Marrakech's must-sees, the red one

If Morocco had to be bottled, it would be called Marrakesh! Also known as the Pearl of the South or the Red City, it is the gateway to the delights, dreams and colors of the Arab-Berbero culture. Marrakesh, this gigantic oasis in the middle of the walls delimiting the imperial city, sits proudly facing the largest desert in the world, the Sahara. Its history is closely linked to Morocco, so much so that it has given its name to the country and, more anecdotal, to Morocco's great specialty: leather utensils, i. e. leather leather. Fez has long been a favorite, it will take 1529 and the Saadian dynasty so that Marrakesh again becomes the undisputed capital of Morocco reunified.

The Moroccans will give it to you: ' Marrakech is our roots'. The trackage at every hour of the medina, the artisans strenuous to carve wood in their small shops, the street sellers mixing with the connected bars and their European tariffs all show a contrasted reality of the city, between tradition and modernity. Whatever your choice, the climate of Marrakech and its sun falling on these facades with ochre dyes, its palaces, its princely gastronomy and its square Jemaâ el-Fna, are all reasons not to be satisfied with its image of postcard…

Who is not in mind, without even ever going there, Marrakech and its place Jemaâ el-Fna in the heart of the city, like an open theater, a recognized masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity in 2001? Sulfurous, she served the Alawites of Strike Square: criminals, rebels and thieves were beheaded there, and their heads were stuck on a wall in the eyes of all. Hence its current name: The Assembly of the Dead, the Meeting of the Laments, or the Place du Néant, according to translations… A landmark of the underground economy and its informal souks, the market is expelled when the new bus station is inaugurated there.

The best time to admire the wooden wardrobe and caravans of the walking merchants meddling with the show of monkeys, scientists and other snake charmers is when the late afternoon points to the end of its nose. The day declines all gently and the acetylene lamps of the gargoers illuminate gradually the square that empties… You're sitting a little while playing elbows around a wooden table where you taste a harira or kefta skewers, facing a sheep head delicately placed on the pond! Here you are at the heart of Jemaâ el-Fna, where Morocco lives.

La Médersa Ben Youssef, long regarded as the most resounding Koranic school in the Arab world, does not leave any of the visitors crossing his door to the heavy indifferent bronze beats. Out of the middle of the xivth century thanks to the marinan sultan Abou el-Hassan at the same time as those of Fez, Meknès, Salé and Taza, the médersa Ben Youssef was only a small school of theology at the time. When the Saadian Prince Moulay Abdallah had her reconstructed and embellished around 1565 that his architecture, inspired by marinide and Andalusian, revealed himself in all his majesty. The decoration of the rooms alternates brilliantly between marble, cedar wood, stuc and mosaics.

The inner courtyard, deep and deep rectangle of marble and adorned in the center of a large ablution basin, astonishes its sobriety. Then, in the background, the upper prayer room of a cedar-shaped pyramid made of cedar wood is protected from any possibility of profane gaze coming from the outside through one of Morocco's most beautiful open portals. On the dome, the twenty-four small windows in full hangers, stoned with stucco, offer a striking spectacle when the rays of the sun spawn a path and the mihrab decorated with verses of the Koran sculpted on plaster fascinates believers. You have to see him at least once…

In Marrakech, believers turn to Koutoubia for their prayers. This masterpiece of Hispanic-Violin art of the twelfth century is one of the most unmissable religious buildings in North Africa with its minaret overcome by a lanternon, himself crowned with four golden balls. Non-Muslims will be confined to its exterior, with the interior of the mosque acting as a place of worship and Koranic school. It was during the takeover of the city by the Almohades, in 1147, that sultan Abd el-Moumen, whose project was to establish a firm doctrine of Islam within his walls, gave his new capital of a mosque. But confusing speed and haste, the first building that comes out of earth is not to be directed towards Mecca… Abd el-Moumen makes it destroy the field (and chess its architect) to build the one we know today, completed in 1199.

The two works coexisted for a few years. Recently excavations revealed the remains of the first Koutoubia and an old palace that can be seen today on the outskirts of the present Koutoubia. What a spectacle at sunset when the orange sky comes into the colors of its minaret…

Lover of botany, show up in the garden Majorelle, it will not be platonic, on the contrary! This haven of peace and greenery created in the 1920 s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle around his Art Decco workshop surprised by its modernity. Botanist and great amateur of Moroccan flora, the French artist shapes his botanical garden around his villa, structured around a long central basin, where he planted the rarest essences he brings from his travels around the world: cactus, yuccas, bougainvilleas, palm trees, philodendrons, etc.

And it was in 1937 that the artist had the idea of this blue overseas both intense and clear: the blue Majorelle, which he painted the walls of his studio, and then all the garden to make it a living painting that he opened to the public in 1947. In 1962, the artist's death left an abandoned garden, and it was the new owners, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who gave him new youth by replanting almost 300 species in large surrealistic and colorful pots. The former workshop of Majorca is now transformed into a small Berber art museum, after having long been an Islamic art museum.

