At the foot of the Atlas mountains, steeped in history, lies fascinating Marrakech, Morocco’s most important former Imperial city. Here’s a brief guide to the best historical sites and other must-see attractions:
The Koutoubia Mosque: the minaret (70m) is the highest of the city, a landmark visible for many kms. The mosque has been used as an architectural blueprint for many other mosques since the minaret was completed during the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199).
El-Badi Palace: translated as “the incomparable palace”, the El Badi, built by the Saadian king, Ahmad al-Mansur in 1578, is one of the most visited sites in Marrakech, Today, the shell of the original building, thought once to have consisted of 360 rooms, most of them swathed in gold from Sudan, plays host to the annual festival of Moroccan folklore, usually held in June.
Bahia Palace: built more recently, in the late 19th century, Bahia Palace and its extensive gardens was intended to be the greatest palace of its time. Especially noted for its tiled floors, decorated cedarwwod ceilings and patio gardens, its name translates as “brilliance”.
The Saadian tombs: dating back to the time of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603), the tombs were uncovered in 1917 and restored by the national Beaux-arts service. Due to their intricate decoration, a clear indication of the opulence of the time and a perfect example of the beauty of Islamic art, the tombs are a major attraction for visitors of Marrakech and should be high on your list of “what to see in Marrakech”.
Ménara gardens: located to the west of Marrakech, the gardens are planted with olive trees and converge to the east toward a large irrigation pond complete with a 16th century Saadian dynasty pavilion.
Agdal gardens: with its 3 kilometres of orange, lemon, fig, apricot and pomegranate trees in rectangular plots, linked by olive-lined walkways, the Agdal Gardens, together with the Ménara Gardens, were listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1985. Both these havens of peace and freshness, especially in the heat of summer, are among the interesting places to see in Marrakech.
Majorelle Gardens: designed by the expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle and considered a masterpiece, the garden was acquired by Yves Saint-Laurent in 1980 and further developed; on his death in 2008, the couturier’s ashes were scattered here. Besides its numerous plants, especially bamboo, the garden is also home to many bird species found only in this part of North Africa and the Marrakech Museum of Islamic Art.
Jemaa el Fna: the most famous and vibrant location in Marrakech, this is the central a square and market place in the heart of the old medina (old city). Off two sides of the square is the labyrinthine Marrakesh souk, the traditional North African market which services both the day to day needs of the people of the city and the tourist trade. Around the square are cafés with terraces and balconies from which to observe the frenetic activity of the market place alive with entertainers, fortune tellers and orange sellers. By night, Jemaa el Fna becomes a huge open air eatery, with scores of food stalls offering a huge variety of local specialities.
For luxury accommodation, as with tourist attractions in Marrakech, there is a vast choice but for one of the very best of the relatively few character hotels in the medina, you should try the wonderfully atmospheric and authentic riad-hotel, Les Borjs de la Kasbah.