Marrakech Travel Guide

Landmarks

Jemaa el-Fnaa

The Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. It has been described as a "world-famous square", "a metaphorical urban icon, a bridge between the past and the present, the place where (spectacularized) Moroccan tradition encounters modernity." It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The name roughly means "the assembly of trespassers" or malefactors. Jemaa el-Fnaa was renovated along with much of the Marrakech city, whose walls were extended by Abu Yaqub Yusuf and particularly by Yaqub al-Mansur in 1147-1158. The surrounding mosque, palace, hospital, parade ground and gardens around the edges of the marketplace were also overhauled, and the Kasbah was fortified. Subsequently with the fluctuating fortunes of the city, Jemaa el-Fnaa saw periods of decline and renewal.

Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history. The square attracted tradesmen, snake charmers ("wild, dark, frenzied men with long disheveled hair falling over their naked shoulders"), dancing boys of the Chleuh Atlas tribe, and musicians playing pipes, tambourines and African drums. Richard Hamilton said that Jemaa el-Fnaa once "reeked of Berber particularism, of backward-looking, ill-educated countrymen, rather than the reformist, pan-Arab internationalism and command economy that were the imagined future." Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists, pickpockets, and entertainers in medieval garb still populate the square.

Souks

Marrakesh has the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco and the image of the city is closely associated with its souks. Paul Sullivan cites the souks as the principal shopping attraction in the city: "A honeycomb of intricately connected alleyways, this fundamental section of the old city is a micro-medina in itself, comprising a dizzying number of stalls and shops that range from itsy kiosks no bigger than an elf's wardrobe to scruffy store-fronts that morph into glittering Aladdin's Caves once you're inside." Historically the souks of Marrakesh were divided into retail areas for particular goods such as leather, carpets, metalwork and pottery. These divisions still roughly exist but with significant overlap. Many of the souks sell items like carpets and rugs, traditional Muslim attire, leather bags, and lanterns. Haggling is still a very important part of trade in the souks.

One of the largest souks is Souk Semmarine, which sells everything from brightly coloured bejewelled sandals and slippers and leather pouffes to jewellery and kaftans. Souk Ableuh contains stalls which specialize in lemons, chilis, capers, pickles, green, red, and black olives, and mint, a common ingredient of Moroccan cuisine and tea. Similarly, Souk Kchacha specializes in dried fruit and nuts, including dates, figs, walnuts, cashews and apricots. Rahba Qedima contains stalls selling hand-woven baskets, natural perfumes, knitted hats, scarves, tee shirts, Ramadan tea, ginseng, and alligator and iguana skins. Criee Berbiere, to the northeast of this market, is noted for its dark Berber carpets and rugs. Souk Siyyaghin is known for its jewellery, and Souk Smata nearby is noted for its extensive collection of babouches and belts. Souk Cherratine specializes in leatherware, and Souk Belaarif sells modern consumer goods. Souk Haddadine specializes in ironware and lanterns.

Ensemble Artisanal is a government-run complex of small arts and crafts which offers a range of leather goods, textiles and carpets. Young apprentices are taught a range of crafts in the workshop at the back of this complex.

City walls and gates

The ramparts of Marrakesh, which stretch for some around the medina of the city, were built by the Almoravids in the 12th century as protective fortifications. The walls are made of a distinct orange-red clay and chalk, giving the city its nickname as the "red city"; they stand up to high and have 20 gates and 200 towers along them. Bab Agnaou was built in the 12th century during the Almohad dynasty. The Berber name Agnaou, like Gnaoua, refers to people of Sub-Saharan African origin (cf. Akal-n-iguinawen - land of the black). The gate was called Bab al Kohl (the word kohl also meaning "black") or Bab al Qsar (palace gate) in some historical sources. The corner-pieces are embellished with floral decorations. This ornamentation is framed by three panels marked with an inscription from the Quran in Maghrebi script using foliated Kufic letters, which were also used in Al-Andalus. Bab Agnaou was renovated and its opening reduced in size during the rule of sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah. Bab Aghmat is located east of the Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, and is near the tomb of Ali ibn Yusuf. Bab Berrima with its solid towers stands near the Badi Palace. Bab er Robb (meaning "Lord's gate") is a southern exit from the city, near Bab Agnaou. Built in the 1100s, it provides access to roads leading to the mountain towns of Amizmiz and Asni. Bab el Khémis, situated in the medina's northeastern corner, is one of the city's main gates and features a man-made spring.

