| 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
Délègué Règional du Tourisme
Place Abdel Moumen ben Ali,
avenue Mohammed V,
Telephone number: (044)
Fax number: (044) 436 057.
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 0900-1200 hrs and
There are no dedicated tourist passes in Morocco.
(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
Always open but at its most sparkling between 5.00 pm and 11.00
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
number: (044) 301 852.
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.
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.
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
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.
off place des Ferblantiers
Opening hours: Daily
8.30 am - 12.00 pm and 2.30 - 5.45 pm.
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.
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)
Daily 9.00 am - 6.00 pm.
Admission: Free and a tip for guided tours.
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
hours: Daily 5.00 am - 6.30 pm.
Free admission to gardens and a small charge for the pavilion.
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
number: (044) 389 564.
8 rue Dar Bahia,
near Bahia Palace
Telephone number: (044) 389 192.
Ben Youssef Medersa
Koubba el Badiyin
Place Ben Youssef (in the souks)
Telephone number: (044) 390 911/912.