Founded in 1070 as a caravan trading post, Marrakech still retains much of its original ancient allure. The “Red City” as it is commonly called, sits at the base of the Atlas Mountains in south-western Morocco. The third largest city in Morocco, Marrakech is home to over 1 million people. Arabic remains the official language of this city as well as the whole country of Morocco, but most natives speak French too, as this is the primary language for conducting business.
The city of Marrakech is made up of the new and old city. The old city, known as Medina is a labyrinth of alleyways and souks (bazaars), and the most popular area for travellers to do some serious shopping as the passages are filled with herbalists, perfume makers and assorted craftsmen. At the centre of Medina is Djemma el-Fma, a large central square with musicians, snake charmers, performers and storytellers and a primary gathering place for natives and visitors thanks to the circus-like atmosphere. Especially prevalent are the orange juice sellers, approximately 50-60, all lined up along the square. The juice is freshly made, quite delicious and not to be missed.
Looking over the old city is the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque. This mosque functions as a prayer hall for Muslims. The site is closed to non-Muslims but a leisurely night-time stroll around the mosque is highly recommended.
To really get to know the Marrakech natives and their culture, visit the Dar Si Said Museum. It was once a palace and is located on the Riad Ezzitoun El Jadid. Inside are examples of the Berber way of desert living including arts and crafts, furniture and other interesting artefacts and ornaments.
Another popular museum is the Museum of Marrakech located in Medina. Housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace, which in and of itself is a stunning example of Andalussian architecture, is a collection of ancient and current Moroccan art. The museum also has informative exhibits showing works of Jewish, Berber, Arab and Moroccan cultures.
The Saadian Tombs is another popular place to visit. Built in the 16th century as a place to house the tombs of Sultans, it is highly decorated in gloriously colourful mosaics and beautiful grey Italian marble.
Ben Youseff Madrass is wonderful example of Moroccan craftsmanship and décor. It was an Islamic college built around the 1500s. Thejewel in this building is the courtyard influenced by ancient Moorish design. Built of cedar, marble, and stucco there are prime examples of brightly coloured geometric mosaics to be found throughout the courtyard.
At the end of the 19th century a slave named Abu Ahmed rose to power and built an amazing palace called El-Bahia. Overly ornate and rather gaudy by today’s standard, this palace is well worth a visit.
For sore feet, hire one of the many horse-drawn carriages called caleches to view the Ramparts surrounding the city. Running more than 10km around Marrakech, these Ramparts are a major attraction for the traveller on holiday. The walls are as high as 10 meters tall and the caleches will travel from gate to gate so the visitor can enjoy the amazing Moroccan architecture and craftsmanship.
Step out of the ancient city and spend some time in Modern Marrakech. While this modern vista still retains the pink stone of its ancestors, the architecture is most assuredly from the present century. Here the visitor will find plenty of modern shops and restaurants to experience and enjoy.
For a glimpse into the local flora and fauna of Marrakech visit the Menara Gardens just outside of the city. The gardens are filled with orchards and olive groves cantered around a main building with a lovely sparkling pool. As this is such a popular spot for travellers, plan to visit at the end of the day when the gardens have emptied of visitors. The Majorelle Gardens is another oasis away from the noise and bustle of the city. These gardens boast plants from around the world and contain an outstanding exhibit of desert cactus. Bougainvillea and banana trees surround a lovely home built in various shades of calming blues that was built by the French artist Jaques Majorelle in the 1920s.The Museum of Islamic Art is located inside the gardens and is another popular place to visit. It contains North African artefacts. The best time to view the gardens is in the early part of the day as they can be very crowded in the afternoon. Agdal Garden is another botanical museum just south of the Royal Palace. The gardens are surrounded by several pools and have the majestic Atlas Mountains as a backdrop. Agdal Garden was originally built as a private summer retreat for the Sultan.
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