homeMoroccoMarrakech travel guide > Marrakech sightseeing
Marrakech guide
Regions
Traveler café 
Travel directory
 
Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Marrakech Sightseeing
Marrakech Sightseeing Guide - TravelPuppy.com
Marrakech is more a city of colours, smells and sounds than of great monuments. The labyrinth streets of the souk are an assault to the senses and they can also be frustrating – it’s not a city to go anywhere quickly. However, the area is unexpectedly compact and part of the fun is to wander, never knowing what surprises you might come across. A guide is not necessary and since the 1999 introduction of the tourist police you’re far less likely to get hassled – something that soured visits to the city before this time. Any visit will centre upon the medina and Jemaa-el-Fna square, the heart of Marrakech. Many tourist attractions are within walking distance of the square, and the rest are just a short taxi ride away. The Koutoubia Mosque is the major place of worship and entry is forbidden to non-Muslims. However, the architecture can be appreciated from the grounds, which are open to all. Marrakech’s 3 medina-based museums, are well worth a trip around.

When the city of Marrakech becomes too intense, havens of tranquillity can be found in the many lush private and public gardens that surround the city. The key sights are very popular with visitors but suffer the problems associated with crowds, especially around Jemaa-el-Fna and the souks, where careless tourists can be easy prey for the pickpockets.

Tourist Information

Délègué Règional du Tourisme (ONMT)
Place Abdel Moumen ben Ali,
avenue Mohammed V,
Guéliz

Telephone number: (044) 436 239/131.
Fax number: (044) 436 057.
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 0900-1200 hrs and 1500-1830 hrs.

Passes

There are no dedicated tourist passes in Morocco.

Key Attractions

Jemaa-el-Fna (Place of the Dead)

The Jemaa-el-Fna square is the centre of the medina day and night life. During the day, it is a gathering place and market with stalls lining half the huge square and selling dried fruit, nuts and fresh orange juice. From lunchtime onwards, a spreading entertainers and sales people gather but it is at dusk that it really comes into its own. At 5.00 pm, a clatter of carts announces the arrival of food stalls, which cook up many types of fish, meat and vegetables. By 9.00 pm, it is hard to move for the huge performers, includingstory tellers, musicians, singers, snake charmers and acrobats. The healers and fakirs with pots of herbs are ready to dispense cures for every ailment imaginable. The crowds are mostly Moroccans, this is not a spectacle just for the visitors. It offers a glimpse of Marrakech life that has not changed much since medieval times. Tourists should take plenty of loose change, as the performers do expect a couple of Dirhams worth of appreciation in addition to loud applause. A few of the fairground-type shows let the audience take part, while some of the more colourful characters will pose for a photo do expect to pay a small charge for each of these.

Jemaa-el-Fna is enclosed by cafés and restaurants, making it a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of life by relaxing with a mint tea or coffee.

Café Argana, Café de France and Café Glacier all have roof terraces with great views, although they are a little more expensive than the rest of Marrakech’s cafés.

Located at the end of Triq el Koutoubia, rue Mouassine, rue Souk Smarine or rue Riad el Kedim

Opening hours: Always open but at its most sparkling between 5.00 pm and 11.00 pm.

Majorelle Garden and Museum of Islamic Art

It is privately owned and maintained by the famous french fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, this botanical garden was created during the 1920s by French artists Jacques and Louis Majorelle. Within the walls, the beautifully manicured gardens, include pools, bamboo, giant cacti, coconut and banana trees, are offset by the blue wash that covers the paths, pavilions and walls. Only Yves Saint Laurent could get away with painting plant pots and many walls in children’s paintbox colours, but the overall effect is fantastic and entirely unique. This tremendously peaceful place and Majorelles’ old studio is now the Museum of Islamic Art.

Entrance in side street off the avenue Yacoub el Mansour
Telephone number: (044) 301 852.
Website: www.jardinmajorelle.com
Opening hours: Daily 8.00 am - 12.00 pm and 2.00 - 5.00 pm (during the winter), daily 8.00 am - 12.00 pm and 3.00 - 7.00 pm (in the summer).
Admission is charged for garden and museum.

Sa’adian Tombs

1 of the most visited sites in the country, the Sa’adian Tombs were only accessible via the mosque next door so survived in immaculate condition until ‘rediscovered’ and opened to the public during 1917. The entrance is signposted down a narrow passage encircled by tourist stalls, a few minutes walk from Jemaa-el-Fna. The surrounded garden inside is overlooked by 2 separate mausoleums, with over 100 mosaic-decorated graves. The principal structures of the tombs were built by Sultan Ahmed El Mansour for himself and family and date from the late 16th century. There are 66 members of the Sa’adian royal family buried here, including a number of retainers and some older graves whose identity has been lost. In the mausoleum, the rooms are luxuriously decorated with ornate stalactite plasterwork, marble pillars, superb domed ceilings and intricate carving. Visitors should expect very long queues unless they visit early and avoid the rush.

Rue de la Kasbah
Opening hours: Wednesday-Monday 8.30 - 11.45 am and 2.30 - 5.45 pm.
Admission: charge

El Badi Palace

A once glorious palace, whose name means the ‘incomparable’, was built by the Sa'adian king, Ahmed Al Mansour, during 1578. It was 1 of the finest in the world, with 360 rooms tastefully decorated in gold, marble, ivory, onyx, cedar wood and semi-precious stones, surrounding a huge central courtyard of pools, fountains and sunken gardens and was the venue for parties of global extravagance.

