The former Imperial City of Marrakech is home to Palaces, Mosques and stunning gardens. The densely crowded Medina dates back to the Berber Empire with a maze of alleys and a variety of souks selling their traditional wares. Built in 1162 the 12th Century Koutoubia Mosque is Marrakech's most famous site and only open to Muslims. It has a remarkable, 70 metre tall Moorish minaret and is one of the highest achievements of Almohad architecture.
The 16th Century Saadian Tombs are the burial grounds for 66 members of the Saadian Dynasty. This impressive place with mausoleums and tombs is home to the ruler Al-Mansour, his successors and their closest family members. The Saadian Tombs were walled up by their Alawite successors and only rediscovered in the early 20th Century, they are now surrounded by lovely gardens.
One of the most famous sites when thinking of Marrakech is the large square of Jemaa el-Fnaa. The entry to the Medina is the centre of everything Marrakech and this vibrant centre has a plethora of stalls selling bric-a-brac to fortune and storytellers, snake charmers, musicians and everything that encompasses Moroccan life. For an amazing view of all the craziness of the square below, a visit to one of the rooftop restaurants or cafés will give you a new prospective over the area.
Covering 2.5 acres Marrakech’s Botanical Gardens, Jardin Majorelle is an artistic garden, which is centred around an electric blue building. It was originally created over 40 years ago by the French painter Jacques Majorelle and was co-owned by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner Pierre Bergé. The lavish tropical gardens are full of bamboo, palms, cacti and ferns. There is also a museum on the grounds showcasing the connection to Marrakech with Yves Saint Laurent. Jacques Majorelle came to Marrakech due to ill health and became famous for his paintings of the local Moroccan lifestyle and the vibrant blue of the buildings is known as Majorelle Blue. The painter lived on the premises in his studio until his death in 1962, after which Yves Saint Laurent bought the property. In 2008 upon Yves Saint Laurent’s death his ashes were scattered in the gardens. A museum is now being built on the grounds to showcase the life and legacy of the famous fashion designer.
A visit to the Old Medina is an experience to behold with a mixture of scents, colours and sounds. Here you can buy anything from fresh fruit and vegetables to household goods. Remember to haggle as this is expected and also a lot of fun. Some of the Souk’s to visit include the El-Attarine (perfume and spice), Babouche (shoe) and Cherratine (leather) Souks.
Three Museums worth visiting while in Marrakech are the Heritage Museum, a short walk from the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. Housed in a 17th Century Riad, it houses Moroccan artefacts, ancient pottery and tribal jewellery from the Alouani Bibi family. The Marrakech Museum houses a collection of ceramic works, textiles and coins. The real highlight is the building in which the museum is housed as the 20th Century Dar Me’nebhi is a mixture of North African and Portuguese influence with an extravagant chandelier and an impressive courtyard. The Dar Si Saïd or Museum of Moroccan Arts is Marrakech’s oldest museum and houses magnificent examples of Berber jewellery, pottery, rugs, embroidered leather and even marble.
The extravagant 19th Century Bahia Palace was once the residence of Grand Vizier Bou Ahmed, a former slave of the Sultan Moulay al-Hassan I. Located over two acres in the middle of the Medina, it consist of 150 rooms with an alluring show of zellige tiles, ornate wrought iron and painted ceilings. The grand courtyard or Court of Honour is made up of 1,500 square metres of Italian marble with opulence on show within its salons and harem area.
The ruins of Al-Mansour's once Grand Badi Palace is now one of the Kasbah’s most distinctive sites. The Saadian ruler built this opulent palace during his reign with numerous pavilions set amid an enormous garden of reflective pools. Now the sparse remnants of the mosaic tiled floors, ruined pavilions and the high enclosing walls are all that remain. After a visit to the Palace a walk to the Mellah, the Old Jewish quarter of Marrakech is a must. Established in the 16th Century it is now mainly inhabited by Muslims but the small Synagogue has been restored and can be visited along with the vast Jewish cemetery.