5 tips for Marrakesh

Panoramic view of Marrakesh and old medina, Morocco
©Olena Z/stock.adobe.com

Marrakesh is also known as the “red city”. Located at the foot of the High Atlas mountain range, the color of its city walls is especially predominant. However, many houses in the medina and even in the modern city also have this hue. Everything here somehow has a “red” touch, but it suits Marrakech very well. This city is the recognized art and culture city of Morocco – here is even a theater and an opera. In 1985, the medina of Marrakech with the famous Juggler Square and together with the Agdal Gardens and the Menara Gardens was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Especially in Marrakesh you will experience how rich in contrast Morocco can be.

Tip 1: Jemaa El Fnaa

In the heart of the Moroccan royal city of Marrakesh lies the Jemaa el Fnaa. The oriental square is full of dried fruit stalls, jugglers and women drawing henna tattoos for the tourists.

Jemaa El Fnaa in Marrakesh
© Tarık Kaan Muşlu | Dreamstime.com

One can find dentists as well as snake charmers or fortune tellers on the busy market place.Oriental storytellers can also be found on Jemaa el Fnaa. You can buy just about anything on Jemaa el Fnaa.  Many culinary delicacies from the Moroccan cultural area are offered here. The market is considered one of the largest “open-air restaurants” in North Africa. For many visitors from the West, Djemaa el Fna represents a typical oriental market, as it is known from many movies and books. Today the square is a huge show that demands all sensory impressions.

The name Jemaa el Fnaa probably refers to the translation “Assembly of Death”. During the time of the Almohad sultans, a Berber dynasty, executions were carried out here. The heads of those executed were impaled and displayed for the populace to see.

The medieval executioner’s square remains an attraction of Marrakesh, which was founded in the 11th century by Abu Bakr ibn Umar. The ruler wanted to establish a homeland for his Almoravids in Morocco. The Berber dynasty was based in Mauritania, the Western Sahara, Algeria and Morocco.

Tip 2: Majorelle Garden

In the 1920s, the French painter Jacques Majorelle came to Marrakesh. Soon after his arrival, he created his personal paradise with this garden. Inspired by the palaces of Marrakesh, Majorelle had his house built in simple, clean lines and designed the blue studio in 1931. The intense, brilliant blue – a special shade of cobalt blue – in which the house was painted is still called the Majorelle blue.

Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh
© Marius Dorin Balate | Dreamstime.com

Jacques Majorelle collected numerous plants from all over the world to create a botanical garden. These included a wide variety of cacti, palms, bamboo and water lilies. After he left Morocco in 1962 following a car accident, the garden became visibly overgrown.

Then, in 1980, it was French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé who discovered the park and bought the property. The place served as both an inspiration and a retreat for the two, who restored the magnificent garden over the years.

In 2008, after Yves Saint Laurent’s death, his ashes were scattered in the rose garden. Today, the Jardin Majorelle is one of Marrakesh’s most popular attractions, with over 700,000 visitors a year.

Tip 3: Kutubiyya Mosque

The Kutubiyya Mosque, also spelled Koutoubia Mosque, is the largest mosque in Marrakech. The name of the mosque means “mosque of the booksellers” or “mosque in the booksellers’ quarter”.

The basic construction dates back to the second half of the 12th century AD. Therefore, the Kutubiyya Mosque is considered one of the oldest surviving mosques in Morocco.

Kutubiyya Mosque at Marrakesh
© Valery Bareta | Dreamstime.com

Originally, the Almoravids had a palace on this site, called the Stone Palace (Ksar al-Hajar). After their expulsion by the Almohads in 1147 CE, the building was demolished and replaced by the Kutubiyya Mosque, then without a minaret, and opened in 1158 CE. The minaret was completed as a tower in 1199 A.D. and still stands today. The mosque got its present name from a souq (bazaar) of booksellers located in the immediate vicinity at that time.

The total building is designed for about 25,000 worshippers and has a floor area of 90 × 60 meters. In the inner courtyard there is a mosque fountain (shadrivan). The covered part of the mosque consists of 17 parallel longitudinal naves and 7 transepts.

The minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is the landmark of the city of Marrakesh and the entire country; it is illuminated every evening and is visible up to 30 kilometers away.

Tip 4: Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh are among the most important necropolises in Morocco. The cemetery is located directly behind the Mosque al-Mansur in the south of the medina. The tomb was forgotten for several centuries. It was only rediscovered by chance in 1917. As part of the medina of Marrakech, the cemetery has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh
© Checco | Dreamstime.com

Visitors enter the Saadian cemetery through a small gate in the wall and narrow passages. The graves are marked by mosaic floors. There are also two magnificent mausoleums. The first mausoleum dates back to the 16th century. It was built by Moulay Ahmad al-Mansur for his father. The magnificent building is lined with Moroccan tile work.

In the mausoleum there is the room of the twelve columns. The columns, made of white Carrara marble, form a square and are crowned by domes. The walls are covered with faience mosaics. Above the band of written elements, the finest stuccoes cover the upper parts of the walls up to the ceiling. In the hall are the sarcophagi of many Saadian sultans and their families.

The second mausoleum in the back of the garden is smaller and contains only two rooms. One serves as a prayer room. It also contains the tomb of the sultan’s wife Lalla Messaouda (died 1591). In the second, larger room are the tombs of sultans and their relatives. In total, 7 sultans and 62 family members have been buried in the two mausoleums. In addition, there are more than 100 other graves in the cemetery.

Tip 5: Marrakesh Medina

In the medina of Marrakesh you will find the famous souks where merchants sell their wares. Here you can buy typical souvenirs of the country, such as spices, colorful cloths, leather goods and lamps.

Marrakesh Medina

Marrakesh and its medina is an absolute must for every traveler to Morocco. Nowhere else can the exotic atmosphere from 1001 Nights be experienced as authentically as in the narrow, winding streets and colorful markets (souqs) of Marrakesh.

Marrakech is divided into several zones. The two most important are the medina and the new town of Gueliz, founded by the French during the protectorate period. The Medina is the more interesting part for tourists because of its markets, buildings and monuments. Those looking for good hotels, bars and restaurants tend to head for Gueliz.

In the city center of Marrakesh is the old medina. Like many of the North African cities, the city of Marrakesh includes both an old fortified city (now called Medina) and an adjacent modern city (now called Gueliz). Today, Marrakesh has a population of about 930,000, although most of these live in the new city and outlying districts. In the center of Marrakesh is the railroad station, built in the historical style, which provides a connection with the north of Morocco and the city of Casablanca. The city of Marrakesh has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco.