Marrakech is the most well-known city in Morocco. Jaw dropping views of the Atlas Mountains sit invitingly in the background and the Sahara desert is 500 miles from the city.It has attracted many visitors over the centuries from Arab and African traders to Berber villagers. Founded under the Almoravid dynasty Marrakech has dominated the landscape as an area of trade and wealth for centuries. It has been a capital more than once over the years, finally yielding its title to Rabat;however, it remains a majestic and commanding city.
The name Marrakech means “land of God” in Berber and one certainly feels a degree of reverence when entering this amazing city. It can get very hot here, becoming cooler in the spring and autumn. There are two main areas in Marrakech the more modern area of Guélizwith hotels, restaurants, shops and nightclubs, and the second and oldest part, which contains the medina with its many souqs, mosques, and palaces. Not far away is the magnificent public square Djemaa el Fna and important area and major public attraction. There is a sense of timelessness here that begs exploration.
Marrakech has survived many changes over the centuries, in the 13th century the Almohad dynasty collapsed with the capital moving to Fez, Marrakech then became a central trading area; becoming capital again in 1524 under the Saadian dynasty,who were to rule for the next century. The French came in the 20th century and Marrakech continued to flourish.
It’s not easy to find your way around the medina and it helps if you have a compass to find your way around the irregular and winding streets, although the entire city is quite flat making it a little easier on the feet when it’s hot. The Djemaa El Fna square is well worth a visit. It was originally a parade ground known as a “mechouar” however Djemaa El Fna is believed to be an Arabic word for “assembly of the dead” and this is because it was also a place of public execution.
The square is a place of entertainment now as well as being an exhibition of breath-taking Moroccan culture. Here you will find anything from musicians to animal traders, snake charmers and furniture sellers. Food stalls provide delicious Moroccan snacks and you can enjoy the entertainment or simply stand and people watch. There is plenty to see and do.
Morocco is host to many palaces each one beautifully built. One of the most impressive is the Bahia palace dating back to the 19th century when it was home to the royal advisor Bou Ahmed. It has been beautifully restored with large meetings rooms and a rather impressive harem! Here Bou Ahmed lived with his four wives, children and several concubines. Bahia means “palace of the beautiful” and with good reason. Each room is beautifully decorated with ornately designed carved decorations, with zellij tile work and marble on the exterior of the building. Two main areas inside have been built at different times with the older part being more simple, and the apartment buildings built at a later period being a little more luxurious.
You will be equally impressed with the Saadian Tombs which are west of the palaces and behind the Kasbah mosque. These marble tombs house about 60 members of the Saadian dynasty and were built around the 16th and 17th centuries. Having been closed off by the Sultan Moulay Ismail in the latter half of the 17th century the Saadian Tombs were hidden from view until the early 20th century when they were spotted by aerial photographers circling the city. There are two mausoleum buildings, one of which houses the more important members of the Saadian dynasty and a second which is populated by royal advisers and generals.
A visit to the Dar Si Said Museum is highly recommended as it houses some remarkable Moroccan artwork. This is a palace converted to house clothes, wood carvings and other equally impressive objects made from various metals and ceramics. It specialises in wood which has been used in art and religion, and as you can imagine the Moroccans have utilised local materials to their advantage. Wooden items include doors made of cedar, almond, and poplar imported from other buildings, with dramatically carved wooden ceilings and mosaic covered walls of its own.
Marrakech is stunning city that caters to all tastes, the fast and modern elements of Gueliz and the more traditional charm of the medina, people watching, drinking in the culture and watching the sunset on the horizon.
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