Things to do in Marrakech

things to do in marrakech
things to do in marrakech
Koutoubia Mosque | Marrakesh, Morocco

Museums:

A city like Marrakech, with a very long and varied history, naturally also has a large number of interesting museums to offer. When visiting Morocco’s fourth-largest city, you should take at least two days to see the most diverse museums.

The Saadian Tomb

One of the most interesting museums in Marrakech is also a monumental tomb in which the great Saadian rulers are buried, who determined the fate of the city for a long time. The unique tomb was found more or less by chance in 1917 during archaeological excavations. It contains the graves of four important sultans and more than 62 relatives, wives, concubines, and children from the closest family, the Saadian dynasty, which was very powerful in the 16th century. The tomb is a work of art made of the finest Carrara marble with beautiful mosaics made in Andalusia. The magnificent stucco ornaments also come from Spain. The carvings above the doors are made of cedar, a wood that is still used today in Marrakech to furnish houses. If you visit the Sultan’s mausoleum, you should especially take time for the Room of the Twelve Coffins, as it is the most magnificent room in the entire tomb.

Dar Si Said Museum – Berber arts and crafts

Another interesting museum is located in a former city palace in Marrakech. Especially those interested in the art-historical treasures of the city should pay a visit to this museum. The Dar Si Said Museum exhibits Berber arts and crafts from several centuries. The showpiece of the museum is only a few steps away from the entrance. The rather simple fountain basin is a former fountain from the Koranic school Medersa Ben Youssef, which was built in Cordoba in the year 1000 AD. This fountain is considered a masterpiece of sacred Islamic art. The museum is located in the Rue Riad Litoun el-Jedid.

The Marrakech Museum – Top-class art treasures

The Marrakech Museum is equally fascinating, but again quite different. The industrialist Omar Benjelloun wanted to please his hometown of Marrakech and set up an extraordinary museum on Place Ben Youssef. Art lovers, in particular, will get their money’s worth in this museum because the bright and airy exhibition rooms contain top-class art from various epochs. In addition to the paintings, etchings, and sculptures by internationally renowned artists that Omar Benjelloun collected during his lifetime, there is also a very nice exhibition of works by Moroccan artists from the past and present. In addition to the permanent exhibitions, there are also interesting touring exhibitions and matinees.

Djemaa el-Fna:

It is the largest open-air restaurant in Morocco, the pulsating heart of the city, one of the most exciting and perhaps noisiest squares in the world. No one knows exactly how long the square has been the center of Marrakech because there are no reliable statements about it. Perhaps the Djemaa el-Fna already existed 1000 years ago, or perhaps only since the 12th century. There are handwritten documents that prove that the square was the meeting place of the inhabitants of Marrakech at that time. People haggled and traded here, marriages were sealed here with a handshake. Those who needed to see a doctor went to the Djemaa el-Fna and the Bedouins from the desert came to the busy marketplace to buy or sell camels.

marrakech tour
Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech

The sensory impressions on the Djemaa el-Fna, the central market square in the medina (old town) of Marrakech, are particularly impressive. The name means “assembly of the dead” and dates back to the time when this square was used as a place of execution. Today it is filled with stalls, people, and animals, an oriental atmosphere that attracts both locals and tourists. As a result, it is now also called “Jugglers’ Square”.

An experience at any time

Anyone visiting Marrakech should visit the Djemaa el-Fna during the day and also in the evening. During the day it is not quite as crowded, but there is a lot to see. To get a first overview, you can hire a horse-drawn carriage and be driven along the city wall. From there you have a wonderful view of the Djemaa el-Fna and also of the Atlas Mountains, which provide a magnificent backdrop.

Honored by Unesco

In 2001, Djemaa el-Fna was included by Unesco in the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This includes languages, myths, and stories as well as music, dance, and customs.

Djemaa el-Fna by day…

During the day, you will meet water carriers, herbalists, snake charmers, alleged doctors, and individual musicians. Dried fruit, nuts, and dates are on sale, and freshly squeezed orange and mandarin juices keep you cool. Exotic goods such as dried lizards, toads, snake skins, magic potions, and ointments are also on offer.

