Marrakech, in Morocco makes a magical tourist destination for all kinds of travelers – from backpackers to family, couples and even just, a bunch of friends. Marrakech literally means – Land of the God. The fourth largest city in Morocco, there are a lot of tourist attractions in Marrakech – for the history lovers and shopaholics, foodies, party as well as nature lovers. Located at the base of the Atlas mountains, at the border of the Sahara Desert, this place was a hub for several trading activities and was also, a capital of the Almohad Caliphate. The cultural and historical influence of this clan is well noticed in this city – with its classic red stone buildings, a reason why the city is called the Red city or the Ochre city. Interesting till late 1860s, no Europeans were allowed into the city. It was only after the French colonization of this city, was this changed. This explains the French touch within the city. A classic Old meets New kind of tourist city, let me give you a taste of the various types of tourist attractions in Marrakech. This will also, tell you as to why I am obsessed about getting here myself! Sigh!
1) For the History Lovers
This place can be a treat for the History buffs and one can be as lost as a kid in a candy store. Tourists can visit not just palaces but museums, tombs and mosques – each with their own tale.
Built by Ba Ahmed, the El Bahia palace is beautifully built with numerous rooms and lovely Eastern Architecture. It is said that the rooms were used by Ba Ahmed‘s concubines and the more important the concubine, the bigger and better the room. Beautiful colored tiles, lavishly decorated rooms, marble and exquisitely designed arches are the features that define the Bahia Palace – the name literally meaning “Palace of the beautiful”. Besides the 150 + rooms in the palace, you can visit the beautiful gardens surrounding it.
The El Badi palace is in ruins owing to the various wars and destruction it has seen but nonetheless, is mind-blowing. The sheer size of the palace with its 300+ rooms can really mesmerize one. It is said that in its glory days, the palace was studded with Gold, precious stones, ivory and marble. Today though none of it exists but one can walk through the palace gardens and see the various sites including the dungeons where the prisoners were kept by the Sultan.
The dead were left forgotten for sometime and the tombs sealed from public by one of Marrakech’s rulers – Moulay Ismail, who was also, responsible for destroying the El Badi palace. Wanting to etch his own history, Moulay Ismail sealed all the entrances to this beautiful tomb, except for the one in Kasbah mosque. Originally built by Sultan Ahmed el Mansour, the tombs is a resting place of the Sultan and his family.The tomb has lovely arches, marble carvings and mosaic flooring. A beautiful garden surrounds the tombs. The tombs were lost for a while till a French General Hubert Lyautey re-discovered them. There has been a lot of restoration work since them and today, it is one of the most popular tourist destination in Marrakech.
A landmark of Marrakesh, this beautiful mosque is easily identified with its tall minaret of 69 meters in height. Though not open to Non-muslims, one can admire the same from outside. The mosque itself is huge and is said to have a capacity of 25 thousand worshippers. It is beautifully lit in the night, making it a very popular photography subject. Atop the minaret are four globes, with the fourth globe having an interesting legend. It is said that the reigning Sultan’s wife felt guilty about eating 3 grapes during Ramazan and hence, to absolve the same, got a Golden globe made from her jewelry for the minaret. Besides these heritage sites, there are plenty of museums and galleries within Marrakesh. A popular one amongst them is the Marrakech Museum which is housed within an old palace. Other important ones would include Dar Si Said and Bert Flint Museum.
2) For the Nature Lovers
Menara Gardens in Marrakesh are beautiful gardens overlooking the Atlas mountains with Olive trees, palms and an artificial tank of water. There is a lovely pavillion along the tank. Built in the 12th century by an Almohad ruler, this is an oasis within the city.
Majorelle Garden is the most popular Moroccon Gardens- popularly referred to as the artist’s gardens. A botanical garden designed by the French artist Jacques Majorellewith marble pools, bamboos, palms, cacti and more. This was re-designed by the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. The garden is famed for the fact that the ashes of the designer Yves Saint Laurent have been scattered through the garden. The garden is an absolute treat for the nature lovers.
Being at the foothills of Atlas mountains, one can even opt for a day outing to the Atlas mountains. There are plenty of tours available for the same.
3) For the Shopaholics
Spending some time in the oldest market of this city – Djemma El Fna can be quite an experience by itself. You might feel as if you are a part of a scene from Aladdin or one of those Arabian nights stories. Djemma El Fna is one of its kind, a UNESCO heritage site – a gypsy market of sorts -from hawkers to tattooist and henna artists , snake charmers, fortune tellers and more. The square is full of drama – from dawn to night. There are some lovely street side cafes for one to relax and watch the market transform. Along the sides are the souqs or markets that offer authentic Moroccan specialties like shoes, spices, carpets, perfumes and trinkets. The Moroccan lamps and wood and metal artifacts are also, quite unusual and a good buy for gifting and souvenir purposes.
Marrakech is known for its tanning artifacts and the jackets and handbags are worth a spend. Remember to bargain hard.
4) For the Foodies
Again, there is no avoiding the Djemma El Fna square , when it comes to food. With the best of Arabic food, this square has lots of cafes and restaurants to offer – for both Vegetarians as well as Non-Vegetarians. There are some amazing food tours in Marrakech that help you decide and sample the authentic cuisine of Marrakech. It is recommended that you try one of them as sampling street food on your own may get a little dicey. Here is a suggested operator for one such tour.
Among the dishes suggested, try out the Harira or the lamb soup as well as the Orange juice. There are various kinds of olives available here and it is worthwhile to sample them as they are quite unique to Morocco. The Moroccan dates are recommended as well. Try out their traditional dish made of Semolina – Couscous.Couscous is generally eaten with meat or vegetables.
And while this post can go on and on about this cultural hot-spot called Marrakech, it seems prudent to stop and allow you all to experience it in real by actually traveling to Marrakech and experiencing it for yourself. And if you have some more time, do plan for the other destinations in Morocco. Here is a suggested Morocco itinerary to get you started.
Getting to Marrakech:
Marrakech has an international airport with very good connectivity to most major cities in Europe. There are plenty of flights available, including low cost airlines .
Airport is located within 5 -6 kms from the city and there are plenty of taxis available for this inter-city travel. The travel fare from airport to city could be in the range of MAD 50 – 70, depending on the place you wish to go to.
Moroccan Visa is not required for European visitors, looking for a stay upto 3 months. Other nationalities might require the same. Here is the official site for information on the same.
Click here to get the official website for Morocco tourism.
Spring (March to May) and Autumn (October -November) are the best times to visit Marrakech. Light cotton clothes would work well during these times. It is advisable to keep a light shawl along with you, especially when visiting the religious places to cover bare shoulders owing to their cultural sensitivity.
While street food can be tempting, exercise caution with the same as it may not be hygienic in some places. Take advice of a local guide or a food tour before attempting it on your own.
Friday is a public holiday for Marrakech and some places maybe, shut for a complete day or definitely for half a day.
Though Arabic and French are their official languages, Marrakech does well with English too.
People in Marrakech are quite friendly. However, do keep a guard on when visiting public places as they are not devoid of pick-pocketers.