Gardens

The Menara gardens are located to the west of the city, at the gates of the Atlas mountains. They were built around 1130 by the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu'min. The name menara derives from the pavilion with its small green pyramid roof (menzeh). The pavilion was built during the 16th century Saadi dynasty and renovated in 1869 by sultan Abderrahmane of Morocco, who used to stay here in summertime. The pavilion and a nearby artificial lake are surrounded by orchards and olive groves. The lake was created to irrigate the surrounding gardens and orchards using a sophisticated system of underground channels called a qanat. The basin is supplied with water through an old hydraulic system which conveys water from the mountains located approximately away from Marrakesh. There is also a small amphitheater and a symmetrical pool where films are screened. Carp fish can be seen in the pond.

The Majorelle Garden, on Avenue Yacoub el Mansour, was at one time the home of the landscape painter Jacques Majorelle. Famed designer Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the property, which features a stele erected in his memory, and the Museum of Islamic Art, which is housed in a dark blue building. The garden, open to the public since 1947, has a large collection of plants from five continents including cacti, palms and bamboo.

The Agdal Gardens, located south of the medina and also built in the 12th century, are royal orchards surrounded by pise walls. Measuring in size, the gardens feature citrus, apricot, pomegranate, olive and cypress trees. Sultan Moulay Hassan's harem resided at the Dar al Baida pavilion, which was situated within these gardens. This site is also known for its historic swimming pool, where a Sultan is said to have drowned.

The Koutoubia Gardens are situated behind the Koutoubia Mosque. They feature orange and palm trees, and are frequented by storks. The Mamounia Gardens, more than 100 years old and named after Prince Moulay Mamoun, have olive and orange trees as well as a variety of floral displays.

Palaces and Riads

The historic wealth of the city is manifested in palaces, mansions and other lavish residences. The main palaces are Badi Palace, the Royal Palace and Bahia Palace. Riads (Moroccan mansions) are common in Marrakesh. Based on the design of the Roman villa, they are characterized by an open central garden courtyard surrounded by high walls. This construction provided the occupants with privacy and lowered the temperature within the building. Buildings of note inside the Medina are Riad Argana, Riad Obry, Riad Enija, Riad el Mezouar, Riad Frans Ankone, Dar Moussaine, Riad Lotus,Riad Elixir, Riad les Bougainvilliers,Riad Dar Foundouk, Dar Marzotto, Dar Darma, and Riad Pinco Pallino. Others of note outside the Medina area include Ksar Char Bagh, Amanjena, Villa Maha, Dar Ahlam, Dar Alhind and Dar Tayda.

Badi Palace

The Badi Palace flanks the eastern side of the Kasbah. It was built by Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur after his success against the Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings in 1578. The lavish palace, which took around a quarter of a century to build, was funded by compensation from the Portuguese and African gold and sugar cane revenue. This allowed Carrara marble to be brought from Italy and other materials to be shipped from France, Spain and India. It is a larger version of the Alhambra's Court of the Lions. Although the palace is now a ruin with little left but the outer walls, the site has become the location of the annual Marrakech Folklore Festival and other events.

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, also known as Dar el-Makhzen, is located next to the Badi Palace. The Almohads built the palace in the 12th century on the site of their kasba, and it was partly remodeled by the Saadians in the 16th century and the Alaouites in the 17th century. Historically it was one of the palaces owned by the Moroccan king, who employed some of the most talented craftsmen in the city for its construction. The palace is not open to the public, and is now privately owned by French businessman Dominique du Beldi. The rooms are large, with unusually high ceilings for Marrakesh, with zellij (elaborate geometric terracotta tile work covered with enamel) and cedar painted ceilings.

