Marrakech

 

Sumptuous and bewitching, Marrakech stands like a mirage at the foot of the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas. Surrounded by red and ocher ramparts, it is nicknamed the “red city”. Prestigious, Marrakech gave its name to the kingdom of Morocco. Founded in 1062 by Youssef Ibn Tachfin of the Almoravid dynasty, the city counts Marrakech remains the tourist capital of the country. Famous throughout the world for its palm grove and its minaret, this city is a real living spectacle where people and local folklore are skillfully staged in a medieval setting. An impressive cultural heritage with many monuments and quality museums. Magical ! It was a simple caravan camp for centuries, the birth of Marrakech takes place in 1062 under the leadership of Youssef Ibn Tachfine, 1st ruler of the Almoravid dynasty. Having become the capital of the kingdom, many mosques and madrasahs (Koranic theological schools) were built. Marrakech is growing rapidly and is becoming an influential cultural and religious center as well as a commercial center for the Maghreb and black Africa. Ramparts are built to protect the city. This enclosure did not prevent the Almohads from seizing the city in 1147. After having exterminated the last Almoravids and razed almost all the monuments, these partisans of a pure and hard Islam built, in their turn, palaces and religious buildings. The famous Koutoubia mosque, symbol of Marrakech, was built at that time on the ruins of the Almoravid palace. The town’s irrigation system was perfected to supply the palm grove and the large gardens. The cultural influence of Marrakech attracted many artists and writers, especially from Andalusia. In 1269, the Marinid nomad clan seized Marrakech at the expense of the last Almohads. The advent of the Merinid dynasty marked the decline of Marrakech, which lost its status as capital to its rival, Fez. The city then fell into a certain lethargy. At the beginning of the 16th century, a new dynasty took hold in Morocco. The Saadian sultan, Mohammed El Mahdi, relocates the capital of the kingdom to Marrakech. The city is reborn and quickly reaches its peak. The fabulous wealth amassed by the sultans makes it possible to beautify Marrakech. Ruined monuments are restored and sumptuous palaces are built. Once again, Marrakech will lose its status as capital. At the end of the 17th century, the current Alaouite dynasty succeeded the Saadians. Sultan Moulay Ismaïl, contemporary of Louis XIV, dreams of a Moroccan “Versailles”. The throne is successively transferred to Fez then to Meknes, the new imperial city. At the start of the 20th century, the city experienced a few years of civil wars. In 1912, the establishment of the French protectorate in Morocco put an end to this anarchy. In 1956, the return from exile of King Mohammed V will be celebrated in Marrakech as in the rest of the country. Also, Marrakech has distinguished itself in the cinema in many films which have benefited from the sublime settings of Marrakech: Mamma Mia! with Pierce Brosnan or in another register La Momie with Brendan Fraser, were shot in the city of Marrakech.

The medina and souks

Accessible from Jemaa el Fna square, the souks district is an essential stopover during a visit to Marrakech. The souk, we should rather say the souks, is one of the most interesting in the country. Grouped by specialty to allow a comparison of prices, we find all the souks in the squares and the narrow alleys that crisscross the medina. The souk is a labyrinth with its many alleys, stairs and dead ends. It is easy to cover several kilometers without realizing it! The souk of Marrakech is in itself an adventure to be immersed in. It is an open door to a hitherto unknown world. The exotic sounds, colors and scents will delight your senses. A dazzling spectacle! In addition, the century-old roof made of wooden slats will protect you from the sun. The souks of Marrakech are a veritable anthill. 40,000 artisans work there every day. Alongside ceramics sellers from Fez or Safi, local artisans make jewelry, vases, teapots, lanterns, cauldrons, trays. Carpet sellers and fabric merchants rub shoulders with traditional perfumers, pastry chefs and spice merchants.

Djamaa Lafna Square

True heart of Marrakech, the most famous place of the Maghreb is also the social center of the medina. The busiest place in the city, it has been a place of meetings and exchanges for centuries. The entire city seems to be spending it there at one point or another of the day. Located at the entrance of the souk, “the place of the dead”, literal translation of Jemma el Fna, was once a place of public execution. Times have changed a lot as today the square is a place of celebration where you can admire fire eaters, monkey trainers and other snake charmers. Public square or open-air theater? In summer, the square is teeming with people until late at night. The spectacle is fascinating. We will appreciate the squeezed orange juice, the best in the world, to cool off during the day. In the evening, the square is taken over by dozens of itinerant restaurateurs. Those who are less cautious will dare to dive into the fray and sit around the tables to taste new flavors. Finally, Jemaa el Fna square is a strategic place to start a visit to Marrakech. You are at the gates of the souks and the medina and the Koutoubia Mosque is not very far.

