The Kingdom of Morocco is a land rich in history and Marrakech is one of its crown jewels. Also known as the Red City because of the way its red sandstone buildings reflect the light, it has beckoned to travelers for centuries. What kinds of attractions are in store for those who come to this northwest African city? Here is a brief taste.
• Medina of Marrakech: The heart of Marrakech lies in its historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As visitors stroll through this 11th-century labyrinth of alleyways, they’ll see that Marrakech’s history remains intact. Past visitors said that the medina is a must-see, especially at night. Most of its popular food and merchandise stalls are situated in Jemaa El Fna, but for a less crowded atmosphere, explore the streets outside the medina’s main square. It’s easy to lose one’s bearings here, so some former travelers also suggest visiting with a guide.
• Jemaa El Fna: Sitting at the center of the medina, this open-air square stands as the city’s main gathering spot. By day, Jemaa El Fna hosts dozens of entertainers, from snake charmers to fortune tellers to herbalists. By night, the area fills with the aromas of piping hot couscous, grilled meats and simmering vegetables from the food stalls. From the square, narrow alleyways lead intrepid shoppers through a maze of souks (markets), composed of spice vendors and carpet sellers who will stop at nothing to get you to buy something. Here’s a tip: Never settle for the original price.
• Bahia Palace: This 19th-century palace exemplifies the lavish lifestyle of the Moroccan elite. Before it was accessible to the public, this property housed various Moroccan royals. Although the palace was ransacked in the early 1900s, members of the royal family continue to occasionally stay here. Meanwhile, visitors can check out the public areas of the property, which feature rounded entryways that lead to colorful mosaics and intricate latticework, as well as cool, shady walkways that guide visitors to vast, sunny courtyards and gardens.
• Badi Palace: During the 16th century, the Badi Palace was once a playground for Saadian royalty. Today, all that remains of the Badi Palace are picturesque sandstone ruins, the skeleton of a once-opulent home. But visitors can still envision the Badi’s grandeur as they stroll past the four sunken gardens and empty reflecting pools, walk beneath the 50 chandeliers and eight Venetian sconces in the prayer hall, and admire the 300,000 aluminum tiles that adorn the roof. The former palace also houses several objects from Koutoubia Mosque’s minbar (or pulpit) that are worth a look.
• Koutoubia Mosque: In the southwest corner of the medina, within walking distance of the bustling Jemaa El Fna, lies Marrakech’s most recognizable landmark, Koutoubia Mosque. Featuring intricate tile work, salmon-hued walls, expansive archways and an impressive 253-foot-tall minaret (or tower), this 12th-century Moorish mosque has served as the model for several other notable religious sites, including the Hassan Tower in Rabat, Morocco, and La Giralda in Seville, Spain. If you’re set on seeing the inside of a mosque, head elsewhere, since this one does not permit entry to non-Muslims.
• Majorelle Garden: When it comes to beautiful green spaces in Marrakech, Majorelle Garden steals the show. It was crafted by French painter Jacques Majorelle. After his death in 1962, the property was bought by fellow Marrakech-lover and late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and it was eventually opened to the public after Saint Laurent’s death. Thick bamboo, palm and cactus groves shelter trickling streams, ponds filled with water lilies and a bright blue water fountain that matches the adjacent Berber Museum are just some of the property’s features.
• Museum of Photography: Situated in the medina by the Medersa Ben Youssef, this photography museum features roughly 10,000 original prints from photographers like Jean Besancenot, Joseph Bouhsira and Pierre Boucher, many depicting various Moroccan scenes and landmarks. Collections with postcards, glass negatives and documentaries, plus a library with 19th- and 20th-century works are also available on-site. Another highlight of this property is its rooftop terrace, which offers tasty Moroccan cuisine and breathtaking city and mountain views.
As resplendent in sights and sounds as it is in its heritage, Marrakech is a locale worth savoring by the intrepid traveler.
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