Marrakesh, or Marrakech (Berber: ⵎⵕⵕⴰⴽⵛ; Arabic: مراكش, Murrākuš) is an important city in the African country of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country. Marrakesh is the capital of the economic region of Marrakesh-Tensift-El Haouz.
Marrakesh is the most important city out of all of Morocco's cities that used to be imperial cities. Berber farmers lived in Marrakesh during Neolithic times. Abu Bakr ibn Umar, the chieftain and cousin of the king of the Almoravids Yusuf ibn Tashfin, founded Marrakesh in the year 1062. The Almoravids built many schools and mosques in Marrakesh. Marrakesh has the name "Red City" because a lot of it is made out of red sandstone.
Tourism is important to Marrakesh, and the city has about 400 hotels, some very grand indeed.
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Marrakesh has the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco and the image of the city is closely associated with its souks. Paul Sullivan cites the souks as the principal shopping attraction in the city: "A honeycomb of intricately connected alleyways, this fundamental section of the old city is a micro-medina in itself, comprising a dizzying number of stalls and shops that range from itsy kiosks no bigger than an elf's wardrobe to scruffy store-fronts that morph into glittering Aladdin's Caves once you're inside." Historically the souks of Marrakesh were divided into retail areas for particular goods such as leather, carpets, metalwork and pottery. These divisions still roughly exist but with significant overlap. Many of the souks sell items like carpets and rugs, traditional Muslim attire, leather bags, and lanterns. Haggling is still a very important part of trade in the souks.
One of the largest souks is Souk Semmarine, which sells everything from brightly coloured bejewelled sandals and slippers and leather pouffes to jewellery and kaftans. Souk Ableuh contains stalls which specialize in lemons, chilis, capers, pickles, green, red, and black olives, and mint, a common ingredient of Moroccan cuisine and tea. Similarly, Souk Kchacha specializes in dried fruit and nuts, including dates, figs, walnuts, cashews and apricots. Rahba Qedima contains stalls selling hand-woven baskets, natural perfumes, knitted hats, scarves, tee shirts, Ramadan tea, ginseng, and alligator and iguana skins. Criee Berbiere, to the northeast of this market, is noted for its dark Berber carpets and rugs. Souk Siyyaghin is known for its jewellery, and Souk Smata nearby is noted for its extensive collection of babouches and belts. Souk Cherratine specializes in leatherware, and Souk Belaarif sells modern consumer goods. Souk Haddadine specializes in ironware and lanterns.
Ensemble Artisanal is a government-run complex of small arts and crafts which offers a range of leather goods, textiles and carpets. Young apprentices are taught a range of crafts in the workshop at the back of this complex.
City walls and gates
The ramparts of Marrakesh, which stretch for some 19 kilometres (12 mi) around the medina of the city, were built by the Almoravids in the 12th century as protective fortifications. The walls are made of a distinct orange-red clay and chalk, giving the city its nickname as the "red city"; they stand up to 19 feet (5.8 m) high and have 20 gates and 200 towers along them. Bab Agnaou was built in the 12th century during the Almohad dynasty. The Berber name Agnaou, like Gnaoua, refers to people of Sub-Saharan African origin (cf. Akal-n-iguinawen – land of the black). The gate was called Bab al Kohl (the word kohl also meaning "black") or Bab al Qsar (palace gate) in some historical sources. The corner-pieces are embellished with floral decorations. This ornamentation is framed by three panels marked with an inscription from the Quran in Maghrebi script using foliated Kufic letters, which were also used in Al-Andalus. Bab Agnaou was renovated and its opening reduced in size during the rule of sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah. Bab Aghmat is located east of the Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, and is near the tomb of Ali ibn Yusuf. Bab Berrima with its solid towers stands near the Badi Palace. Bab er Robb (meaning "Lord's gate") is a southern exit from the city, near Bab Agnaou. Built in the 12th century, it provides access to roads leading to the mountain towns of Amizmiz and Asni. Bab el Khémis, situated in the medina's northeastern corner, is one of the city's main gates and features a man-made spring.
The Menara gardens are located to the west of the city, at the gates of the Atlas mountains. They were built around 1130 by the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu'min. The name menara derives from the pavilion with its small green pyramid roof (menzeh). The pavilion was built during the 16th century Saadi dynasty and renovated in 1869 by sultan Abderrahmane of Morocco, who used to stay here in summertime.
The pavilion and a nearby artificial lake are surrounded by orchards and olive groves. The lake was created to irrigate the surrounding gardens and orchards using a sophisticated system of underground channels called a qanat. The basin is supplied with water through an old hydraulic system which conveys water from the mountains located approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi) away from Marrakesh. There is also a small amphitheater and a symmetrical pool where films are screened. Carp fish can be seen in the pond.
The Majorelle Garden, on Avenue Yacoub el Mansour, was at one time the home of the landscape painter Jacques Majorelle. Famed designer Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the property, which features a stele erected in his memory, and the Museum of Islamic Art, which is housed in a dark blue building. The garden, open to the public since 1947, has a large collection of plants from five continents including cacti, palms and bamboo.
The Agdal Gardens, located south of the medina and also built in the 12th century, are royal orchards surrounded by pise walls. Measuring 400 hectares (990 acres) in size, the gardens feature citrus, apricot, pomegranate, olive and cypress trees. Sultan Moulay Hassan's harem resided at the Dar al Baida pavilion, which was situated within these gardens. This site is also known for its historic swimming pool, where a Sultan is said to have drowned.
The Koutoubia Gardens are situated behind the Koutoubia Mosque. They feature orange and palm trees, and are frequented by storks. The Mamounia Gardens, more than 100 years old and named after Prince Moulay Mamoun, have olive and orange trees as well as a variety of floral displays.
In 2016, artist André Heller opened the acclaimed garden ANIMA near Ourika, which combines a large collection of plants, palms, bamboo and cacti as well as works by Keith Haring, Auguste Rodin, Hans Werner Geerdts and other artists.
Palaces and Riads
The historic wealth of the city is manifested in palaces, mansions and other lavish residences. The main palaces are El Badi Palace, the Royal Palace and Bahia Palace. Riads (Moroccan mansions) are common in Marrakesh. Based on the design of the Roman villa, they are characterized by an open central garden courtyard surrounded by high walls. This construction provided the occupants with privacy and lowered the temperature within the building. Buildings of note inside the Medina are Riad Argana, Riad Obry, Riad Enija, Riad el Mezouar, Riad Frans Ankone, Dar Moussaine, Riad Lotus, Riad Elixir, Riad les Bougainvilliers, Riad Dar Foundouk, Dar Marzotto, Dar Darma, and Riad Pinco Pallino. Others of note outside the Medina area include Ksar Char Bagh, Amanjena, Villa Maha, Dar Ahlam, Dar Alhind and Dar Tayda.
El Badi Palace
The El Badi Palace flanks the eastern side of the Kasbah. It was built by Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur after his success against the Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings in 1578. The lavish palace, which took around a quarter of a century to build, was funded by compensation from the Portuguese and African gold and sugar cane revenue. This allowed Carrara marble to be brought from Italy and other materials to be shipped from France, Spain and India. It is a larger version of the Alhambra's Court of the Lions. Although the palace is now a ruin with little left but the outer walls, the site has become the location of the annual Marrakech Folklore Festival and other events.
The Royal Palace, also known as Dar el-Makhzen, is located next to the Badi Palace. The Almohads built the palace in the 12th century on the site of their kasba, and it was partly remodeled by the Saadians in the 16th century and the Alaouites in the 17th century. Historically it was one of the palaces owned by the Moroccan king, who employed some of the most talented craftsmen in the city for its construction. The palace is not open to the public, and is now privately owned by French businessman Dominique du Beldi. The rooms are large, with unusually high ceilings for Marrakesh, with zellij (elaborate geometric terracotta tile work covered with enamel) and cedar painted ceilings.
The Bahia Palace, set in extensive gardens, was built in the late 19th century by the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh, Si Ahmed ben Musa (Bou-Ahmed). Bou Ahmed resided here with his four wives, 24 concubines and many children. With a name meaning "brilliance", it was intended to be the greatest palace of its time, designed to capture the essence of Islamic and Moroccan architectural styles. Bou-Ahmed paid special attention to the privacy of the palace in its construction and employed architectural features such as multiple doors which prevented passers-by from seeing into the interior. The palace took seven years to build, with hundreds of craftsmen from Fez working on its wood, carved stucco and zellij. The palace is set in a two-acre (8,000 m²) garden with rooms opening onto courtyards. The palace acquired a reputation as one of the finest in Morocco and was the envy of other wealthy citizens. Upon the death of Bou-Ahmed in 1900, the palace was raided by Sultan Abd al-Aziz.
Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in the city, located in the southwest medina quarter of Marrakesh alongside the square. It was completed under the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184–1199), and has inspired other buildings such as the Giralda of Seville and the Hassan Tower of Rabat. The mosque is made of red stone and brick and measures 80 metres (260 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide. The minaret was designed to prevent a person at the top of the tower from viewing activity within the king's harems. The Umayyad-style minaret is constructed from sandstone and stands 77 metres (253 ft) high. It was originally covered with Marrakshi pink plaster, but in the 1990s experts opted to remove the plaster to expose the original stone work. The spire atop the minaret is decorated with gilded copper balls that decrease in size towards the top, a style unique to Morocco.
Ben Youssef Mosque
Ben Youssef Mosque, distinguished by its green tiled roof and minaret, is located in the medina and is Marrakesh's oldest mosque. It was originally built in the 12th century by the Almoravid Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf in honor of Yusuf ibn Ali al-Sanhaji. When built it was the city's largest mosque but today it is half its original size. It was rebuilt in the 1560s by Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib, as the original had fallen into ruin. He also built a madrasa with a large library beside the mosque, but this also deteriorated over time, leaving only the 19th-century mosque intact. The Almoravid Koubba Ba’adiyn, a two-storied kiosk, was discovered in a sunken location on the mosque site in 1948. In the Moroccan architectural style, its arches are scalloped on the first floor, while those on the second floor bear a twin horseshoe shape embellished with a turban motif. The dome of the kiosk is framed by a battlement decorated with arches and seven-pointed stars. The interior of the octagonally arched dome is decorated with distinctive carvings bordered by a Kufic frieze inscribed with the name of its patron, Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf. The quinches at the corners of the dome are covered with muqarnas. The kiosk has motifs of pine cones, palms and acanthus leaves which are also replicated in the Ben Youssef Madrasa.
The Kasbah Mosque overlooks Place Moulay Yazid in the Kasbah district of Marrakesh, close to the El Badi Palace. It was built by the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansour in the late 12th century to serve as the main mosque of the kasbah (citadel) where he and his high officials resided. It features a unique floor plan and courtyard layout that sets it apart from other classic Moroccan mosques. It contended with the Koutoubia Mosque for prestige and the decoration of its minaret was highly influential in subsequent Moroccan architecture. The mosque was repaired by the Saadi sultan Moulay Abd Allah al-Ghalib following a devastating explosion at a nearby gunpowder reserve in the second half of the 16th century. Notably, the Saadian Tombs were built just outside its qibla (southern) wall, and visitors pass behind the mosque to see them today.
The Mouassine Mosque (also known as the Al Ashraf Mosque) was built by the Marinids in the 14th century in the style popularized by the Almohads. It is located in Mouassine and is part of the Mouassine complex, which includes a library, hamman, madrasa (school) and the Mouassine Fountain, the largest and most important in the city. Located on a small square to the north of the mosque, it is a triple-arched fountain of Saadian origin. It is decorated with geometric patterns and calligraphy.
The Saadian Tombs were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum to bury numerous Saadian sultans. It was lost for many years until the French rediscovered it in 1917 using aerial photographs. The mausoleum comprises the corpses of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty that originated in the valley of the Draa River. Among the tombs are those of Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and his family; al-Mansur buried his mother in this dynastic necropolis in 1590 after enlarging the original square funeral structure. It is located next to the south wall of the Almohad mosque of the Kasba, in a cemetery that contains several graves of Mohammad's descendants. His own tomb, richly embellished with decorations, was modeled on the Nasrid mausoleum in Granada, Spain. The building is composed of three rooms; the best known has a roof supported by twelve columns and encloses the tomb of al-Mansur's son. The room exemplifies Islamic architecture with floral motifs, calligraphy, zellij and carrara marble, and the stele is in finely worked cedar wood and stucco. Outside the building are a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants.
Tombs of the Seven Saints
The Medina holds the tombs of the seven patron saints of Morocco, which are visited every year by pilgrims during the week-long ziara pilgrimage. According to tradition, it is believed that these saints are only sleeping and will awaken one day to resume their good deeds. A pilgrimage to the tombs offers an alternative to the hajj to Mecca and Medina for people of western Morocco who could not visit Arabia due to the arduous and costly journey involved. Circumambulation of the tombs is undertaken by devotees to achieve inner purity. This ritual is performed on Fridays in the following ordained sequence: Sidi Yusuf ibn Ali Sanhaji, Sidi al-Qadi Iyyad al-Yahsubi, Sidi Bel Abbas, Sidi Mohamed ibn Sulayman al-Jazouli, Sidi Abdellaziz Tabba'a, Sidi Abdellah al-Ghazwani, and lastly, Sidi Abderrahman al-Suhayli. The most important of the seven tombs is the shrine of Sidi Bel Abbas.
