Marrakech offers a rich mix of colourful sights and lively experiences.
Also, the Koutoubia Mosque (outside only), Medersa Ben Youssef (Koranic School), Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace and the Dar Si Said Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts are of great cultural and historic interest.
All the above are easily reached on foot if staying in the Medina (a popular place to stay in a traditional riad).
The magnificent and tranquil Majorelle Gardens (once owned by Yves St Lauren) are about 30 minutes walking from the Medina (a Petit Taxi could always be taken).
An further enjoyable experience is to take a Caliche trip, a horse drawn carriage tour, around the main areas of central Marrakech.
Marrakech has always been a bustling city, filled with exotic sights, sounds, and aromas. All this excites the senses. “The red city”, Morocco’s second largest city, is named for the natural pink/red ochre pigment in the walls of the buildings.
Marrakech was an important trading centre for the Berbers of the Atlas mountains as well as being on important trade routes through Ouarzazate and on to the Sahara.
The main visitor draw to Marrakech today is Jemaa el Fna Square. Relatively quiet in the mornings and early afternoons, it begins to fill in the late afternoon with musicians, storytellers, henna artists and snake charmers, etc. Many cafes overlook the Square, a fine place to relax and from which to watch the activities as the sun goes down. Then, in preparation for the evenings, many food stalls begin to appear, ready for evening service.
West of Jemaa el Fna is the tall (70m) minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque. The minaret is the oldest of the towers built under the Almohad Dynasty. The mosque can be viewed from the outside but cannot not be entered by non-Muslims. On the north side of the mosque, are the foundations of the original mosque; the newer one had to be rebuilt to properly align with Mecca. At the back of the mosque are the beautiful Koutoubia Gardens, filled with fountains, pools, palm trees and flowers.
It is a fascinating winding maze of small alleyways and markets in the Medina. Many areas are covered/shaded, which is a nice respite from the heat. Some souk areas specialise; Souk el Attarin (Spices), Souk Haddadine (blacksmiths), Souk Smata (slippers). One souk not to miss is the Souk des Teinturiers, the dyers’ souk. Here you can see people dying cloth and yarn and will notice pieces hanging above the streets in the afternoon to dry.
Within the alleyways of the souks you may notice large open spaces and courtyards. These Fondouks were once inns, used by visiting traders and merchants who slept on the upper floors while their animals stayed on the ground floor.
Built in the 16th century, the beautifully renovated Medersa (Koranic School) once housed students of the nearby mosque of Ben Youssef. Inside you can appreciate the carved cedar, stucco plaster and zellij tiling of the central courtyard, wander the old dormitories where up to 800 students once lived, and visit the prayer hall.
On the east of the medina, you’ll find the tanneries of Marrakech and this can be an interesting visit (but do ask for a sprig of mint to carry with you against the odours!).
Secret and hidden for many years and only "discovered" by the inquisitive French Authorities in the 1930's, the oldest of the Saadian Tombs dates back to 1557. Enter through a very narrow passage and you will discover a small garden, graves and three main pavilions. As you gaze inside you will see the detailed and beautiful craftsmanship.
Built in the early 17th century, the El Badi Palace fell into dereliction after the death of El Badi, "The Incomparable" one. Here you can appreciate the extensive courtyard and sunken gardens. NOTE: Renovations are now ongoing here.
Built in the 19th century, the Bahia Palace was the largest and most luxurious palace in its day. Today you can explore the courtyard, gardens, and appreciate the intricate woodwork and painted ceilings.
Not far from the hustle and bustle of the medina, in the Majorelle Gardens you can wander these lush, expansive gardens filled with sub-tropical plants, bamboo, lilies, and palms. It’s a perfect place to escape the afternoon heat and noise for a more relaxing experience.