Marrakesh, also known as the “Red City”, is a major city in Morocco. It is located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, just to the south of the Sahara Desert. Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in Morocco, after Casablanca, Fez, and Tangier.
The city was founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain of the Moroccan Berber tribe of the Almoravids. It was the capital of the Almoravid dynasty until it was conquered by the Almohads in 1147. Marrakesh then served as the capital of the Almohad Caliphate until it was taken by the Marinids in 1269.
Top Rated Marrakesh Attractions & Things to See in Marrakesh
Today, Marrakesh is a major tourist destination and economic hub. The city is home to a number of historical landmarks, such as the Koutoubia Mosque, the Saadian Tombs, and the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Below, you find the top-rated attractions in Marrakesh.
Museum of Contemporary African Art
The museum is located in the heart of the Al Maaden golf resort in Marrakesh. Here you can see installations, sculptures, paintings, and photographs by more than 40 African artists. The museum’s temporary exhibitions are constantly updated. In addition to the 900 sq. m, here you can still see the Sculpture Park, created in 2013 by artists from all over the world. On the lower floor of the museum, there is a cafe and a boutique with the creations of young designers.
Marrakech Leather Dyeers (Marrakech Tanneries)
If you are not planning to visit Fez, then you can visit the Moroccan leather dyers in Marrakesh as well. They are not as impressive as Fez, but they give a great idea of the technologies used. The leather dressing has been a traditional Moroccan craft since the 11th century. The technics of leather processing in these workshops have not changed since the Middle Ages: pigeon droppings, natural materials, and various acids to soften and color it. Hence the specific smell that visitors should be prepared for! You can look here without a guide, but with a guide, it will be more interesting.
Museum of Art and Culture of Marrakesh
The museum, located in the area of the new city of Geliz, was opened in February 2016 and introduces its visitors to objects of Moroccan art, photography, painting, furniture, jewelry, and ceramics. At the museum’s permanent exhibition, you can see about 80 works by European Orientalist artists: Delacroix, Legrand, Majorelle, Herrera, and others.
Temporary exhibitions highlight various themes and aspects of Moroccan art: naive painting, the image of a woman in the paintings of Moroccan artists, Morocco in movie posters… Thematic meetings and conferences are also held here. This is a small but pleasant museum worth visiting while walking around Gueliz. The visit will take half an hour.
Hidden in the heart of the bazaars of Marrakech, is an old building whose history is read in lace carvings on plaster and wood. Sherif’s gift, built in the era of the Saadian dynasty (late 15th – early 16th century), is a real hidden treasure. Today, art exhibitions, literary meetings and music concerts, meetings with storytellers, and master classes in Arabic calligraphy and ceramics are held here, which makes Sheriff’s Gift one of the main cultural scenes of the Red City. Inside is a good restaurant and cafe, so you should have at least a glass of Moroccan tea here!
House of Photography (Maison de la photographic)
This private museum located in the medina of Marrakech displays a collection of vintage photos of Morocco from 1870 to 1950. Here are just some of the titles of the museum’s exhibitions: “Women of Morocco”, “Jews of Morocco”, “Morocco at the dawn of modernity”, and “Marrakech from a bird’s eye view”…. Many of the photographs presented at the exhibition can be purchased. After viewing the exhibition, you can enjoy Moroccan tea on the panoramic terrace.
The garden of Menara was founded in the 12th century by Almohad ruler Abd-el-Mumin. It is a large olive grove with a pond in the middle. On the bank of the pond, which is home to carp, there is an elegant 16th-century pavilion with a green tiled roof. The pond served to irrigate the surrounding gardens, and the pavilion was the Sultan’s summer retreat. The ancient hydraulic system still supplies water to the gardens from the surrounding mountains, 30 km away. It makes sense to stop by the garden for half an hour to photograph the postcard view of the pavilion from the pond with the Atlas Mountains in the background. The garden is popular with locals who come here to relax in the shade on hot days.
Dar Si Said
This palace was built in the second half of the 19th century for Si Said – the brother of the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh Bou Ahmed – and is a living embodiment of the skill of Moroccan artisans. This is an impressive building with 2 floors and several cozy green patios. Of particular admiration is the main hall with a high dome. Now, Dar Si Said is the Museum of Moroccan Art, which displays carved barn doors, Tuareg bags, pottery, embroidery, carpets, and Berber jewelry. However, the most significant interest is the architecture and decor of the building itself. There are not as many tourists here as in the Bahia Palace and in the garden. It is pleasant to relax under the chirping of birds and the fountain’s murmur.
This garden with magnificent Arab-Andalusian architecture in the heart of the medina. It was opened in 2016 but the history of the place dates back to the 16th century when the Saadian Sultan Moulay Abdullah built his palace here. The owners have been changed multiple times and abandoned as well until two Italians bought this land in 2008. During the restoration of the Riad, they discovered an intact underground irrigation basin. Thus, the idea of recreating the garden was born.
The Secret Garden consists of two parts: the first part contains exotic plants and cacti from all five continents, and the second is an Islamic garden that embodies heaven on earth through the orderliness of geometric shapes. You should definitely climb the tower of the garden (one of the highest in the medina) and admire the view of the old city, the Atlas Mountains, and the minaret of Koutoubia.
