Marrakech

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Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravid Sultan, Youssef Ibn Tachfine, Marrakech became the capital of the Kingdom, giving its name to Morocco as a whole and was embellished by many fine buildings before taking on a rather more secondary role under the Alaouites.

Known as "the Red City," or again, "Pearl of the South," Marrakesh is a fascinating city, bewitching visitors with its contrasting colours - the ochre sandstone of its buildings, the green of its countless palm trees and the white of the snow-capped Atlas mountains - as well as its remarkable monuments and immense gardens. Berbers and Arabs mingle there, nomads and mountain folk converge there and a wealth of products and handicrafts is on offer there – to say nothing of the palaces, casinos, hotels and golf courses, which all go to make any visit an unforgettable experience. Marrakech is indeed true capital of the Moroccan South!

Places to visit

Bab Aguenaou

Bab Aguenaou is one of the most imposing and beautiful of the city’s gates. Located inside the Medina, near Bab Errob, it gives access to the Saadian Tombs. Local legend has it that in olden times the heads of executed criminals were displayed here. It once served as main entrance to the city, through which the sultans gained access to the nearby palace.

 

Ben Youssef Mosque

The entire Marrakesh Medina is centred around this majestic mosque built in the 12th century in honour of Sidi Youssef Ben Ali, one of the seven patron saints of the city. Restoration work carried out in the 16th and 19th centuries has left virtually nothing of the original structure. Its stone minaret towers 40 metres above the varnished tiles of the city’s rooftops.

 

The Dar Si-Said Museum

This sumptuous palace, in one of the Kingdom’s most beautiful cities, houses a quintessential collection of Moroccan arts and crafts.

On the ground floor are displays of clothing, beaten copperware, and Berber weaponry and jewellery, while the first floor, decorated in Hispano-Moorish style houses a fine collection of woodwork.

 

The Marrakech Royal Theatre

The Marrakech Theatre Royal on Avenue de France is a marvel of architecture, with a 1200-seat open-air theatre and an 800-seat opera house. Inaugurated on 19 September 2001, the Theatre Royal is a creation sure to enhance the red city’s reputation as mediator and focal point for intellectuals the world over. It also constitutes a cultural and artistic centre in the heart of the Pearl of Southern Morocco, with shows, receptions, concerts and exhibitions being held there throughout the year.

 

The Bahia Palace

This sumptuous residence was built at the end of the 19th century by order of Ba Ahmed. Set in an immense eight-hectare garden, the property contains a haphazard succession of luxurious secret apartments opening onto patios. A thousand craftsmen, in the most part from the Fez region, took part in its construction which took over seven years. The building of the palace reintroduced the techniques and decorative materials of traditional architecture and, as in former times, carved wood and sculpted plasterwork and stucco adorn its interiors and exteriors.

 

The Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia is one of the largest mosques in the Western Islamic world, perhaps even the most beautiful in the harmonious unity of its design. It is a shining and permanent example of the Hispanic-Moorish art of the Almohad era, allying apparent simplicity with marvellous dexterity and discreet luxury. The "booksellers’ mosque" owes its name to the manuscript souk whose shops were attached to its walls during the Middle Ages, a practice common in Arab Muslim towns. Its renowned minaret, a jewel of Hispanic-Moorish architecture, has cast its protective shadow over the city for more than eight centuries.

 

The Mamounia

Built in 1923, the Mamounia Hotel, one of the most luxurious palaces in the world was completely revamped in 1986, under the auspices of the late King Hassan II. Laid out in the 16th century by Saadian Sultan Sidi Mohammed, its grounds with their immense olive grove, numerous orange trees and many other species of plants, stretch over a surface area of 13 hectares. The edifice derives its name from the Saadian Sultan who gifted the palace to his son, Mamoun. Numerous celebrities, including Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Winston Churchill and Orson Wells, have stayed in this legendary hotel, with its setting out of the Thousand and One Nights.