…and at night

When dusk falls on the town, the market square is transformed into a brilliant spectacle. Jugglers, snake charmers, storytellers, fortune tellers, fire eaters, dancers, musical groups with drums and lutes as well as acrobats perform their arts. Dressed monkeys, camels, and horses cavort on the Djemaa el-Fna.

Traditional Moroccan food

Countless stalls offer freshly prepared food, including of course couscous, vegetables, and a wide variety of meat and fish dishes. You can also try typical Moroccan specialties such as snail soup, sheep’s brain, or the sweet white nougat.

Good food is cheap on the Djemaa el-Fna. The more than 100 food stalls are regularly inspected by the food authority, so you can enjoy your meal without worrying. However, make sure that the prices are indicated on the menu so that you don’t get an expensive surprise when paying.

Jardin Majorelle:

The Jardin Majorelle is Marrakech’s historic botanical garden. The enchanting park was created in the 1920s and was temporarily forgotten – until it was rediscovered and restored by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner. Today, the park is a popular attraction in Marrakech with over 600,000 visitors a year.

       

The French painter Jacques Majorelle came to Morocco from Nancy in 1919, which was a particularly popular destination for artists and intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century. As early as 1924, he began to plant a garden and have his house built. He was inspired by the palaces of Marrakech with their simple lines, seductive gardens, and water features. In 1931, he had the architect design the blue studio – the cobalt blue in which he had the façades painted is still called Majorelle blue today.

At the same time, he decided to create a botanical garden. He collected plants from all over the world to plant here: Bougainvillea, cacti, bamboo, and water lilies, for example, surrounded by tall palm trees. From 1947, the Jardin Majorelle was open to the public. Jacques Majorelle left Marrakech in 1962 after a car accident and went back to France, where he died soon after. Today his art is almost forgotten, while the botanical garden he created preserves his memory.

Rediscovery by Yves Sain-Laurent and Pierre Bergé

Over the years, the Jardin Majorelle became visibly overgrown. Although all the exotic and sometimes rare plants continued to grow there, the park was somewhat forgotten. In 1980, the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé discovered the idyll and bought the residence and the botanical garden.

They gradually restored the gardens so that the Jardin Majorelle is now once again a botanical jewel. To ensure its continued existence in the future, Bergé set up a foundation that manages the botanical garden today. Yves Saint Laurent valued the park as a source of inspiration and a retreat. After his death in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the rose garden.

The botanical garden as an oasis in Marrakech

The Jardin Majorelle attracts around 650,000 visitors every year, who enjoy peace and quiet in the pretty grounds with their plants from different climatic zones. There are also a variety of birds to admire, from songbirds to pigeons and small birds of prey.

Majorelle’s former studio now houses the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech, which also features paintings and ceramics by Majorelle, as well as Saint-Laurent’s collection of North African textiles.

Koutoubia:

The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech and one of the most famous sights in the Moroccan city. The world-famous mosque was built in the 12th century, making it one of the oldest in all of Morocco. The name of the mosque means literally “mosque of the book trade”. Centuries ago, the Koutoubia Mosque was the spiritual center of the city.

The mosque, which was inaugurated in 1158, is located in a large palm garden in the southeast of the historic old town of the royal city of Marrakech, right next to the Djemaa el-Fna square. The first construction work began as early as 1147. A short time later, however, the first building had to be demolished again because it had not faced Mecca correctly.

Structure of the place of worship

The Koutoubia Mosque is 90 metres wide and 60 metres long. The spacious inner courtyard is adjoined by a portico with 17 parallel naves. The large central nave consists of seven domes. The capacity of the mosque can accommodate approximately 25,000 worshippers inside. In addition to the finest stucco, the interior of the mosque also contains numerous historical inscriptions.