In 1696, the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismael moved the capital to Méknes, stripping the palace of its valuables and leaving the towering mud walls to decay. Little remains of the glory days and the ruins of the battlements border a huge empty space where the once opulent gardens and palace rooms stood and today the major attraction is the nesting storks. Every summer for two weeks it comes to life as the main venue for the National Festival of Popular Arts. In a corner (for an additional fee) is the 12th-century minbar (pulpit) from the Koutoubia Mosque.

Bab Berrima,
off place des Ferblantiers
Opening hours: Daily 8.30 am - 12.00 pm and 2.30 - 5.45 pm.
Admission: charge.

Koutoubia Mosque

From all the approachs, the first sight of Marrakech is of the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, which dominates the skyline and is a great landmark when sightseeing and as Marrakech’s tallest building, it dates from the 12th century and was 1 of the earliest great monuments that created the traditional Moroccan design. Each façade and arch on the square minaret is very unusual and different. Originally, covered in plaster with each tier decoratively painted, obscuring the intricate carvings of the stonework. Suggestions to restore it have been met with some protests, as many believe that restoration will detract from its natural beauty. The architecture can be admired at close quarters from the huge, if slightly unkempt, nearby gardens. These also contain the remains of Almoravid Palace and the excavations of an earlier mosque, demolished because it was not properly aligned with Mecca.

Avenue Mohammed V
Opening hours: Mosque and minaret closed to non-Muslims and gardens always open to all.
Admission: free to the gardens.

The Souks and Tanneries

The major souks are found through the arch to the north of the Jemaa-el-Fna. It is not too hard to find your way around and each section has its own speciality including spices, slippers, robes and jewellery. The medicinal lotions and potions are interesting, particularly those to ward off Jinn (souls without bodies) that are responsible for the whole range of ills! Even if you’ve no intention of purchasing anything, the souks are worth a trip to simply soak up the surroundings.

Although not comparable to those in Fez, the tanneries with their leather dyeing workshops and giant pots of colourful dye are worth a trip. In history the dyes were made using everything from pigeon guano to pomegranates, from berries to barks, but now they are made using chemical pigments. The process itself and the equipment used, have not changed for many centuries. Various different skins are coloured here, including cow, camel and goat, and then stretched out to dry. The majority of work is crafted by local artisans and then sold in the souks of Marrakech. There are a lot of unofficial guides near Bab Debbagh willing to take visitors on a 15 minute tour of the tanneries for a small tip.

Souks off Jemaa-el-Fna
Tanneries Bab Debbagh (Tannery Gate)
Opening hours: Daily 9.00 am - 6.00 pm.
Admission: Free and a tip for guided tours.

Further Distractions

Menara Gardens

With its backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, it is no surprise that the Menara Gardens are 1 of the most photographed places in the country. It is also a famous place among the locals to take picnics. The best time to come is late afternoon (or in the evening if there is enough light) when most of the visitors have left. More a working farm than a garden, the Menara was laid out during the 12th century by the Almohads. Around 30,000 olive trees surround the magnificent water pool, that is filled with fish. They usually leap above the surface to surprise the passing walkers. The well-kept pavilion house, the menzeh, was built much later during 1870. The 1st-floor open balcony affords stunning views over the great expanse of water towards the mountains.

Avenue de la Menara, 2km (1 mile) east of the medina
Opening hours: Daily 5.00 am - 6.30 pm.
Admission: Free admission to gardens and a small charge for the pavilion.

Museums

Marrakech has a number of museums, all are located in historic buildings and offering good quality, well-displayed collections of fine arts and local crafts.

The Musée Dar Si Saïd (Museum of Morocco) is the official collection of carvings, fine carpets, jewellery, musical instruments and arms, all housed in the 19th-century home of royal chamberlain, Sidi Said. The route through the museum flows into 1 grand room after another, with some tranquil gardens complete with striking fountains in which to rest and relax.

The Musée Tiskiwin located close by, is a charming riad containing the private collection of folk crafts belonging to Dutch expatriate, Bert Flint. It is a cosy, homely museum with a rather random collection of artefacts but it is fascinating. Despite being around the corner from the Musée Dar Si Saïd, the entrance is not very well signed and it is easy to get lost.

In the centre of the souk, the Musée de Marrakech (Museum of Marrakech) is a marvelously restored 19th-century mansion, built by the Menebha family and now displaying jewellery, fine art, carpets, ceramics, furniture, textiles and manuscripts. It is easily combined with a visit to the beautiful Ben Youssef Medersa, a former Koranic school, where the walkways and rooms are intricately furnished with tiles, stucco and carved cedar and nestled around a pool in the centre. A little further along the road is the interesting Koubba el Badiyin because it is the only surviving structure of the city’s founders, the Almoravids. A combined ticket for the museum, Medersa and Koubba el Badiyin is available.

Musée Dar Si Saïd
Off rue Dar Bahia, near the Bahia Palace
Telephone number: (044) 389 564.

Musée Tiskiwin
8 rue Dar Bahia,
near Bahia Palace
Telephone number: (044) 389 192.

Musée de Marrakech
Ben Youssef Medersa
Koubba el Badiyin
Place Ben Youssef (in the souks)
Telephone number: (044) 390 911/912.