What's to Explore in Marrakech, Morocco?
Marrakech is a colourful, enchanting city of contrasts, allowing visitors to immerse themselves into the vibrant traditional atmosphere of the Medina, tour the palaces and mosques, take shade in the elegant gardens, and enjoy the modern amenities of Ville Nouvelle.
Djemaa El Fna:
There are few places on earth as exotic, or as strange, as Djemaa el Fna (Place of the Dead), the busiest square on the entire African continent, and much of the reason why travellers have been lured to Morocco for centuries. At any time of day there is something beguiling occurring on this public square, where wealthy sultans once beheaded enemies and criminals. Snake charmers, musicians, palm readers, gypsies, bedouins, dentists, men selling dried animal parts for potions, and an endless array of colours mix in a swirling rhythm of energy.
Wander around and soak up the atmosphere, or stop off at one of the stalls to sample harira soup, couscous, tripe, tajine, freshly squeezed orange juice, dried fruits or tea. For a great view and a chance to escape the hustle and bustle try one of the rooftop cafes overlooking the square, where you can relax with a cup of mint tea and enjoy the spectacle.
Named after a bazaar of booksellers that once stood nearby, the Koutobia Mosque is one of the most stunning pieces of architecture you will find in Morocco. The mosque was constructed in the early 12th century by Almohad Sultan Abdel Moumen, and is topped by three golden orbs, offered, according to legend, by the sultan's mother as penance for missed fasting days during Ramadan. The red brick minaret stands approximately 70m high, and can clearly be seen from all points of the city. If you think the mosque looks vaguely familiar, it may be because it was used as a model for the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville.
Majorelle botanical garden, owned by French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent since 1980, is quite stunning and offers a wonderful break from the otherwise dry, dusty cityscape - it is an oasis in the city if ever there was one. The blue hues, lush green plants from five continents, and small lily strewn ponds show a side of Morocco that you shouldn't miss. Designed by the expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1924, the shade of bold cobalt blue which he used extensively in the garden, and on the studio walls is named after him, Majorelle bleu.
The Bahia (meaning "brilliance") Palace was built in the late 19th century by Si Moussa, Grand Vizier of the Sultan, also known as Abu Ahmed, a black slave who rose to power and enormous wealth. With plans to create the most magnificent palace of its time, Ahmed commissioned craftsmen from Fez to design the ornate building for him and his favourites concubines. Blending Moroccan and Islamic styles, the buildings are highly decorative and elaborate - arguably too much so for most modern tastes. A central, two-acre garden is surrounded by rooms intended for his concubines and is one of the highlights of a tour.
Containing centuries-old olive groves and palm trees, the country retreat of Menara Gardens is an ideal place to flee the chaos of the city. To this day the original underground canals innovatively irrigate the 30,000 plus olive trees. Replacing older buildings from the 16th century, the current pavilion was rebuilt for Moulay Sulieman in the early 19th century and has a stylised European appearance, with arched openings and faux red bricks trimming them.
Situated in the north-west of the Kasbah, the beautiful Saadian Tombs date back to the mid 1500's and feature stunning coloured tile work, intricate carvings and grand marble pillars. Sultan Ahmed Al-Mansour, who ordered the construction of the mausoleum complex, was also the first to be buried there, and his tomb, not surprisingly, is one of the most ornate. The tombs were sealed in the early 1700's and nearly forgotten until 1917 when they were reopened.
Medersa Ben Youssef:
This medersa (Koranic school) was built in 1565 for Sultan Moulay Abdullah el-Ghalib of the Saadians and was the largest in Marrakech with several hundred teachers and students. In its heyday it was the preeminent medersa in Marrakech, but it was closed in 1960 and is now open solely for visitors. The complex is centred on a lovely courtyard, with a fountain and reflecting basin. The walls and doorways are ornately decorated in a variety of materials: look out in particular for the fine prayer hall containing the mihrab (prayer niche).
The ancient quarter of Marrakech inside the city walls is where most of the population resides and the major reason for its nickname "the red city". The 16km-long city walls and over 200 towers that circle the Medina all have a reddish hue that has become one of the city's defining characteristics.
The sprawling maze containing many souks follows the most traditional way of life, and its thick high walls conceal many treasures. Plain fronted doorways open out into pretty courtyards, revealing beautiful riads, restaurants and shops. Without question, the Medina is the most interesting part of the city. If you get lost, you can always pay a child to lead you out.
Also known as the modern city and Gueliz, this section of town to the west of the Medina is filled with wide boulevards, modern shops, business amenities, hotels and restaurants. Though not nearly as atmospheric as the old town, it has its own charms and is a good place to stay. Being modern, it has a more international feel to it than the rest of the city, and is thus popular with expats and wealthy Moroccan business people.
Suzain Allen is a Travel Consultant and she has years of experience in travel industry. She in now introducing her views about some best sights in Marrakech.
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