Icon of Marrakech: The Minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque

The large minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, visible from afar, is considered an architectural landmark of Marrakech and is one of the most popular photo motifs of thousands of tourists from all over the world. Built of pink sandstone and completed in 1199, the minaret consists of a 69-meter-high square tower with sides almost 13 meters long. With the large spherical shaft that forms the top of the tower, the minaret has a total height of 77 meters. This makes the minaret visible from almost every square in the city of Marrakech. The upper part of the tower is decorated with valuable ceramic plates. The top consists of several gold-plated spheres and a wooden construction on the side. In the past, the green flag of the Prophet was hoisted on this before the traditional Friday prayers and on religious holidays.

Modeled on the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville were built at the end of the 12th century. Even today, the most photographed minaret in the country serves as a model for all other minarets in Morocco.

Medersa Ben Youssef:

One of the most beautiful sights in Marrakech is the Koranic school Medersa Ben Youssef, once the most powerful place in the Islamic world.

History of the madrasa

You should take your time to visit the madrasa because it would be a pity to only see the many precious objects, mosaics, carvings, frescoes, and stucco work in passing. The Medersa Ben Youssef was most likely founded at the beginning of the 14th century. There are no exact records of the year of the foundation. Experts assume, however, that due to the architecture and the interior decoration, only this period comes into question. Most sources cite the Moroccan ruler of the time, Abou el Hassan, as the founder. He was an art-loving monarch who was known for his magnificent buildings. However, it was not until 1570 that the Koranic school acquired its present splendid appearance. The Saadian Abdallah El Ghalib expanded the Medersa Ben Youssef into the largest Islamic university for theology in the entire Arab world known at that time.

A Masterpiece of Oriental Architecture

Visitors enter the former Koranic school through a mighty portal lavishly decorated with turquoise mosaics and cedarwood carvings, from where they enter an inner courtyard. What stands out are the harmonious proportions of the building, which is considered a masterpiece of Oriental architecture. In the center of the courtyard is a rectangular water basin with a fantastic mosaic of diamond-shaped stones in black and turquoise. The basin is flanked on either side by richly decorated columns with ornate stucco work.

The prayer room

The Koranic school proper begins opposite the entrance portal. The center of the Medersa Ben Youssef is the prayer room. At first glance, the room may seem huge to the observer, but it is immediately apparent that the architect very deliberately intended to divide it into three rooms. Three richly decorated marble columns visually divide the prayer hall. The mighty cedar dome and the 24 small windows made of colorful mosaic glass are also worth seeing. Next to the prayer hall are 150 narrow cells in which up to 900 Koran students used to live. Students from wealthy families, however, could afford a chamber with a window.

A place of peace in the middle of the medina

The Medersa Ben Youssef is not only an architectural masterpiece, it is also a wonderfully quiet place to rest after a stroll through the medina of Marrakech. The special thing about the architecture of the Koranic school is that it is completely quiet in the courtyard. The noise of the medina can no longer be heard. It is therefore still very easy to imagine that the students found it easy to concentrate on their studies.

El-Badi Palace:

If you leave the medina, i.e. the old town, in Marrakech in a southerly direction, you will inevitably come to one of the once most beautiful palaces in the city. Today, the huge remains of the walls only hint at how magnificent and monumental the El-Badi Palace must once have looked.

It was the powerful Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, who called himself the Magnificent, who had a palace of incredible beauty and size built between 1578 and 1608. He called his palace El-Badi, “the Incomparable”, and paid for this magnificent residence with gold from Timbuktu. Hand-painted tiles adorned the walls, elaborate mosaics on the floors, and carved decorations of cedarwood on the ceilings and window lintels. Today, one can only imagine this unimaginable splendor, for the El-Badi Palace existed for barely 100 years. The Alaouite ruler Moulay Ismail did not want his residence in Marrakech but had a palace built in Meknes. He used the El-Badi Palace as a quarry. All that remained standing, in the end, were the enormous outer walls made of clay.