In this palace of tales of Miles and One Nights erected from 1880 by the great Vizir Sidi Moussa for his beautiful (bahia), favorite among his twenty-four official concubines. The work "too" well done, young king Moulay Abdel-Aziz ordered the looting in 1900, jealous not to be the origin of its unrivaled wealth throughout the kingdom… The local architect, El-Hadj Mohammed ben Makki el-Misfoui, inspired by Andalusian art, then built the palace in several stages and finished it after seven years of hard work.

Without precise ordering, the 8 hectares of the great vizir's remains quickly take the appearance of a real labyrinth. From the room of honor and reception to the wooden ceilings of Atlas and Meknès cedar, to the nearby courtyard of honor, paved with Carrara marble and surrounded by an ambulatory to the painted columns decorated with zelliges, not forgetting the large violin garden planted with orange trees, Cypress, daturas and jasmins, no corners escape his cunning! Enjoy the large majestic Riad with richly furnished and decorated rooms.

At a time when heat crushes the city, the gardens of the Menara appear like an oasis in the desert. With its majestic pool, this ancient olive grove offers an exquisite promenade in the sunset. Legends are going well on the history of the Menara Basin: Of the storytellers of Jemaâ el-Fna Square who tell you that he overlooks the place where the Almoravide Abu Bekr, founder of the city, buried the fabulous loot amassed during his campaigns, to other historians evoking the bones of the mistresses of the cruel Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (the reputation for throwing more than one of his favorites into the dark waters of the water body…), the reality seems quite different.

The original goal of the Almohades was to store rainwater as well as those from nearby mountains, drained through the khettaras system. In these calm waters, full of poetry, is reflected the pavilion of the Menara to the pyramid roof, a true architectural ovor built by the Saadians in 1866. From its large balcony to balustrade, the view is magnificent.

This museum is located in the Mnebhi Palace, one of the most beautiful houses built in the imperial city at the end of the nineteenth century. The residence was built on the model of the peristyle house according to which the pieces fit around an open patio, the woodworks on painted motifs borrowed from European art framing its windows. Inaugurated in 1997, and fully restored by the industrialist and collector Omar Benjelloun, his many pieces were diverted from their original use. In the courtyard, the small patio and the hammam you can discover contemporary works while the large patio is decorated with Moroccan heritage (adorns, costumes, ceramics, coins). If the collections do not unleash crowds, the visit of this monument is worth a glance for the beauty of the decorations that, over 2,000 m 2, occupy space. Impressive also, the chandelier of the central patio which, with its false spacecraft, weighs 1,200 kg for a diameter around 5 meters. The museum often hosts films, concerts and theater performances. For bibliophhiles, a detour by the small bookstore, rather well provided, will not be luxury.

Saadian tombs are where the princes of the Saadian dynasty reigned without sharing Marrakech and Morocco for 125 years. Ahmed le Doré's mission, in the sixteenth century, is to embellish the koubba of his father's remains, Moulay Abdallah, his grandfather, Mohammed Ech-Sheik, founder of the Saadian dynasty, as well as the marinan sultan Abu el-Hassan, buried here in 1310 59. Ahmed el-Mansour, the illustrious architect of the indelible El Badi Palace, wants to make these mausoleum masterpieces of Marrakech art. Decorated with multicolored zelligas, lined with arabesques, archesques of stalactites of stucco and adorned with Italian marble, these tombs are such riches for the eyes that when Marrakech falls into the hands of Alaouites, in 1654, Sultan Moulay Ismail, yet famous to shave everything that evokes the good of its predecessors (for example, the palace El Badi) does not dare touch it. He decided only to limit access to the few knowledgeable faithful, who could now access them through a stolen door located in the Kasbah mosque. The presence of Saadian tombs was revealed to the public only in 1917, with an access corridor pierced next to the mosque to allow non-Muslims to admire this architectural ensemble in perfect conservation condition where 66 members of this illustrious dynasty are located.

Built at the end of the nineteenth century to serve as cocoon to the brother of the grand Vizir Ba Ahmed, the grand chambellan Si Saïd, Dar Si Saïd was transformed in 1932 in the Museum of Fine Arts. We go there for the Moroccan and Moroccan crafts: Traditional walnut or cedar houses from the villages of the Atlas Atlas and southern Kasbahs to traditional Berber clothing worn during wedding ceremonies through the kitchen utensils (in white iron) and the city (in copper and mesh of Marrakech), everything is there! Where your eyes will diverge like those of a child, dreamer, it is on the first floor, not for the apartments of Si Saïd and its Hispano-Violin décor, but for its carpets covering the ground. The carpets are in as many fabrics and colors as in the souks, which will add to the pleasure of buying and dreaming… Do not miss the sublime interior patio of the museum surrounded by four rooms and flowered by bougainvillea, jasmins and daturas. The birds in the area come to find refuge in the music booth of the nineteenth century, located in the center of the garden and transformed into a basin lined with zelliges motifs.

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