Dar El Bacha Palace
The Dar El Basha Palace (which means ” Pasha’s House “) was built in 1910 for the pasha (ruler) of Marrakesh, Tami El Glaoui. The guests of this house were such eminent personalities as Maurice Ravel, Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker, and Winston Churchill. In 2017, the palace was restored and opened to the public as the Museum of Cultural Fusion.
Dar El Basha is a beautiful example of Moorish architecture with a patio. Cozy patios with mosaic fountains are planted with orange trees. The halls of the palace are decorated with carved ceilings, painted doors, zellige mosaics, marble tiles, and stone carvings. The constantly changing display showcases various aspects of Moroccan culture.
Ruins of El Badi Palace
El-Badi Palace (Arabic ” incomparable palace”) was built under the influence of the architecture of the Alhambra in 1578 for Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur from the Saadian dynasty. The palace consisted of 360 rooms, a courtyard, and a pool richly decorated with Italian marble and gold from Sudan. It also had an underground prison in the form of a tunnel, where the ruler kept his prisoners. After the fall of the Saadian dynasty, their residence quickly fell into disrepair.
At the beginning of the XVIII century. by order of the Alawite Sultan Moulay Ismail, the palace was dismantled, and its materials were used to build the palace in Meknes and other buildings. Today, all that remains of it are impressive ruins with a huge courtyard in the middle. From the dilapidated walls of the palace, which were chosen by storks, you can enjoy the view of the medina and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
The tombs of the Saadian dynasty in the heart of the medina of Marrakesh is a richly decorated monuments of architecture of the 16th century. The remains of about 60 members of this clan are buried here. Soldiers and servants of the family are buried in the garden surrounding the tombs.
Menebhi Palace – Marrakesh Museum (Menebhi Palace – Marrakech Museum)
This palace in the Arab-Andalusian style was built in the 19th century. Today, the richly decorated building of the palace is the Museum of Marrakech with two sections: one of them is dedicated to traditional heritage (calligraphy, manuscripts, coins, and ancient jewels), and the other to temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. The Marrakesh museum is located next to Ben Yousef Madrassah and Almoravid Kubba. All 3 monuments can be visited with a single ticket. If you are limited on time.
The Almoravides were a religious Berber dynasty that founded Marrakesh in the 11th century. From here, their empire expanded to Morocco territory and part of the Iberian Peninsula. Thanks to them, Marrakech became a prosperous capital with beautiful gardens, palaces, and mosques.
Today, the only thing left from that era is Kubba, built-in 1117. All other monuments of the Almoravid era were destroyed by the order of the Almohad dynasty that replaced them. Initially, the building served as a place of ablution on the territory of a large mosque, which is now lost. It had a system of toilets, showers, and taps with water that came from underground through bronze pipes.
The decorative style of Kubba with vegetative ornaments, lancet arches, and a dome had a great influence on Moroccan architecture, and the complex form of windows became a hallmark of Almoravidian architecture. On the foundation of Kubba, one can see the oldest example of cursive Maghrebi script in North Africa. The building is below ground level and was excavated in 1952. This is clear evidence of how much the cultural layer in the Marrakesh medina has grown over the millennium.
Ben Youssef Madrasah
Ben Youssef Madrasah is one of the main masterpieces of Islamic art in Morocco. This madrasah (religious school) is the largest in Morocco, named after the Almoravid sultan Ali ibn Yusuf who built it. Its construction lasted from the 14th to the 16th centuries. 130 student rooms are located around a spacious patio, richly decorated with cedar wood carvings, stucco, marble and mosaics. The pool in the center of the patio once served as a place to perform ablutions.
Yves Saint Laurent Museum
The name of this great fashion designer is inextricably linked with Marrakech. Saint Laurent first visited the Red City in 1966, and since then the color of its noisy streets and bazaars has become one of the primary sources of inspiration in his work. Saint Laurent owned the Majorelle Garden and a villa in Marrakesh, which he visited every year to work on his collections.
In October 2017, a museum was opened in his honor in Marrakech, together with the museum of the same name in Paris, which presents to the public about 5,000 pieces of clothing and 15,000 haute couture accessories in constantly changing exhibitions. In the branch of the museum in Marrakech, you can see about 50 pieces of clothing created by the designer, his sketches, and photographs. It also hosts temporary exhibitions on fashion, contemporary art, design, and anthropology. The visit will take at least half an hour.
The garden was founded in the 30s of the last century by the French orientalist Jacques Majorelle. It took about 40 years to build it. After his death, the garden fell into disrepair in the 80s. it was bought and brought back to life by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who fell under the spell of Marrakesh and became one of the first Western celebrities who decided to settle in the Red City.
Here he drew inspiration for his collections, absorbing the bright colors and heady exoticism of the oriental bazaars. The garden is famous for its rich collection of tropical plants and cacti, picturesque ponds, and pavilions of bright blue, which is called “Majorelle blue”. After the death of Yves Saint Laurent, his ashes were scattered in this garden.
The Majorelle Garden is one of the most visited attractions in Marrakesh, so it’s better to visit it in the morning.