Folklore in the courtyard

Even though the El-Badi Palace today appears to be nothing more than a ruin from times gone by, it is still worth visiting the former palace during a visit to Marrakech. You can still see the beautiful inner courtyard with a fountain, as well as the former dungeons in a dark vault under the palace. Today, storks nest in the remains of the walls and raise their young. If you visit the El-Badi palace, you should also go to the terrace, because from there you have a fantastic view over the roofs of Marrakech. Anyone visiting Marrakech in June should visit the city’s famous folklore festival, which takes place every year in the courtyard of El-Badi Palace. Dancers, singers and music groups from all over the country come together here. When the courtyard is lit up with torches in the evening, you can get a sense of how magnificent and fairytale-like the palace once was.

From El-Badi to Dar el-Makhzen

Not far from El-Badi Palace is the royal palace Dar el-Makhzen, which is used as a winter residence by the family of the current ruler Mohammed VI. From El-Badi Palace to the royal residence, the path leads through a narrow alley where many traders advertise their wares. There are stalls with beautiful gold and silver jewelry, shiny fabrics, hookahs, carpets, and many other things that are ideal as souvenirs. But you should never forget to haggle with the merchant because that’s just part of the deal in Marrakech.

Tips and entrance fees

The entrance costs 70 dirhams. The terrace and the underground chambers are particularly worth seeing. In no case should you miss seeing the Preacher’s Staircase, which is wonderfully decorated?

Menara Gardens:

The Menara Gardens cover a total of about 100 ha and form a public city park in Marrakech. They were founded by the Almohads, a Berber dynasty, in the 12th century as olive greenery. To fulfill this task, an irrigation system was necessary. Therefore, a branched canal system leads from a lake in the center of the garden complex to the farthest corners, so that there is always enough water available in all places. In 1985, the gardens were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the old city of Marrakech and the Agdal Gardens.

To explore this popular attraction, you have to drive about three kilometers out of the city. On the drive, you can get a good impression of the actually rather barren landscape, making the Menara Gardens seem even greener and more lively. If you don’t dare to drive yourself on the Moroccan roads, you can also reach the Menara Gardens by bus, which stops at the central market square in Marrakech. However, the route can just as easily be covered on foot if it is not too hot.

A place of relaxation for locals and tourists alike

As soon as you reach the gardens, you will not only see guided tourist groups, but also many locals who spend their weekends here. Entrance is free of charge and food and drink are also provided by the many vendors at the entrance. You have to leave the gardens in good time, however, as they are fenced in and locked at night.

An ingenious irrigation system

The aforementioned lake was artificially created, and the water for it is fetched from the High Atlas to irrigate the countless plant species. Therefore, it is enclosed by a stone wall, which, however, loses its austerity by a small pavilion. This small building is still well preserved today, but no longer fulfills any function. It has two floors and used to be used by high city officials when they were in the gardens for recreation.

Special functions of the lake

Later, the water basin was also used to teach soldiers how to swim. On their journeys as far as Andalusia, the Moroccans had to cover long distances on the sea and the soldiers were supposed to be able to save themselves in the event of a shipwreck.

At the back of the artificial lake is a grandstand that was used for the light and sound show “Al Menara” in 2007. Although the show was a great success, it had to be discontinued because UNESCO threatened to revoke its World Heritage status if the show were held again.

Several jetties jut out into the lake from which one can view the flocks of carp that inhabit the lake and are not caught due to various legends.

Saadian tombs:

Saadian tombs, Marrakech

In Marrakech, whose old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entrance to the Moorish Saadian tombs is located in the immediate vicinity of the venerable Kasbah mosque. The construction and rich furnishings of these tombs are in no way to be feared in comparison with the impressive Alhambra in Spain.

The Saadian tombs, a necropolis dating back to the sixteenth century, were only rediscovered in 1917 after they had been hidden behind high walls under the Alewid ruler Mulay Ismail in order to consign the Saadian dynasty to oblivion.

The Saadians made Marrakech their residence in 1554 after the city had lost importance in favor of Fez following the Merinid takeover in the 13th century. The Saadian tombs were laid out by Ahmed El-Mansour, the second sultan from the Saadian family, for the descendants of the Prophet.