Bahia Palace

The Bahia Palace, set in extensive gardens, was built in the late 19th century by the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh, Si Ahmed ben Musa (Bou-Ahmed). Bou Ahmed resided here with his four wives, 24 concubines and many children. With a name meaning "brilliance", it was intended to be the greatest palace of its time, designed to capture the essence of Islamic and Moroccan architectural styles. Bou-Ahmed paid special attention to the privacy of the palace in its construction and employed architectural features such as multiple doors which prevented passers-by from seeing into the interior. The palace took seven years to build, with hundreds of craftsmen from Fes working on its wood, carved stucco and zellij. The palace is set in a two acre (8,000 m²) garden with rooms opening onto courtyards. The palace acquired a reputation as one of the finest in Morocco and was the envy of other wealthy citizens. Upon the death of Bou-Ahmed in 1900, the palace was raided by Sultan Abdel Aziz.

Mosques

Koutoubia Mosque

Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in the city, located in the southwest medina quarter of Marrakesh alongside the square. It was completed under the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199), and has inspired other buildings such as the Giralda of Seville and the Hassan Tower of Rabat. The mosque is made of red stone and brick and measures long and wide. The minaret was designed to prevent a person at the top of the tower from viewing activity within the king's harems. The Umayyad-style minaret is constructed from sandstone and stands high. It was originally covered with Marrakshi pink plaster, but in the 1990s experts opted to remove the plaster to expose the original stone work. The spire atop the minaret is decorated with gilded copper balls that decrease in size towards the top, a style unique to Morocco.

Ben Youssef Mosque

Ben Youssef Mosque, distinguished by its green tiled roof and minaret, is located in the medina and is Marrakesh's oldest mosque. It was originally built in the 12th century by the Almoravid Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf in honor of Yusuf ibn Ali al-Sanhaji. When built it was the city's largest mosque but today it is half its original size. It was rebuilt in the 1560s by Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib, as the original had fallen into ruin. He also built a madrasa with a large library beside the mosque, but this also deteriorated over time, leaving only the 19th-century mosque intact. The Almoravid Koubba Ba’adiyn, a two-storied kiosk, was discovered in a sunken location on the mosque site in 1948. In the Moroccan architectural style, its arches are scalloped on the first floor, while those on the second floor bear a twin horseshoe shape embellished with a turban motif. The dome of the kiosk is framed by a battlement decorated with arches and seven-pointed stars. The interior of the octagonally arched dome is decorated with distinctive carvings bordered by a Kufic frieze inscribed with the name of its patron, Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf. The quinches at the corners of the dome are covered with muqarnas. The kiosk has motifs of pine cones, palms and acanthus leaves which are also replicated in the Ben Youssef Madrasa.

Mouassine Mosque

The Mouassine Mosque (also known as the Al Ashraf Mosque) was built by the Marinids in the 14th century in the style popularized by the Almohads. It is part of the Mouassine complex, which includes a library, hamman, madrasa and the Mouassine Fountain, the largest and most important in the city. Located on a small square to the north of the mosque, it is a triple-arched fountain of Saadian origin. It is decorated with geometric patterns and calligraphy.

Tombs

Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum to bury numerous Saadian rulers and entertainers. It was lost for many years until the French rediscovered it in 1917 using aerial photographs. The mausoleum comprises the corpses of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty that originated in the valley of the Draa River. Among the graves are those of Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and his family; al-Mansur buried his mother in this dynastic necropolis in 1590 after enlarging the original square funeral structure. It is located next to the south wall of the Almohad mosque of the Kasba, in a cemetery that contains several graves of Mohammad's descendants. His own tomb, richly embellished with decorations, was modeled on the Nasrid mausoleum in Granada, Spain. The building is composed of three rooms; the best known has a roof supported by twelve columns and encloses the tomb of al-Mansur's son. The room exemplifies Islamic architecture with floral motifs, calligraphy, zellij and carrara marble, and the stele is in finely worked cedar wood and stucco. Outside the building are a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants.