The Koutoubia

The most famous and visible monument in the city, the “Koutoubia” is to Marrakech what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Abdelmoumen, the first ruler of the Almohad dynasty built this mosque in the 12th century. His grandson Yacoub El Mansour completed the work with a superb minaret, a true architectural masterpiece of Hispano-Moorish influences. Each of its faces is different from the others! The bewitching ornamentation and the balance of volumes make the prestige of this tower. A real landmark in the city, the “Koutabia” remains the highest minaret in Marrakech with its 69 meters. At the top, the 3 superimposed balls with decreasing diameter symbolize Earth, Water and Fire. In the past, the mosque was one of the most important in Morocco. A true cultural center, there were the main manuscripts of the period. The Koutoubia minbar is a chair commissioned by Sultan Ali Ben Youssef. It was started in Cordoba in 1137 and completed eight years later. First installed in the Ali Mosque, it was later moved to the Koutoubia Mosque, also known as the Booksellers Mosque. This carved wooden minbar decorated with marquetry is an invaluable piece, a jewel of 12th century Hispano-Moorish art. It moves by a clever system of ropes that has long led the faithful to believe it was miraculous. Today it can be seen at the El Badi Palace.

Saadian tombs

Located next to the Kasbah mosque, the Saadian tombs are one of the only remaining vestiges of the Saalian dynasty which reigned over the golden age of Marrakech between 1524 to 1659. At the beginning of the 18th century, the sultan Moulay Ismaïl had indeed decided to make disappear all traces of the magnificence of this dynasty by asking for the destruction of all the remains remaining. However, he did not dare to commit the sacrilege of destroying their graves and ordered the entrance to the necropolis to be walled up. The secret remained well kept until 1917, when the location of the Saadian tombs was rediscovered. Although this royal necropolis was used from the beginning of the 14th century, its splendor dates back to the 16th century with the burial of Prince Mohamed Sheikh in 1557. His son Ahmed El Mansour, also known as Ahmed “the golden”, had it enlarged and embellished the location by building the “Lalla Mesouada” koubba after his mother’s name. Lalla Messaouda was buried there in 1591 along with the 3 successors of the Sultan. The most prestigious mausoleum is the Hall of Twelve Columns. This room houses the tomb of Sultan son Ahmed El Mansour. The cedar ceilings and stucco are finely worked, the burials are in Carrara marble. You can visit the different mausoleums through a minimalist garden nestled between different buildings. The Saadian tombs were built at the end of the 16th century by Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour Saadi, chief of the Saadians. They constitute a masterpiece of Hispano-Moorish art through the refinement of their decorations. The mausoleum consists of three rooms containing the tombs of about sixty people. The most impressive room is dedicated to the son of the Sultan, Ahmed al-Mansour. Called the Hall of Twelve Columns, it has a dome of carved cedar wood and marble ornaments. The family’s servants and soldiers are buried outside the building.

