Badi was built by Ahmad al-Mansur after his success in the Battle of the Three Kings. The construction of the El Badi Palace was funded by the Portuguese to pay the price for losing the battle. The materials used to build the palace include Carrara marble from Italy and supplies from France, India and Spain. It took about 25 years to build and was finally completed in the year 1593. The ruins of the Badi Palace are used to host the Marrakech Folklore Festival every year.
The Bahia Palace is surrounded by lush gardens over an area of two acres. Built in the 19th century by Bou-Ahmed, it served to house his four wives, his lovers and his children. The palace’s design lays emphasis on privacy and took hundreds of workers seven years to build. It was taken over by Sultan Abdel Aziz after the death of Bou-Ahmed. The intricate woodwork used in the detailing of the palace doors and ceilings is a true masterpiece and a standout characteristic of the Bahia Palace.
The Royal Palace was built by the Almohads in the 12th century and was redesigned by two other dynasties. The high, cedar painted ceilings are the main feature of the palace. The palace is currently closed to public view as it is now privately owned.
The Tombs of the Seven Saints is a pilgrim site. The tombs hold the corpses of the seven saints - the seven patrons of Morocco. The Ziara pilgrimage sees thousands of pilgrims visit the tombs each year. The pilgrimage also serves as a less expensive alternative to the Hajj to Kaaba. It is believed that the seven saints, Sidi Yusuf ibn Ali Sanhaji, Sidi al-QasiIyyad al-Yahsubi, SidiBel Abbas, Sid Mohamed ibnSulayman al-Jazouli, SidiAbdellazizTabba’a, Sid Abdellah al-Ghazwani and SidiAbderrahman al-Suhayli are only sleeping and will awake once again to continue their good deeds.
The Saadian Tombs were built in the 18th century to bury Saadian royalty along with their entertainers. The tombs serve as a mausoleum for about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty. Sultan Ahmed Al-Mansur was buried in the mausoleum along with his family.
The Jemaa el-Fnaa is almost like the Times Square of Morocco. It has been cited as “world renowned” and stands as a symbol of Marrakech’s movement into the future. It exemplifies Marrakech’s glorious past while showcasing so many features that portray Marrakech in the present. Jemaa el-Fnaa has also been a UNESCO site since 1985. The square was originally built for public executions in order for the rulers to maintain power over their people. The square has seen both fall and renovation. Today, you can find snake charmers, acrobats, artists, dance troupes, mystics and magicians at the square.
Any music lover should not miss the variety of quality music at Jemma El Fnaa. During sunset, one can find numerous local musicians performing here in batches. It is advisable to visit this place after mid twilight since it would be less crowded and creates a fantastic opportunity to enjoy quality music with peace. The variety of instruments used in these concerts gives it the eminence and value any music lover would vouch for. Musicians play melodious tunes with flutes, guitars, banjos, drums, violins and so on. It sounds like a fusion of western and traditional music that adds flavour to the listeners. Many a time, few of the local bands would play their trumpets with a fusion of melodic chorus. The entire evening fills the listeners with a blissful mind leaving them in a trance.
The souks are marketplaces in most of the Arab states. The souks of Marrakech are bustling with life and activity. Local sellers have their private stalls in the souks and the stalls are set up in an almost dizzying maze. It is a task to find your way through the souks even when armed with a map, but it is definitely worth a visit. Souks have everything from spices, to textiles, fruit, clothing, kaftans, rugs, leather, sandals and lights. The colours of the souks cover the whole visible spectrum. The souks have often been compared to a micro-Medina and Aladdin’s Caves.
Souk Semmarine is one of the largest in Marrakech and sells everything from sandals to alligator and iguana skin, spices, perfumes and clothing. Some souks are specialised in selling certain goods or articles. CrieeBerbiere sells Berber rugs and carpets. Siyyagin is synonymous with jewellery. Cherratine is known for selling leather and leather goods and Belaarif for modern consumer articles.
One interesting fact to be noted: it is said that these souks were constructed in such a way that most expensive goods like gold were sold in those souks placed at the center of the city and other goods would range in the respective radius corresponding to their value of money. Even today, this arrangement almost remains the same. This classification makes it very easy for the buyers to just visit the right souks according to what items they require. Apart from this convenience factor, placing all the craft articles together or all kinds of leather goods together would enable easy comparison for the tourists. These souks are open all day long till around 9 pm in the night. It serves as an exotic shopping experience for first timers and international tourists.
Here are some of the souks with their specialization:
Souk Semmarine is called the heart of all souks at Marrakech. It has variety of shops selling good quality textile and fabrics and a variety of pottery items. It also possesses few shops selling antique items, glass lamps and jewelleries.
This is an exclusive souk for shoes and slippers. One would be flabbergasted looking at the variety of designs which different shoe sellers display at this souk. This souk is also the best place to buy quality leather items like leather bags, leather belts, purses and so on.
This souk is a scene to watch for craft and art lovers. An array of shops sells attractive articles, paintings and items that display unsurpassable craftsmanship and art talents. It is the best place to buy alluring modern paintings to decorate our house.
One important tip to always remember while shopping in these souks is that the shopkeepers always quote a hiked price in the beginning of the bargain. It isadvisable to start your side of the bargain at half the price they quote. In fact, some shop keepers quote different price to outside tourists to gain more profit. One has got to take care in this regard.
Riads are euphemism for the great Moroccan mansions. Marrakech holds plenty of riads distinguished by their large central gardens, courtyards and high walls. Buildings inside the Medina include the Argana, Enija, Dar Darma, Riad Lotus, Dar Tayda and the Pallino amongst others.
Lush green gardens line and surround the Medina walls of Marrakech and the gates of the Atlas Mountains.
Some of the well-known gardens that are worth a visit are given below:
This garden is said to have been embedded by Almoravids. It runs along a vast area which is more than two kilometres long and roughly a kilometre wide. Filled with a variety of plant species like olives, apricots and oranges, Agdal gardens attract a huge crowd of tourists round the year.
This garden is renowned for its colourful interior architecture apart from the colourful looks that the plants in the garden add on. This was implanted by a Frenchman, Jacques Majorelle and that’s why it carries the Majarolle. The footpaths in the garden are painted with pink paint while the pools and different flowerpots are painted with contrasting and appealing colours like orange and yellow. This makes it a beautiful place to visit.
Menera Gardens is a well-reputed garden at Marrakech replicating Islamic looks and is also known as paradise on earth. The beautiful looks the garden carries are a sure sight to watch. It is worth a visit while planning a trip to Marrakech without doubt.
Marrakech is a hub for art and culture. The Museums in Marrakech are laden with Islamic art collected through the centuries. The Museum buildings themselves have been designed and decorated beautifully in true Moroccan fashion. The Museum of Islamic Art is painted a strong, Majorelle blue and is hidden in the Majorelle Garden.