I sat down with a cup of tea and my Marrakech guidebook and began putting a list together of all the places that I wanted to see while I was there. The list was long and rather intimidating. To visit my ‘top of the list’ destination and not to see everything seemed like such a waste. But like everywhere else in the world, it turns out not all sites are worth a visit, especially if you are short on time.
Five of the places we visited stood out for me. These are the sites I would want to visit again if we went back and so these are my suggestions for art and history lovers spending time in Marrakech.
This palace was built in the 19th century and is a classic example of Andalusian architecture. As well as the traditional hammam and fountains, there is a stunning central courtyard area, which has a magnificent (both in size and intricacy) rosewood chandelier hanging from the ceiling. In 1997 it was restored and converted into a museum, which houses a great collection of both modern and traditional art, as well as various historical artefacts including pottery, coins and weapons.
Pay attention to the ceilings and the doors. They are all stunning. The cafe outside is the perfect spot for an ice-cream before making your way across to the Medersa Ben Youssef (which is included in the price of your ticket)
Medersa Ben Youssef
Even though I’d seen pictures of the patio and water basin inside the former Islamic College, I just wasn’t prepared to see it in the flesh. What a stunning piece of architecture. To think that 900 students used to live here while they were studying the Koran is incredible. Now you can wander around appreciating its sheer beauty. If you’re a fan of mosaics, you are going to love this place.
You enter the Saadian Tombs via a very narrow and twisting alleyway – which I suspect is one of the reasons why even though it dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, it wasn’t ‘discovered’ until the 1920’s.
The tombs are made up of three main burial chambers and a small garden and I found it to be both incredibly peaceful and beautiful… so much so that I wondered if they might allow me to be buried there!
When Boon told me that he wanted to go and see the mud-brick ruins of a palace, I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but as it was just a few minutes walk from the Saadian Tombs, I thought we might as well go and check it out.
It took armies of labourers 25 years to complete the Badii Palace. The walls and ceilings were encrusted with gold and it was said to be among the most magnificent palaces ever built. 100 years after being finished a conquering sultan came along and stripped the palace bare of everything of value.
The view from the terrace is impressive. As the houses in Marrakech are lower than I’m used to, you really notice the satellite dishes – it did seem a little weird to be standing on top of a palace built in 1578, looking at a mosque built in 1190, with all those dishes in-between.
It seems that the Stork population of Marrakech is rather fond of the Badii Palace and there are many living there. According to my wonderful Guidebook, there an old Berber belief that storks are actually transformed humans – which makes me wonder if the whole ‘stork delivering babies’ legend originates from something like that.
I absolutely loved Badii Palace and am so glad I went (but don’t tell Boon that – we don’t want him thinking he was right about something!)
In complete contrast to the rest of my Marrakech highlights the Majorelle gardens are incredibly green and lush.
In 1924 Jacques Majorelle, a French painter, bought some land and started creating a botanical garden around his studio. It was a popular attraction from when they opened in 1947 until Majorelle died and the gardens closed in 1962. In 1980 fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent rescued and re-opened the gardens.
Now it is a wonderful way to spend an hour, breathing in all that fresh air and enjoying the incredible ‘Majorelle blue’ which you can see everywhere. If I hadn’t been travelling with only hand luggage I’d have picked up a couple of cans to take home. There is also a delightful cafe to grab some lunch.
Marrakech is an incredible place that I’m hoping to head back to soon. When you visit, make sure you allow plenty of time just to wander around. Sit on the terrace of a cafe overlooking the main square and watch the world go by. And if you get tired of all the walking, a horse and carriage ride around the medina walls is just lovely.