Bahia Palace

is located in the medina of Marrakech along the northern edge of the Mellah district, or Jewish quarter. The palace was built in two phases by two different men, a father and his son who served him as grand viziers The first part of the palace, known as Dar Si Moussa, was built between 1859 and 1873 by Si Moussa , graduate vizier of Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abderrahmane (1859-1873). Between 1894 and 1900, the second phase of construction was led by the son of Si Moussa Ba Ahmed, the grand vizier of Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz (1894-1908). Ba Ahmed was a very rich and powerful vizier whose fortune was envied by the Sultan himself. Just hours after Ba Ahmed’s death in 1900, Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz ordered a search of the Bahia Palace to collect its magnificent furniture and decorative materials. While much of the palace’s opulent ornamentation was lost during this foray, parts of the palace were spared and retained their rich decor. The marble-paved courtyard and its adjoining apartments have survived intact and remain an example of the ancient grandeur of the Bahia Palace complex. It is a large old mansion and a set of houses were brought together and converted into a palace at the end of the 19th century by the Moroccan architect El Mekki who previously worked in Andalusia, which is why there are decorative Spanish motifs, materials and arabesques can be seen in the arts and crafts of later palace decoration. The Bahia Palace, literally “Beauty’s Palace”, was a gift from the Grand Vizier to his favorite among his 80 official concubines. The typically oriental beauty of the monument makes it one of the most beautiful palaces in Marrakech. The different parts of the palace, including small interior gardens and fountains, cover nearly 10 hectares. Indeed, the building has more than 150 rooms. Only a small part is open to the public. You can still admire the Andalusian garden, the apartments of “the beauty” and the boardroom. The best workers and artisans in the country worked there continuously for six years (1894-1900). It is a series of courtyards, gardens, lounges, outbuildings and annexes remarkable both for their structure and for their ornamentation. These sets are as follows: Le petit Ryad: it is an interior garden onto which rooms and niches open. This is where Ba Hmad received government officials in the large council chamber with its painted and openwork ceiling. This is also where the offices of Marshal Lyautey were later fitted. The small courtyard with four bedrooms opening onto an open-air courtyard entirely tiled with marble and zellij (ceramic tiles) constituted Ba Hmad’s private apartments; they were transformed in Lyautey’s time into the officers’ room. The large marble courtyard known as the ‘Cour d’honneur’ It is a huge open-air courtyard (50 mx 30 m), paved with marble and zellij surrounded by a gallery with carved wooden columns, onto which opens an imposing reception room known as the Council Room, the largest in the palace (20 mx 8 m) and whose painted ceiling is of great beauty. The Grand Ryad is the oldest part of the palace built by Ba Hmad’s father, Si Moussa, completed in 1866-1867 and subsequently refurbished. This Ryad is distinguished, in addition to the garden, by its two rooms and its two niches with refined decoration. The private two-room apartment with two niches opens onto a space covered with a painted ceiling, lit by sculpted and finely perforated plaster panels.

The Dar Si Saïd museum

the Dar Si Saïd museum is an ancient and superb palace. It was built in the 19th century for the vizier’s brother, at the same time as the Bahia Palace. It is a large palatial mansion built in the second half of the 19th century on the initiative of Si Saïd Ben Moussa who served as Minister of War under the regency of his brother Ba Ahmad. When Si Saïd died in 1900, the house had experienced several assignments. Around 1914, the French protectorate made it the seat of the successive leaders of the Marrakech region. In l930, the domain service assigned him to the General Directorate of Public Instruction, Fine Arts and Antiquities in order to set up offices of the Indigenous Arts service, a museum of ancient art and artisan workshops. In 1957, the premises of Dar Si Saïd were divided between the Handicrafts Department and the Museum. Since that date, the latter has occupied nearly half of the palace, including the large Riad with its four rooms, the small Riad, the two floors and numerous annexes. By its structure and decoration, this part of Dar Si Saïd constitutes a preserved testimony of the Moroccan domestic architectural art of the last century. In 1978-1980, the museum underwent a major restoration and redevelopment campaign. Some collections have been completed, others are in the process of being built. Most of the collections in this regional museum come from Marrakech and the south and particularly from Tensift, Sous, Haut Atlas, Anti Atlas, Bani, Tafilalet. These are homogeneous sets of woodwork, jewelry, pottery and ceramics, weapons, carpets and weavings and a few archaeological pieces including the marble tank from the beginning of the 11th century.

El Badi Palace

Or palace of the three Saadian kings is a former palace, built by the Saadian sultan Ahmed El Mansour Edhahbî, ​​not far from the private apartments of the sultan, to celebrate the victory over the Portuguese army, in 1578 to 1594, in the battle of the Three Kings , some work continued however until 1603, date of the death of the Sultan. Symbol of power, the palatial ensemble expressed the sovereign’s pomp both to his subjects and to foreign embassies: it was the setting for solemn audiences and celebrations. Considered a jewel of Islamic art, its construction was influenced by the Alhambra in Granada (Spain). Today, only a huge esplanade with gardens, planted with orange trees and surrounded by high walls remains. Indeed, in 1696, the Alawite sultan Moulay Ismaïl took what was richest in this palace to build the imperial city of Meknes, a city that the sovereign designated as the capital of his empire in 1672. In 1953, archaeological excavations were carried out. In addition to fragments of materials, they revealed the general structure of the palace. Now open to the public and annually host the Moroccan folklore festival.

