Marrakech, the Imperial City
Marrakech is the most famous of the imperial cities in Morocco, founded in 1062, is a lively and fascinating city full
of history, art, colors, aromas with a wonderful medina.
It is not essential to have a guide to explore the red city, with the use of maps you will be able to navigate the medina easily on
your own. The markets, souks, are interesting and each alley is dedicated to a typical local handicraft where you will also be
able to watch the process of making various products.
If you get lost don’t worry, in fact, it could be fun. It’s best to visit the markets early in the morning or late in the afternoon
to avoid the crowds.
We recommend visiting the Museum of Marrakech, which houses works of Moroccan art and sculptures of both
contemporary and traditional art, the Dar Si Said Museum, where the oldest object in Marrakech is on display, and the Bert
Flint Museum where costumes, jewelry, and furniture from the past are on display.
What about the marvelous Koutoubia Mosque, the Koubba Ba’adiyn, the oldest building in the city, the Medersa of Ben
Youssef, the El Bahia Palace, and the Saadian Tombs? Absolutely not to be missed! If you want to relax a bit, the Jardine
Majorelle and the Menara Gardens are the places for you! Here are some interesting facts about each sight.
Medina of Marrakech
The Medina of Marrakech is the geographical and spiritual heart of the red city: built-in 1070 by the Berber Almoravid
dynasty. It is bordered to the south by the gardens of the Koutoubia Mosque and at its center is the magical Djemaa el Fna
Square teeming with life
The souks chase each other through the narrow and winding alleys of the Medina where you can admire many impressive
monuments such as the original fortified Kasbah of 1185, the Royal Palace, the Arab quarter, the great royal palaces, now
converted into museums or elegant hotels, the Saadian Tombs, and much more.
Listed on the UNESCO World Heritage, the Medina of Marrakech is a veritable open-air museum that covers 700 hectares
and has managed to maintain its urban and architectural uniqueness over the centuries.
The walls surrounding the Medina were built in 1126 and the palm groves, which are located to the east of the city and
cover an area of 13 thousand hectares, can also be traced back to that period.
Madrasa of Ben Youssef
In the center of the Medina is the Madrasa Ben Youssef, a true jewel of Moorish architecture. This center of Islamic
teaching, consisting of a school and a mosque, was founded in 1300 by Sultan Abou el Hassan and then modified over the
following centuries to its current form. The Madrasa is characterized by a square plan covering 1680 square meters, making
it one of the largest in Morocco. The buildings of the Madrasa Ben Youssef feature beautifully carved cedar ceilings,
exquisite stucco, and colorful zellij tiles.
This complex was most likely partially made by Andalusian craftsmen given the close resemblance to the Alhambra Palace
in Granada. The central courtyard, overlooked by the dormitories, has a large pool of Carrara marble for ablutions,
Islamic procedure for cleansing parts of the body, a type of ritual purification. The interior flooring is made of two-tone
tiles, and mosaics of 5 different colors while the sides with two galleries sitting on columns are finished in cedar and plaster
stucco showing depictions of the Koran.
The Mihrab, the prayer hall, is the space with the most elaborate decoration and features motifs of stylized pine cones and
palms to give it a three-dimensional appearance.
The Koubba Ba’Adiyn is one of the few remaining buildings of the Berber Almoravid dynasty still found in Morocco. It is the
oldest building in Marrakech. Almoravid dynasty ruled between the year 1000 and 1500 in Morocco,
The Koubba, which is located next to the Museum of Marrakech is a small, square-shaped building, built-in 1117, is quite
significant because its style is the foundation of all Moroccan architecture.
The decorative motifs in the shape of palms and acanthus leaves, the shaped arches with interwoven arabesques are
present in many other later buildings throughout Morocco. Inside is a large water cistern, the dome above is adorned with
epigraphic decoration, the oldest cursive inscription in North Africa. The Ba’adiyn koubba was built using marble and
cedarwood. There are three underground aquifers with a depth between 20 and 30 meters beneath the building.
Museum of Marrakech
The Marrakech Museum, also known as The Jewel of Marrakech, is housed inside the Dar M’ Nephi Palace, a wonderful
the structure that alone is worth a visit.
Among the dozens of decorated rooms, pillars, mosaics, and arches are housed beautiful collections of Berber, Jewish, and
Muslim handicrafts, Islamic coins, ethnographic items including ceramics, historical documents, and archaeological objects.
In addition, exhibitions of contemporary art and traditional sculpture are organized inside the museum.
Located opposite the Madrasa of Ben Youssef, the building is a beautiful Moorish palace of the late nineteenth century built
by Mehdi Mnebbi, the Moroccan ambassador in London, and was later purchased by T’Hami el Glaoui, the Pasha of
Marrakech, during the French protectorate.
The palace has a beautiful interior courtyard and in the central part are striking marble fountains. Former stables were
transformed into a library, ticket office, and a cafeteria.
The Medina of Marrakech is largely still surrounded by the walls built in the twelfth century with 19 arch entrant gates.
Bab Agnaou is one of the best-known gates of Marrakesh richly decorated by local craftsmen. Its construction is attributed
to the Almohad caliph Abu al-Mansur and was completed around the year 1190. The gate was the main public entrance to the
royal quarter of the kasbah in the southern part of the medina.
Situated near the Saadian Tombs and the El Badi Palace, the Bab Agnaou gate had a mainly decorative function. The
imposing facade, decorated with floral designs, is composed of alternating sections of stone and brick and features a
Inside the building of the municipal theater of Marrakech is the Tiskiwin Museum, an exhibition of textiles and theatrical
costumes, jewelry, weapons, musical instruments, furniture, and carpets, all collected by the Dutch art historian Bert Flint.
A museum is an interesting place for anyone who wants to learn more about the culture and folk traditions of the two areas
within Morocco’s borders, the Souss Valley and the Sahara. The artifacts were collected over a period of 50 years and are
divided into geographical and cultural areas.
The research led Flint to analyze in particular the symbolism transmitted, know-how, beliefs, and techniques used. The
Dutch historian is the only one to date to have done such ethnographic research of Moroccan rural art.
Museum of Dar Si Said:
During your visit to Marrakech don’t miss the Dar Si Said Museum, an exhibition space that tells the story of Moroccan
craftsmanship through objects dating back several centuries but sometimes still in use.
The museum is located inside an opulent riad that served as the residence of the brother of a vizier in the late 1800s: on the
ground floor, decorated weapons, musical instruments, kitchen utensils, clothes, copper objects, Berber jewelry, and much
more will enchant you with their beauty, while on the second floor the Hispano-Moorish decorations will take you on an
an unforgettable journey through time to a bride’s room.
The other exhibition halls are full of carpets of every workmanship and from every corner of the globe including those from
the Sahara region is characterized by the use of leather.
El Bahia Palace:
In the heart of the Medina is the Palais El Bahia, a beautiful example of Alawite architecture built between 1894 and 1900
for the concubines of Ahmed Ibn Moussa.
The name of the building means splendor and was in fact intended to be the most majestic palace in Morocco. Inside the
structure, which housed 4 wives and 24 concubines, is a harem of 160 different rooms, courtyards with fountains, gardens,
and private areas, all richly decorated.
Stucco, zellige tile decorations (glazed terracotta zellige tiles have been made nearly the same way for centuries featuring
rich coloration, intricate textures, and complete distinctiveness), terracotta floors, smooth arches, carved cedar ceilings,
polished marble, and the eight-hectare garden will leave you breathless. El Bahia Palace is still used by the Moroccan royal
family when they are in town but most of the time it is open for visits.
El Badi Palace:
The el Badi Palace, literal translation Incomparable, was a sumptuous mansion decorated with hand-painted tiles, mosaics,
gold, onyx, marble and covered with cedar wood ceilings but today not much of its former glory remains. The Alawite ruler
Moulay Ismail sacked it 75 years after its construction to build his imperial palace in Meknes.
Also known as the Palace of the Three Kings or the Old Palace, the el Badi Palace was built in the 16th century by Sultan
Ahmed Al Mansour Saadian Dhahbi to celebrate his victory over the Portuguese army.
The sultan chose to build it in the
the northeastern corner of the Kasbah, near his private apartments, and wanted a large courtyard with a monumental fountain
in the center with two overlapping basins surmounted by a jet of water.
On both sides, there were two pavilions topped by domes supported by twelve columns while two larger pavilions occupied
the northern and southern sides. Today el Badi is basically in ruins and only a few fragments of columns, stucco and tiles
It is worth visiting the underground prisons and the terrace from where to enjoy a magnificent view over the rooftops of
Marrakech. In addition, in the month of June, the palace el Badi is the scene of a popular festival with the participation of
musical groups and dancers from all over Morocco.
Tombs of the Saadis:
The Tombs of the Saadites are located just outside Marrakech, heading south, near the Kasbah mosque. Discovered in 1917
by French General Lyautey after being sealed off for centuries, the site has been carefully restored to become one of
Morocco’s main attractions.
Built during the 1500s, the tombs house some 200 coffins among members of the Saadian dynasty, including Sultan Ahmed
el Mansour, and distinguished men of the time.
This burial site features two mausoleums, beautiful domed ceilings, marble sculptures, mosaics, and inlaid stucco. The Hall
of 12 Columns is particularly impressive and features Italian marble columns, stucco, a vaulted roof, and finely decorated
The Menara Gardens, built in the 12th century west of Marrakech, are about a 45-minute walk from Djemaa el Fna Square
and are an oasis within the bustling red city.
Inside you can admire orchids, palms, fruit trees, olive trees, irrigation canals, and an artificial lake where water from the
sources that are located about 30 kilometers away and necessary to irrigate the area are conveyed.
Inside the park, there is also a pavilion with a small green pyramid-shaped roof, built-in 1500, which overlooks the lake and
offers a wonderful view of the gardens and, in the distance, of the Atlas Mountains.
French painter Jacques Majorelle moved to Marrakech in 1919 and, 3 years later, purchased a palm grove where he built a
beautiful Art Deco villa.
Around the residence, he created a botanical garden, the Jardine Majorelle, inspired by an Islamic garden, full of lush
vegetation, a central pond, and rare species of plants. In 1980, Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent purchased the area and
brought it back to life.
Now in the hands of their foundation, the garden is home to shaded paths, exotic plants, cactus, yucca, lilies, jasmine,
bougainvillea, palms, coconuts, bananas, bamboo, and water lilies that share the space with fountains and pergolas giving
life to different atmospheres.
The garden is also home to more than 15 species of birds endemic to North Africa. In December 2011, a museum was
inaugurated on the ground floor of the villa and today the Jardine Majorelle, a green paradise in the heart of the red city, is
one of the most visited places in Morocco with over 600,000 visitors annually.
Contact us for more information about the top things to do in Marrakech