Recently crowned as Africa’s Leading Destination at the World Travel Awards is Marrakesh, Morocco’s cultural and historical epicentre. This city is lively, loud, hot and crowded which only adds to its appeal. With mesmerising snake charmers, bustling souqs and intriguing experiences, you’re advised to just go with the flow.
The Djemaa el-Fna is also known as the Main Square and is a key tourist hangout. If you are looking to see some touristy things such as snake charmers and monkeys, then this is your spot. Browse the local bazaars, souks and events during the day to begin your journey in Marrakesh. When you go back in the evening, enjoy the music, dancing, and of course, partake in some of the local foods in the main markets. Polite haggling is expected through the markets, on everything from silverware, rugs and souvenirs. Morocco will host the FIFA Club World Cup in December, although this is a sport of a different kind!
The luxurious Bahia Palace and gardens is a good place to observe the culture of Morocco. It was built in the late 1800s and remains one of the largest palaces in Morocco. The name means ‘brilliance’ and the Palace was a symbol of status. It is surrounded by gardens so you get a lush look into what was deemed “wealthy” at the time. If you are looking to take pleasant walk in a courtyard filled with banana flowers and plants, this is great area for relaxation. The El Badi Palace, aka ‘The Incomparable Palace’ is also highly recommended.
Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
Koutoubia Mosque is by far the largest mosque in Marrakesh. The minaret was actually developed during the reign of Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur, who became well known for his dominance in trade, architecture, philosophy and the sciences. Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret are even more aesthetically pleasing at night because the whole mosque and minaret are lit. The mosque was actually originally intended to block anyone looking into the minaret of the harems of the king.
Ali Ben Youssef Medersa
The particular area of Ali Ben Youssef Medersa has a lot of history. It was an Islamic college dedicated to Almoravid sultan, Ali ibn Yusuf. He was able to expand the city and its power. However, around 1960, it was shut down and is now a historical site to visit. It was actually one of the largest theological colleges at the time and the famous historian, Mohammed al-Ifrani, taught there.
The Jardin Majorelle also known as Majorelle Garden is a really sacred place that hosts a 12 acre botanical and movie star landscape. This was actually designed by Jacques Majorelle, a famous French artist in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The blue shades and the structure was an influence on even fashion designers such as Yves Saint Laurent. He and Pierre Bergé bought the place in 1980 well after it became a public visiting site in 1946. There are different species of birds from North Africa and a great garden setting that was customized by Jacques Majorelle. Laurent died in 2008 and his ashes were spread across the garden. The garden houses the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech and one can see some of the influences of Majorelle and Laurent’s style in textiles, materials, and art.
Medina of Marrakech
One of the interesting things about Marrakech is the dichotomy between the new and the old. Medina, the old Islamic capital, is still around for you to go about and visit. Explore the authentic street food markets which offer all manner of fresh cuisine. One interesting thing you can do is go take a relaxing bath in the Turkish Bath House. There are separate rooms for males and females. It takes you back to ancient times where open baths were very common. The type of architecture is very different because if you stay in a Riad, you’ll notice the outside may not look like very much but the inside is completely different. It’s a great disguise to hide one’s accumulation of wealth.
Of course, you cannot visit a country without really visiting some of the local museums. This is one of the most important things to do in Marrakesh to understand the history and culture. Artwork, religion, and knowing some of the heritage/culture of a country should be an important aspect of your journey. A place that helps you get a taste of this knowledge is The Museum of Marrakech located in the old center of Marrakech. It was originally a palace but renovated into a full blown museum in 1997. For anyone that wants to get a look at ancient architecture, and pottery/coinage from Moroccan Jewish, Berber and Arab cultures, this is definitely your best bet. Enjoy some valuable history stemming from a number of different influences.