 

The Menara

The park, extending over 90 hectares and planted with olive trees, is encircled by an adobe wall and has at its centre an immense artificial lake dating back to the 12th century. It boasts the first known example of a system of canalisation and water distribution. At one end of the lake stands an elegant Saadian pavilion, completely restored in the nineteenth century, which, as night falls upon the beautiful pyramid of its green-tiled roof, glimmers golden in the rays of the setting sun. The Menara once served as a royal venue for romantic trysts and is now a perfect spot for a quiet stroll against a background of snow-capped mountain peaks.

 

The Saadian Tombs

In 1591 work was begun in the south of the Kasbah on the Marrakesh Necropolis with the building of the first koubba (dome), which was to contain the tombs of the ancestors of the Saadian Sultan, Ahmed El-Mansour. Saadian princes had been buried here as early as 1557, mausoleums having been built in the 16th century to house the sepulchres of thirteen sovereigns. The delicacy of decoration, in perfect harmony with the purity of its architectural lines, makes the mausoleum a truly exceptional work. When Moulay Ismael took the city in 1677, he had protective walls built around the tombs and the mausoleums were not rediscovered until 1917.

 

Bab Ahmar

Bab Ahmar, or "the Red Gate," stands behind the largest cemetery in Marrakesh. Built by the Alaouites, in the 18th century, it was exclusively used by the Sultans to get to their nearby palace. When the King is not staying in Marrakesh, the gate is now in public use giving access to the Mechouar square adjacent to Dar El-Makhzen.

 

Dar El Makhzen

Originally built by the Almohads, Dar El Makhzen was enlarged and embellished by numerous sultans of successive dynasties. The most recent major restoration work took place at the beginning of the reign of His late Majesty, King Hassan II, it being a favourite residence of his where he often stayed.

 

Jemaa-El-Fna

This vast square, alive in the morning with fruit and spice sellers, Guerrab (water sellers) with their leather water skins and metal cups, barbers, and a host of other hawkers and peddlers is transformed in the afternoon: Gnaoua (dancers of Guinean descent), musicians, story-tellers, snake charmers and monkey trainers mark out their halqa, and the entertainment begins.

 

The Agdal Gardens

In an attempt to escape the heat of the desert, the Almoravids laid out this vast shady garden in the 12th century. Hundreds of fruit trees, planted over an area three km in length and one and a half in width, are still irrigated by a network of ditches dug at that time. The Agdal Gardens were enlarged several times in the days of the Saadians, then revamped and encircled by ramparts in the 19th century at the behest of Moulay Abderrahmane. This splendid site also contains artificial lakes, the larger of which dates from the time of the Almohads. Its waters reflect Dar El-Hana, a ruined palace from the Saadian era. At the heart of the garden stands a summerhouse whose columned walls let in the sunlight upon a splendidly decorated ceiling.

 

El-Badi Palace

The building of this vast and sumptuous palace was ordered by Ahmed El-Mansour in 1578, following his victory over the Portuguese at the famous Battle of the Three Kings. Designed to host magnificent receptions and banquets, it counted three hundred and sixty rooms arranged around a large inner courtyard adorned with a pool and blooming flowerbeds. Pillaged in 1696 by order of Moulay Ismael to provide decoration for his royal palaces in Meknes, only the shell of this once resplendent edifice remains.

 

The Majorelle Gardens

This enchanting spot, planted with bougainvillea, coconut palms, banana trees, bamboo and palm trees, was created in the 1920s by the French painter, Jacques Majorelle. In the heart of all this lush greenery, the painter built a large studio, pergolas and arbours all painted in vivid blue. Following the painter’s death in 1962, the property was abandoned, being restored to its former glory a few years ago by French couturier, Yves Saint-Laurent who now uses it as a second home.