A dream from 1000 and one nights

A narrow corridor leads to the two mausoleums, which are magnificently decorated with Carrara marble and precious mosaic and stucco work. Here are the tombs of seven sultans and 62 members of the Saadian family.

Upon entering the buildings from the Moorish period, the visitor immediately feels transported into a dream from “1000 and one nights”.

In the larger of the two mausoleums, three adjoining rooms open up immediately behind the entrance on the left-hand side. The first room contains the tomb of the Alewid Sultan Moulay el-Yazid from the end of the 18th century and a prayer room with a mihrab. A mihrab is a richly decorated niche indicating the direction of prayer towards Mecca.

The magnificent “Hall of the Twelve Pillars” adjoining this room is the final resting place of Ahmed el-Mansour ed-Dehbi, who once conquered Timbuktu. The dome of the hall is made of cedar wood richly decorated with carvings and rests on twelve pillars. The entire room is lavishly decorated with stalactite arches and zellij tiles. These enameled terracotta tiles are characteristic of Moroccan architecture, where they adorn walls, floors, tables, and bathrooms.

The third room of this first mausoleum houses some children’s tombs. This room too – like the previous two – is bathed in an almost fairytale-like, unreal light from the Moroccan sun, which penetrates here in a muted manner. The incomparable atmosphere of this place inevitably casts its spell on the visitor.

The small mausoleum

The two rooms of the second mausoleum are much simpler in their furnishings. Here and in the fantastically beautiful garden lie the graves of other family members and officials. The oriental garden is lovingly laid out and, outside the busiest times, is a wonderful place of peace and contemplation, inviting visitors to linger and dream.

Opening hours and prices

The graves are open to visitors from Monday to Friday between 09:00 and 17:00. It is advisable to visit in the morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds. Admission costs 70 dirhams.

Bahia Palace:

In 1867, during the Alawid period, a magnificent palace of enormous dimensions was built in the Moroccan city of Marrakech by order of the Grand Vizier Si Moussa. In the following years, the vizier’s son, Bou Ahmed, added a Turkish bath, a so-called hammam, to the palace. Bou Ahmed also had a mosque built within the palace walls and laid out a wonderful, idyllic garden and henceforth called the complex Bahia Palace, which means “the radiant” or “the splendid”.

The Bahia Palace has a floor area of 8,000 m² and has over 160 rooms, countless patios, and many so-called riads. Everywhere one encounters an Andalusian and Moorish architectural style. It is best to allow several hours for a visit and a tour of the huge palace complex. And yet it is almost impossible to find your way around the widely ramified palace complex without a guide. Whether in the reception halls, the private chambers or in the inner courtyards, the oriental-style construction of the Bahia Palace is impressive everywhere.

Splendid interior

Although the rooms are empty today, they still look impressive and give an idea of the splendor of the luxurious life of the rulers who once lived here. Almost every room has faiences, ornate marble tiles, fanciful mosaics, and arabesques in stucco. The ceilings were carved from cedar wood in the Moorish style and decorated with many small details. The beautifully landscaped courtyards with their archways and lushly planted gardens invite you to relax and unwind.

The backdrop for numerous films

The fantastic backdrop of the Bahia Palace in Marrakech also attracted American filmmakers from Hollywood, so that filming permission was granted again and again for famous film projects. And so the Bahia Palace with its rooms, shady courtyards, and magnificent fountains was the setting for such successful films as “The Desert Lion” or “Lawrence of Arabia”, among others. To this day, the Bahia Palace in Marrakech is considered one of the most beautiful palaces in Morocco and has therefore been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. In addition, the Bahia Palace is also used time and again to accommodate notable personalities, such as state guests.

Opening hours

The palace, which is located on the Rue de la Bahia and directly connected to the Rue Riad Zitoun el Jedid, can be visited in individual areas daily from 09:00 to 16:45. The entrance fee is 70 dirhams.

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