The old Jewish Quarter (Mellah) is situated in the kasbah area of the city's medina, east of Place des Ferblantiers. It was created in 1558 by the Saadians at the site where the sultan's stables were previously located. At the time, the Jewish community consisted of a large portion of the city's bankers, jewelers, metalworkers, tailors and sugar traders. During the 16th century, the Mellah had its own fountains, gardens, synagogues and souks. Until the arrival of the French in 1912, Jews could not own property outside of the Mellah; all growth was consequently contained within the limits of the neighborhood, resulting in narrow streets, small shops and higher residential buildings. The Mellah, today reconfigured as a mainly residential zone renamed Hay Essalam, currently occupies an area smaller than its historic limits and has an almost entirely Muslim population. The Alzama Synagogue, built around a central courtyard, is located in the Mellah. The Jewish cemetery here is the largest of its kind in Morocco. Characterized by white-washed tombs and sandy graves, the cemetery is located within the Medina on land adjacent to the Mellah.
As one of the principal tourist cities in Africa, Marrakesh has over 400 hotels. Mamounia Hotel is a five-star hotel in the Art Deco-Moroccan fusion style, built in 1925 by Henri Prost and A. Marchis. It is considered the most eminent hotel of the city and has been described as the "grand dame of Marrakesh hotels." The hotel has hosted numerous internationally renowned people including Winston Churchill, Prince Charles of Wales and Mick Jagger. Churchill used to relax within the gardens of the hotel and paint there. The 231-room hotel, which contains a casino, was refurbished in 1986 and again in 2007 by French designer Jacques Garcia. Other hotels include Eden Andalou Hotel, Hotel Marrakech, Sofitel Marrakech, Palm Plaza Hotel & Spa, Royal Mirage Hotel, Piscina del Hotel, and Palmeraie Golf Palace. In March 2012, Accor opened its first Pullman-branded hotel in Marrakech, Pullman Marrakech Palmeraie Resort & Spa. Set in a 17 hectares (42 acres) olive grove at La Palmeraie, the hotel has 252 rooms, 16 suites, six restaurants and a 535 square metres (5,760 sq ft) conference room.
The Marrakech Museum, housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace in the old city centre, was built at the end of the 19th century by Mehdi Menebhi. The palace was carefully restored by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation and converted into a museum in 1997. The house itself represents an example of classical Andalusian architecture, with fountains in the central courtyard, traditional seating areas, a hammam and intricate tilework and carvings. It has been cited as having "an orgy of stalactite stucco-work" which "drips from the ceiling and combines with a mind-boggling excess of zellij work." The museum holds exhibits of both modern and traditional Moroccan art together with fine examples of historical books, coins and pottery produced by Moroccan Jewish, Berber and Arab peoples.
Dar Si Said Museum
Dar Si Said Museum, also known as the Museum of Moroccan Arts is located to the north of the Bahia Palace. It was the townhouse of Sidi Said, brother to Grand Vizier Bow Ahmad, and was constructed at the same time as Ahmad's own Palace De La Bahia. The townhouse was the envy of reigning sultan Abd al-Aziz, and after the Vizier’s death the sultan had this house ransacked. The collection of the museum is considered to be one of the finest in Morocco, with "jewellery from the High Atlas, the Anti Atlas and the extreme south; carpets from the Haouz and the High Atlas; oil lamps from Taroudannt; blue pottery from Safi and green pottery from Tamgroute; and leatherwork from Marrakesh."
Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum of Islamic Art (Musée d'Art Islamique) is a blue-coloured building located in the Marjorelle Gardens. The private museum was created by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in the home of Jacques Majorelle, who had his art studio there. Recently renovated, its small exhibition rooms have displays of Islamic artifacts and decorations including Irke pottery, polychrome plates, jewellery, and antique doors.
Music, theatre and dance
Two types of music are traditionally associated with Marrakesh. Berber music is influenced by Andalusian classical music and typified by its oud accompaniment. By contrast, Gnaoua music is loud and funky with a sound reminiscent of the Blues. It is performed on handmade instruments such as castanets, ribabs (three-stringed banjos) and deffs (handheld drums). Gnaoua music's rhythm and crescendo take the audience into a mood of trance; the style is said to have emerged in Marrakesh and Essaouira as a ritual of deliverance from slavery. More recently, several Marrakesh female music groups have also risen to popularity.