Tombs of the Seven Saints

The Medina holds the tombs of the seven patron saints of Morocco, which are visited every year by pilgrims during the week long ziara pilgrimage. According to tradition, it is believed that these saints are only sleeping and will awaken one day to resume their good deeds. A pilgrimage to the tombs offers an alternative to the hajj to Mecca and Medina for people of western Morocco who could not visit Arabia due to the arduous and costly journey involved. Circumambulation of the tombs is undertaken by devotees to achieve inner purity. This ritual is performed on Fridays in the following ordained sequence: Sidi Yusuf ibn Ali Sanhaji, Sidi al-Qadi Iyyad al-Yahsubi, Sidi Bel Abbas, Sidi Mohamed ibn Sulayman al-Jazouli, Sidi Abdellaziz Tabba'a, Sidi Abdellah al-Ghazwani, and lastly, Sidi Abderrahman al-Suhayli. The most important of the seven tombs is the shrine of Sidi Bel Abbas.

Mellah

The old Jewish Quarter (Mellah) is situated in the kasbah area of the city's medina, east of Place des Ferblantiers. It was created in 1558 by the Saadians at the site where the sultan's stables were previously located. At the time, the Jewish community consisted of a large portion of the city's bankers, jewelers, metalworkers, tailors and sugar traders. During the 16th century, the Mellah had its own fountains, gardens, synagogues and souks. Until the arrival of the French in 1912, Jews could not own property outside of the Mellah; all growth was consequently contained within the limits of the neighborhood, resulting in narrow streets, small shops and higher residential buildings. The Mellah, today reconfigured as a mainly residential zone renamed Hay Essalam, currently occupies an area smaller than its historic limits and has an almost entirely Muslim population. The Alzama Synagogue, built around a central courtyard, is located in the Mellah. The Jewish cemetery here is the largest of its kind in Morocco. Characterized by white-washed tombs and sandy graves, the cemetery is located within the Medina on land adjacent to the Mellah.

Hotels

As one of the principal tourist cities in Africa, Marrakesh has over 400 hotels. The Royal Mansour is a truly unique hotel. Royal Mansour, Marrakech was born from a vision to create a spectacular masterpiece exceeding the demands of today’s discerning traveller whilst reflecting the true essence of Moroccan tradition.

When building Royal Mansour Marrakech, The Owner wanted it to emulate the radiant Moroccan lifestyle and be a testimony to Moroccan architecture and craftsmanship. This is evident throughout the property. His wish was to offer guests unparalleled experiences of wonder and emotion, leaving an indelible imprint in their

memories.

The meticulous design authentically replicates the classic forms of the traditional medina, with buildings, squares and gardens interspersed with intricate winding paths covering 3.5 hectares, completely surrounded by its own 5-metre wall, one side being the existing ancient city wall. The grand entrance gate mirrors all the renowned gates to Morocco’s imperial cities and is a just illustration of the skill of the local artisans and the materials and techniques used, such as traditional cedar wood, Cisele

metal and sculptured plasterwork. As with the famous Bab Fes Khemis (Thursday Gate) in the city, Royal Mansour’s great gate evokes a promise of happiness, fortune and prosperity.

Upon entering the great gate guests will discover the enchanting courtyard – an oasis of peace and calm. Vividly coloured and sweet scented flora and a multitude of trees and plants are laid out in geometric designs around a beautiful fountain in the centre. The perfect symmetry is reminiscent of the gardens of the Alhambra

Palace in Granada and provides guests with an exquisite retreat where they can read quietly or simply lose themselves in the wonder of the environment.

Two stunning restaurants and the magnificent main reception building with its fabulous lobby, bar, lounges and library entice guests forward. Modelled on the traditional Moorish architecture of North Africa, Spain and Portugal, layouts are symmetrical and classical in form. Interiors feature a breath-taking combination of local

craftsmanship: shiny smooth ‘tadelakt’ lime plaster, ‘zellige’ ornamental ceramic tile-work, geometrically carved woods and moulded plasterwork

Guests are escorted through the main reception to Royal Mansour’s inner medina; an area of exclusivity and privacy inaccessible to non residents. Precious and mysterious, it is revealed only to its privileged guests who are guided through the labyrinthine marble paved paths and courtyards, surrounded by olive groves and age old

palms to their own private accommodation in the form of a traditional riad.