Medina and souks of Marrakech (Medina & Souks)
The way of life in the old city (medina) of Marrakech has not changed much over the past centuries. This is one of the reasons why it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is here that all the abundance, charm and exoticism of the southern capital of Morocco are concentrated! Here, residents wear traditional clothes, bake bread in a public bakery, bathe in a hammam, and carry goods on mules.
Almost all the main architectural and historical monuments of Marrakesh are concentrated in the medina, and luxurious riads and restaurants are hidden behind inconspicuous doors. However, the main thing that most tourists come to the city for is the famous bazaars of Marrakesh .. They are divided into specialized quarters: grandmother market, spice market, blacksmith market, carpet market and so on. It is also interesting to visit the Jewish Quarter (Mella), where the ancient synagogue is located.
To walk around the medina, it is best to hire a guide who will show you all its secret corners in one day, introduce you to artisans and tell you a lot of interesting things about the life of the local population. Having a guide will also save you from street molesters and beggars.
The main mosque of Marrakesh is located directly opposite Djemaa El Fna Square, surrounded by green gardens. Its 77-meter minaret is visible from a distance of 25 km and is one of the symbols of the city.
Koutoubia was built in the 12th century. caliphs from the Almohad dynasty shortly after their conquest of Marrakech. They declared their enemies and predecessors – the Almoravid dynasty – heretics, and under the pretext of the wrong orientation of the qibla (direction to Mecca), they demolished all the mosques they built. Koutoubia was to become the new main mosque of the city and a symbol of the power of the new dynasty. However, the Almohads also made a mistake with the qibla orientation : the first building of the mosque had to be demolished and everything rebuilt in a new way.
The name Kutubia (from the Arabic ” kutub”– books) comes from the booksellers’ market, located in the neighborhood. The simplicity of the architecture, the graceful decor and excellently balanced proportions made the building one of the most beautiful monuments of the Maghreb, which served as a model for two other famous mosques – the Giralda in Seville and the Hassan Tower in Rabat.
Many tourists wonder what the balls on the spire of the minaret mean. This architectural element is typical of all mosques in Morocco. According to one version, 3 balls symbolize 3 “religions of the book”: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Others, symbolize 3 worlds: underground, earthly and heavenly.
According to the third, they embody the 3 main shrines of Islam: the Kaaba in Mecca, the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. However, there are 4 copper balls on the spire of Koutoubia. According to legend, there were originally three of them, and they were all made of gold. One day the wife of Caliph Yakub al-Mansur broke the fast during Ramadan and ate 3 grapes before sunset. To atone for the sin, she donated all her gold jewelry, from which the fourth, smallest ball on the spire was melted.
The Bahia Palace (“Palace of the Beauty”) in the heart of the Marrakech medina is the main architectural landmark in the city, which is definitely worth a visit. The palace was built in the 18th century. for the adviser of Sultan Hassan the First. Later it was expanded by the son of the Sultan, who lived here with his 4 wives, 24 concubines and numerous children. In 1912, the palace was occupied by General Lyauté, head of the French protectorate in Morocco. The total area of the palace is about 8 hectares, but only a part of its 150 rooms is open to tourists.
Bahia Palace is famous for its rich decor in classic Moroccan style. Exotic plants bloom on numerous patios and mosaic-decorated fountains murmur. The space is divided by graceful columns, alcoves and arches. The semi-dark halls are decorated with wood painting, openwork stone carving and zellige mosaics, while the ceilings and niches are decorated in the form of domed muqarna vaults, similar to honeycombs. Stained glass shimmers in the sun with all the colors of the rainbow. Unfortunately, the decoration of the halls has not been preserved, but one can easily imagine how magnificent the palace looked in the past era.
Due to the fact that the palace was repeatedly completed and rebuilt, its layout is similar to a labyrinth. The tour of the palace will take about an hour. During the high season, its patios and pavilions can be difficult to push through with a large number of tourist groups. If you do not like crowds, instead of the Bahia Palace, you can see the smaller, but no less beautiful Pasha’s Palace (Dar El Bacha).
Djemaa el Fna Square
Djemaa el Fna Square is the pulsing heart of Marrakech’s old town, It is an active place from morning to evening. Its name is a translation of “area of severed heads” due to the fact that criminals were executed here.
During the day, you can see water sellers in suits with wide-brimmed hats, snake charmers, fortune tellers, traditional healers, and Gnawa musicians. The latter, for just a few coins, will play a whole performance in front of you with acrobatic dances, drums, and rattles. In the midday heat, you can drink plenty of cool orange juice for a few dirhams and take a picture against the backdrop of a colorful “orange” cart.
In the evening, the panoramic cafe terraces around the square are filled with those wishing to admire the amazing sunset over the medina with a graceful view of palm trees and the Koutoubia minaret on the horizon. At nightfall, Djemaa el Fna transforms into a huge open-air restaurant filled with enticing aromas. Dozens of food trucks offer traditional tagines and couscous, grilled meats and seafood, steaming lamb heads, and boiled snails. Musicians, actors, acrobats, and storytellers take to the square to entertain the crowd.