Like many North African cities, the Moroccan city of Marrakech is steeped in history, comprising as it is of an ancient fortified city and a modern adjacent city. This comfortable combination of ancient traditionalism and modern developments means that tourists will be in their element when seeking some of the city’s most sumptuous eye candy.
Here, I draw upon my own experience of holidays in Marrakech in this two part series dedicated to some of the most visually gorgeous Marrakech attractions to see during Marrakech holidays. In no particular order, here are ten Marrakech must-see’s.
1. El Bahia Palace
Apparently, the name of this palace, built between 1894 and 1900, translates to ‘palace of the beautiful’ – and it certainly lives up to its name. Sadly, you won’t find Monica Bellucci here, at one of the premier Marrakech landmarks, but you will see plenty of water features, stucco panels, tiled floors, smooth arches, an eight-hectare garden surrounding the palace, plus a lot more. Just be sure to employ a guide, so that you don’t get lost.
2. Ali ben Youssef Medersa and Mosque
As Marrakech historical sites go, the Medersa, a former Islamic college, really does offer one of the most amazing feasts for the eyes with its plentiful art and architecture. You will, for instance, see plenty of carved cedarwood and colourful zellij tiles in the courtyard, while the interior of the prayer hall is covered in pine cone and palm motifs.
The Mosque, another of the truly significant Marrakech heritage sites, is similarly worth a look, though it is only open to Muslims.
3. Majorelle Garden
You can expect a slightly higher entrance fee here than with many Marrakech attractions, but trust me – it’s worth it! The sheer variety of plants on display, many of which you probably never would have seen before, is truly awe-inspiring.
You will probably never see so many different types of cactus plants in the same place ever again in your entire life. You should definitely arrive early, however, as the crowds appearing later can be annoying during any Marrakech holidays.
4. Museum of Islamic Art
You will see a lot to marvel here even before you get inside the thing. Not only is it based in the lovely Majorelle Garden (see above), it is based in a house quite unlike any in the city, boasting as it does a blue and yellow colour scheme and ornate windows. The exhibits themselves, many dating back hundreds of years, include carpets, jewellery, paintings and pottery, making the Museum of Islamic Art one of the most intriguing Marrakech heritage sites to visit during Marrakech tours.
5. Atlas Mountains
Though you will need to embark on an hour’s drive to see these up close, they can nonetheless be seen from several places in Marrakech, since they hover in the sky above the city’s pink defensive walls. The entire mountain range spans about 1,500 miles through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, but only the High Atlas subrange, often coated in snow during the winter months, is visible from Marrakech.
6. Djemma el Fna (Jemaa el Fna)
A place of both beautiful sights and sounds, any respectable Marrakech tours have to include a stop here. At night, it is populated by musicians, dancers and story tellers; by day, you can expect to see snake charmers and people with monkeys.
You should also find stalls there at any time of the day, selling all kinds of stuff – so you can get a bite to eat while you are watching any of the shows, among the most exciting things to do when on holiday in Marrakech. Just remember to pay to watch them.
7. Marrakech Souks
This is a very colourful place – literally, as well as metaphorically. It is basically the main market place of Marrakech, where you can purchase almost anything – food, clothes, cutlery… you get the gist. Try your best to haggle for good prices – though, in my experience, you will probably still end up paying more for goods here than a native would. Those seeking mainly shopping-oriented Marrakech holidays should make this place their first port of call.
8. Saadian Tombs
These date from the time of sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (reigned 1578-1603), but were only discovered in 1917 after being left untouched for centuries. Befitting the name, you can find the graves of about sixty members of the Saadi royal dynasty that ruled Morocco in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The real visual delights here are in the Italian Carrara marble monuments and the gorgeous decoration of the tombs.
9. El Badi Palace
This building, originally constructed in 1578, these days lies in ruins, and is clearly more accustomed to housing stray cats than Moroccan royalty. However, it isn’t difficult to imagine how truly majestic it must have looked prior to being torn apart by Alaouite sultan Moulay Ismail. It remains one of the most fascinating Marrakech historical sites, and exploring it remains one of the most riveting things to do in Marrakech.
10. Koutoubia Mosque
Though named after the booksellers market previously located here, it is fair to say that this, one of the most imposing Marrakech landmarks, is much more aesthetically pleasing than any pile of books. In fact, the minaret of the mosque has often been likened to the Eiffel Tower in Paris – and, like that monument, it looks even more beautiful when lit at night. Getting a photo of yourself and your fellow travellers in front of this is one of the truly essential things to do in Marrakech.