A collaboration between different Moroccan artisans has resulted in an exceptional showcase of skills passed from father to son, which expresses the most intricate aspects of decorative culture and an extraordinary

The ground breaking, distinctive and ingenious design is exemplified by an intricate series of underground tunnels to each of the property’s 53 riads, accessed only by staff and thus guaranteeing the utmost privacy and discretion. There are 53 individually designed riads (private residences), each over three floors and comprising one to four bedrooms. The rooms are arranged around a central open-air courtyard with all ground floors featuring a living room, bar, lobby and an outdoor patio. The larger riads also have galleries and dining rooms. The exquisitely proportioned riads feature private roof terraces with plunge pools, open fires and some have private hammams and Bedouin tented areas.

Each riad is distinctive in character and individually decorated with intricate hand-crafted techniques and finished with the finest fabrics, antiques and custom-made furniture of the highest specification. An exciting fusion of tradition and modernity, the riads are complete with state of the art technology, including roofs with sensors to automatically close at a drop of rain. Touch panel control through the rooms further enhances the guest experience of the utmost comfort and convenience.

The Royal Mansour Spa is a true paradise which promises to stimulate the senses, encourage relaxation and offer a unique spa experience.

On arrival guests will begin their spiritual spa journey, leaving behind the bustle of the city and any daily worries as they enter into a world of tranquillity and peace. Heat gives way to a comfortable coolness within this vast area, the purity of white punctuated by the colourful flora and the serenity interrupted only by the tuneful bird song.

At the heart of the building is an impressive white wrought iron atrium, evoking an elaborate birds’ cage. It is in the cool alcoves of this magnificent structure where spa guests receive their initial consultation with one of the spa experts. This enables The Royal Mansour Spa to create a personalised programme designed to meet

the guests’ individual needs and to help achieve their health goals. Experts will also offer guidance in theareas of nutrition, exercise, stress management and general wellbeing. If preferred, a private area can be reserved where the guests can review the extensive programme of facilities and treatments whilst feasting on

nutritious delights prepared by the hotel’s talented chefs.

The cuisine of Marrakech is one of the most diverse in the world. In keeping with the exemplary standards throughout Royal Mansour, a tantalising array of restaurants is on offer. Under the supervision of Yannick Alléno, the famous Michelin three-star Parisian chef, there are two gastronomic restaurants: La Grande Table Marocaine offering the very best traditional Moroccan cuisine with an innovative contemporary twist; and La Grande Table Francaise, showcasing the finest in French gourmet cuisine. The lobby area

houses La Table, a beautiful loggia and al fresco restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a number of private dining room and lounge options. Guests may also dine in the privacy of their riads, either in the cool interior or on the roof terrace.

Mamounia Hotel is a five-star hotel in the Art Deco-Moroccan fusion style, built in 1925 by Henri Prost and A. Marchis. It is considered the most eminent hotel of the city and has been described as the "grand dame of Marrakesh hotels." The hotel has hosted numerous internationally renowned people including Winston Churchill, Prince Charles of Wales and Mick Jagger. Churchill used to relax within the gardens of the hotel and paint there. The 231-room hotel, which contains a casino, was refurbished in 1986 and again in 2007 by French designer Jacques Garcia. Other hotels include Eden Andalou Hotel, Hotel Marrakech, Sofitel Marrakech, Royal Mirage Hotel, Piscina del Hotel, and Palmeraie Golf Palace. In March 2012, Accor opened its first Pullman-branded hotel in Marrakech, Pullman Marrakech Palmeraie Resort & Spa. Set in a olive grove at La Palmeraie, the hotel has 252 rooms, 16 suites, six restaurants and a conference room.

source: Wikipedia

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