The Medersa Men Youssef

Located in the heart of the old Medina of the ocher city, this jewel of Arab-Andalusian architecture was, for more than four centuries, a home for students thirsty for knowledge in various sciences, especially in theology. Work of the Saadian Sultan Abdellah Al Ghalib, this building is characterized by the diversity of its decorations and its colors which make it an original architectural work. Indeed, it is an effigy of all the decorative themes of Moroccan art. A true reflection of the magnificence of Moroccan art, the Medersa Ben Youssef draws its strength from an architecture of great consistency, as well as from the diversity of materials used in the construction of this monument, one of the most visited in the region. city ​​of the Seven Saints. Thus, cedar wood from the Atlas is everywhere. It is adopted in the sumptuous cupolas of the vestibule and the prayer room, in the ceilings of the corridors and at the level of the friezes and canopies of the main courtyard. The marble, brought in from Italy, was also used to adorn the Madrasah. Plaster, when it comes to it, occupies the place of predilection in the decoration of the building. Indeed, large panels of sculpted plaster cover the facades of the patio and the prayer room. Zellige of various colors and geometric shapes and different techniques adorns the bottom of the walls and pillars. Regarding its spatial arrangement, the Medersa Ben Yousssef is organized around a central square-shaped courtyard, with a rectangular-shaped basin in the center with two bronze water jets. This courtyard is surrounded by two Riwaqs which are supported by large pillars through lintels of cedar wood. Around the courtyard is the prayer hall, also rectangular in shape, which rests on four marble columns. The Medersa has 132 rooms on the ground floor and upstairs, which are arranged behind the corridors. It also has a square-shaped ablutions room set up around a covered basin topped with a cupola in Muqarras. A series of latrines line three sides of the ablution room. The Medersa was restored for the first time in 1950. At the end of 1960, the disused Medersa was closed to the faithful and to the public. It was only since 1982 that restoration work allowed travelers to discover this masterpiece of Moroccan art. This Medersa, one of the largest of its kind in Morocco and the Maghreb with an area of ​​1,670 m2, is very popular with Moroccan and foreign visitors. From a historical point of view, this Koranic school was named after Sultan Ali Ben Youssef, one of the sultans of the Almoravid dynasty, recalled Mr. Abdelmounim, adding that it took advantage of its proximity. from the Ben Youssef Mosque which has been a destination of choice for the most famous scholars throughout the history of Morocco.

The tanners’ quarter

is a picturesque place in Marrakech, located not far from the Bab El Sebbagh gate. This is the place where animal hides are worked, with lime and animal droppings. Visitors keep sprigs of mint under their noses so as not to be disturbed by the foul smell that reigns there. The skins are soaked in large vats supplied with water from the Issil wadi. Fortunately, the place is oriented in such a way that the wind blows the odors away from the city.

The walls

The ramparts of Marrakech were built in the 12th century under the Almoravid dynasty by order of Ali Ben Youssef in order to protect themselves from attacks by the tribes of the High Atlas, initiated by the Almohads. Made up of a mixture of stone, lime and earth, these walls stretch for 19 kilometers to a maximum height of 8 meters. They are punctuated with towers every 35 meters and pierced with 22 doors, the oldest of which are Bab er Robb and Bad Agnaou. They are also the best decorated.

The Menara

Laid out under the Almohad dynasty, the Menara is a large garden planted with olive trees about a 45-minute walk from Jamaa El Fna Square, in central Marrakech. At the heart of this garden, a large pond at the foot of a pavilion serves as a water reservoir for irrigating crops. It is a very peaceful place, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is therefore a privileged place for walks. The basin is supplied with water by a hydraulic system more than 700 years old, which carries water from the mountains located about 30 km from Marrakech. This basin allows irrigation of the olive grove.

Majorelle Gardens

Former residence of the French painter. A true 3-dimensional work of art with its green / blue shades: Jacques Majorelle moved to Marrakech in 1919 to pursue his career as an artist painter, where he acquired land that would become the Majorelle Garden. Following a car accident, he returned to France, where he died in 1962. In 1980 Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent bought the garden and restored it. At the heart of the tumult of urban life in Marrakech, the Majorelle garden offers its freshness and tranquility to visitors.