The Théâtre Royal de Marrakesh, the Institut Français and Dar Chérifa are major performing arts institutions in the city. The Théâtre Royal, built by Tunisian architect Charles Boccara, puts on theatrical performances of comedy, opera, and dance in French and Arabic. A greater number of theatrical troupes perform outdoors and entertain tourists on the main square and the streets, especially at night. Christopher Hudson of the Daily Mail noted that "men dressed as women performed bawdy street theatre, to the delight of a ring of onlookers of all ages."
The arts and crafts of Marrakesh have had a wide and enduring impact on Moroccan handicrafts to the present day. Riad décor is widely used in carpets and textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metal work and zelij. Carpets and textiles are weaved, sewn or embroidered, sometimes used for upholstering. Moroccan women who practice craftsmanship are known as Maalems (expert craftspeople) and make such fine products as Berber carpets and shawls made of sabra (cactus silk). Ceramics are in monochrome Berber-style only, a limited tradition depicting bold forms and decorations.
Wood crafts are generally made of cedar, including the riad doors and palace ceilings. Orange wood is used for making ladles known as harira (lentil soup ladles). Thuya craft products are made of caramel coloured thuya, a conifer indigenous to Morocco. Since this species is almost extinct, these trees are being replanted and promoted by the artists' cooperative Femmes de Marrakech.
Metalwork made in Marrakesh includes brass lamps, iron lanterns, candle holders made from recycled sardine tins, and engraved brass teapots and tea trays used in the traditional serving of tea. Contemporary art includes sculpture and figurative paintings. Blue veiled Tuareg figurines and calligraphy paintings are also popular.
Festivals, both national and Islamic, are celebrated in Marrakesh and throughout the country, and some of them are observed as national holidays. Cultural festivals of note held in Marrakesh include the National Folklore Festival, the Marrakech Festival of Popular Arts (in which a variety of famous Moroccan musicians and artists participate), international folklore festival Marrakech Folklore Days and the Berber Festival. The International Film Festival of Marrakech, which aspires to be the North African version of the Cannes Film Festival, was established in 2001. The festival, which showcases over 100 films from around the world annually, has attracted Hollywood stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Irons, Roman Polanski and many European, Arabic and Indian film stars. The Marrakech Bienniale was established in 2004 by Vanessa Branson as a cultural festival in various disciplines, including visual arts, cinema, video, literature, performing arts, and architecture.
Surrounded by lemon, orange, and olive groves, the city's culinary characteristics are rich and heavily spiced but not hot, using various preparations of Ras el hanout (which means "Head of the shop"), a blend of dozens of spices which include ash berries, chilli, cinnamon, grains of paradise, monk’s pepper, nutmeg, and turmeric. A specialty of the city and the symbol of its cuisine is tanjia marrakshia a local tajine prepared with beef meat, spices and "smen" and slow-cooked in a traditional oven in hot ashes. Tajines can be prepared with chicken, lamb, beef or fish, adding fruit, olives and preserved lemon, vegetables and spices, including cumin, peppers, saffron, turmeric, and ras el hanout. The meal is prepared in a tajine pot and slow-cooked with steam. Another version of tajine includes vegetables and chickpeas seasoned with flower petals. Tajines may also be basted with "smen" moroccan ghee that has a flavour similar to blue cheese.
Shrimp, chicken and lemon-filled briouats are another traditional specialty of Marrakesh. Rice is cooked with saffron, raisins, spices, and almonds, while couscous may have added vegetables. A pastilla is a filo-wrapped pie stuffed with minced chicken or pigeon that has been prepared with almonds, cinnamon, spices and sugar. Harira soup in Marrakesh typically includes lamb with a blend of chickpeas, lentils, vermicelli, and tomato paste, seasoned with coriander, spices and parsley. Kefta (mince meat), liver in crépinette, merguez and tripe stew are commonly sold at the stalls of Jemaa el-Fnaa.
The desserts of Marrakesh include chebakia (sesame spice cookies usually prepared and served during Ramadan), tartlets of filo dough with dried fruit, or cheesecake with dates.
The Moroccan tea culture is practiced in Marrakesh; green tea with mint is served with sugar from a curved teapot spout into small glasses. Another popular non-alcoholic drink is orange juice. Under the Almoravids, alcohol consumption was common; historically, hundreds of Jews produced and sold alcohol in the city. In the present day, alcohol is sold in some hotel bars and restaurants.
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