 

The Medersa Ben Youssef

One of the most beautiful buildings in Marrakesh, the school was completely restored around 1565 by order of the Saadian Sultan, Moulay Abdellah, and went on to become the most important Koranic University in the Maghreb. Its Andalusian- influenced architecture is characterised by a harmonious blend of mosaic and stucco, and of marble and zellij. In the inner courtyard, on either side of a white marble pond, are two galleries supported by pillars and carved wooden transoms. The prayer room is subtly lit by openwork gypsum windows topped by stalactite cupolas, while the upper floor contains over a hundred soberly decorated students’ rooms opening onto small inner courtyards.

 

The Mosque of the Golden Apples

The street just to the right of Bab Aguenaou, leads into the Kasbah, to the El-Mansour Mosque, which was built in the 12th century during the reign of Sultan Yacoub El-Mansour. Following the explosion in 1569, the mosque was restored bit by bit and was renamed the Mosque of the Golden Apples in the 16th century. Legend has it that, like their counterparts atop the nearby Koutoubia, the globes crowning the lantern of its minaret, were fashioned from the jewellery belonging to Sultan Yacoub El-Mansour’s wife. Beautiful and grandiose at the same time, the layout and decor of this majestic mosque have remained a model of classical architecture down the centuries.

 

The surroundings

 

The Ourika Valley

The Ourika valley is a delightful landscape of patchwork fields and sandstone villages clinging to the mountainsides. Starting from Setti Fatma, you can enjoy a stroll, visit the Jbel Yagour rock carvings or make an excursion to the Oukaimeden massif. The valley is of extraordinary depth and through it run the churning waters of the river of the same name, flowing through the foothills of the Atlas, to irrigate the valley and keep its orchards and terraces green all year round.

 

Oukaimden Ski Resort

74 kilometres from Marrakesh, Oukaimden lies at a height of 2650 metres above sea level and boasts the best skiing to be found in Africa. This winter sports resort is equipped with the continent’s highest chairlift, enabling visitors to go up as high as 3300 metres and enjoy a superb panorama of the foothills of the High Atlas mountains and the Haouz plain surrounding them. In summer, the resort offers the people of Marrakesh respite from the heat, with its vast open spaces of mountain pasture. And for archaeology lovers, there are several hundred carvings, believed to date back to the Bronze Age, to be found on the rocks scattered among the houses.

 

The Tiz-n-Test Pass

Overlooking the searingly hot Souss plain, one of the most beautiful landscapes in Morocco is to be found along the road leading from Marrakech to the Tiz-n-Test pass . From the Haouz plain to the foot of Mount Toubkal, douars (villages) cling to the slopes, blending their colours with those of the land. From this 2100-metre high viewpoint, there stretches a splendid panorama of the peaks of the Atlas and of the Souss valley lying 2000 metres below.

Asni

Asni is located 47 km from the ochre-coloured town of Marrakech, at an altitude of about 1150 m, right in the middle of the circus of Tamaraout. It is a sort of little douar (a typical village) composed of adobe houses lived in by Berbers. Surrounded by luxuriant greenery, it has a magnificent Kasbah and is overlooked by Mount Toubkal, which is the highest in the Maghreb and stands at 4167 m. This site represents an excellent departure point for numerous trips into the High Atlas.

 

Tin-Mal

All that is left of this wonderful site are the ruins of the ramparts and the imposing mosque which bears its name. Tin- Mal was built around the second half of the 12th century, only to be destroyed a hundred years later by the Merinids. It was the cradle of the Almohad Dynasty where, throughout their rule, its Sultans stored the treasures of an Empire stretching as far as Andalusia.

 

The Tin-Mal Mosque

Surrounded by the austere High Atlas Mountains, the Tin-Mal Mosque serves as living evidence of the asceticism preached by Ibn Toumart. It is all that remains of the Almohad fortress destroyed by the Merinids in 1276.

Tin Mal was the holy city of the Almohad Dynasty, where its Sultans hid away the treasures of an Empire stretching as far as Andalusia.

 

 

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