Founded in 1070-1072 by the Almoravids (1056-1147), capital of the Almohads (1147-1269), Marrakesh was, for a long time, a major political, economic and cultural centre of the western Muslim world, reigning in North Africa and Andalusia. Vast monuments dating back to that period: Koutoubia Mosque, with the matchless minaret of 77 metres, an essential monument of Muslim architecture, is one of the important landmarks of the urban landscape and the symbol of the City, the Kasbah, ramparts, monumental gates and gardens. Later, the town welcomed other marvels, such as the Badiâ Palace, the Ben Youssef merdersa, les Saâdians tombs, Bahia Palace and large residences. Jamaâ El Fna Square, inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, is a true open-air theatre that always amazes visitors. Due to its still protected, original and well conserved conception, its construction materials and decoration in constant use, and its natural environment (notably the Gardens of Aguedal, Ménara and the Palm Grove (Palmeraie) the plantation of which is attributed to the Almoravids), the Medina of Marrakesh possesses all its initial components both cultural and natural that illustrate its Outstanding Universal Value.
To mark his victory over the Almoravids in 1147, the Almohad sultan Abd el-Moumen set about building one of the largest mosques in the Western Muslim world. The minaret, a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, was completed during the reign his grandson of Yacoub el-Mansour. It later served as a model for the Giralda in Sevilla, as well as for the Hassan Tower in Rabat. The ‘Booksellers’ Mosque takes its name from the manuscripts souk that once took place around it. The minaret is the highest building in the city and only Muslims may enjoy the unforgettable view from the top of the building. The mosque has been restored to reveal the original pink colour of the brickwork.
Although they were neglected for more than two centuries, the tombs of the Saadian dynasty constitute some of the finest examples of the Islamic architecture in Morocco. Their style is in complete contrast to the simplicity of Almohad architecture, as the Saadian princes lavished on funerary architecture the same splendor and magnificence that they gave to the other buildings.
Until 1917 there was a wall around the main entrance, built by the Alaouite sultan Moulay Ismail out of respect for the dead. Nowadays open to the public, we find the mausoleum of Ahmed el-Mansour and his successors and a flower garden symbolizing Allah’s paradise.
Ben Youssef Medersa
This Koranic school is not only one of the finest but also one of the largest in the Maghreb, with a capacity of 900 students. It was founded by the Merinid sultan Abou el-Hassan in the mid-14th century and was rebuilt by the Saadian sultan Moulay Abdallah in the 16th century, whose desire was to restore to Marrakech the prestige of an imperial capital and simultaneously to affirm his devotion to Allah.
Djemaa El Fna and its souks
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this unique and extraordinary square has been for centuries the nerve centre of Marrakesh and the symbol of the city. In the morning there is a large market with medicinal plants, freshly squeezed oranges and all kinds of nuts and confectionery. Later in the day the square transforms in an arena of a gigantic open-air show with snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkey handlers, musicians, dancers and the air filled with smoke and aroma of grilled meat and spices.
Djemaa El Fna truly is a place of nonstop entertainment. On the North and East of the square you can enter the narrow streets into the most fascinating souks of Morocco. This labyrinth of streets displays a very wide variety of good, from fabric to jewellery and slippers, to traditional crafts of leatherwork, basketry and carpets, making a walk in the souks a true journey through time.
This palace, whose name means “Palace of the Favourite”, was built by two powerful grand viziers at the end of the 19th century. It consists of 2 parts, each built in different times: the older part, built by Si Moussa (vizier of sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Aberderrahman), and the new part, built by his son Ba Ahmed (vizier of Moulay Abdelaziz). They both consist of luxurious apartments and tree planted courtyards, each in a unique and different style. Marshal Lyautey chose to live here during the Protectorate.
La Mamounia Hotel
Opened in 1929, the legendary La Mamounia Hotel stands on the site of a residence that belonged to the son of the Alaouite sultan Sidi Mohammed in the 18th century. All that remains of that residence is the magnificent 130.000m² (32 acre) garden, planted with olive and orange trees and containing a pavilion that was built by a Saadian ruler in the 16th century. The hotel was designed by Henri Prost and Antoine Marchisio, who achieved a pleasing combination of Art Deco and Moorish styles. Many famous people, including Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon and Orson Welles, have stayed in Marrakesh’s most famous and luxurious hotel.
In 1923 Jacquese Majorelle fell in love with Morocco and built himself a splendid Moorish villa around which he laid out a luxuriant garden. The house was later bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé and its garden opened to the public in 1955. The bright blue of the house combined with numerous coloured tropical flowers, over 400 varieties of palm tree and 1.800 species of cactus, truly reflect a small paradise. The studio next to the house has been converted into a small museum with a selection of Moroccan crafts and paintings by Jacques Majorelle.