Historical Sites & Monuments
ALI BEN YOUSSEF MEDERSA
Visit the Ali Ben Youseef Medersa for its spectacular interiors. The 16th-century Koran school, where up to 900 students would have lived and studied, was lovingly restored in the late 1990s. The serene courtyard has a central water-filled basin and façades enhanced with tiling, stucco and carved cedar.
One of the 20 gates into the ancient city (medina) of Marrakesh. This 12th-century 'gate of the Gnaoua' (named for the sub-Saharan slaves who served the sultan) was one of the first stone monuments in Marrakesh and a triumph of Marrakshi artisanship.
Enter ramparts and enormous gateway near Pl. des Ferblantiers in the Medina.
Ruins of 16th-century Sultan Ahmed el-Mansours palace.T oday it is hard to picture the former glories of the once spectacular architectural achievement, as it was plundered for its rich decorative materials only a century after its construction. In one of the refurbished pavilions, the Koutoubia minbar is now on exhibition. Storks with their huge nests have also taken resident on the ruined Palace walls, climb up the rampart for a 'Storks-eye' view over the Mellah
A 19th-century palace with lush decoration so highly worked that it verges on kitsch. Open daily.
Avenue Mohammed V, Marrakech.
The centrepiece of Marrakech is the square tower of the Koutoubia minaret, attached to the Koutoubia Mosque, built in the early 1100s. It's not particularly high but it towers over the Medina thanks to a long-standing planning ordinance that forbids any other building in the old city to rise above the height of a palm tree. Like all mosques in Marrakech, it is closed to non-muslims and women.
Rue de la Kasbah near the city walls in the Medina, beneath the minaret of the Kasbah mosque.
Open daily, 8:30am-5:45pm (closed 11:45am-2:30pm)
Built by the Saadian Sultan Ahmed el Mansour in the late 16th century as a final resting place for himself and his successors, however it was only discovered in 1917. Now restored, there are 66 indoor tombs, lavishly decorated with colourful, intricate mosaics. The central mausoleum, the Hall of the Twelve Columns, is exceptionally ornate with a high vaulted roof, furnished with stunning carved cedar panels and columns of grey Italian marble.
Museums, Galleries & Gardens
8 Derb Charfa Lakbir Mouassine, off Rue Mouassine, Marrakech (00 212 44 42 64 63;
Set in a restored townhouse among the souks, Dar Cherifa is a literary café and gallery space. Great pains have been taken to expose carved beams and stucco work while leaving walls and floors bare and free of distraction, all the better to enhance the hanging of regular exhibitions by resident local and foreign artists. The venue also hosts occasional performances by gnawa and Sufi musicians and incorporates a small library. Anybody is free to drop by, and tea and coffee are served.
MUSEE DE MARRAKECH
Place Ben Youssef, Medina, Marrakech (00 212 524 441 893;). Open daily.
At the heart of the Medina, the Musée de Marrakech is a conversion of an opulent, early 20th-century house formerly belonging to a local grandee. Exhibits rotate but concentrate on Moroccan and/or Islamic arts and crafts such as court ceramics and tribal textiles. The star attraction is the building itself, particularly the polychromic-tiled central court. There's a pleasant courtyard café and a very good bookshop. Crucially, the museum is one of the very few air-conditioned buildings in the old city - worth the price of admission alone during the hot summer months.
Open Daily 8:30am-5:30pm
The Menara gardens are located just out of town with a magnificent backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. They were built in the 12th century by the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu'min.
The name menara derives from the pavillon 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 basin (an artificial lake) are surrounded by orchards and olive groves.
Avenue Yacoub el-Mansour, Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech (00 212 524 301 852;
Privately owned by fashion designer and long-time Marrakech resident Yves Saint Laurent, the Majorelle Garden was created in the 1930s by two generations of French artists, Louis Majorelle and his son Jacques. The former's speciality was furniture, the latter's Orientalism, but the enduring Majorelle legacy is a virulent shade of powder-blue that carries their name. It colours the water channels, urns and the artists' former studio (now a museum of Islamic art), making a striking contrast with bamboo groves, cacti, great palms and pools floating with water lilies. The effect is like walking through a Gauguin painting.
Squares & Souks
The focal point of Marrakech is Djemaa el-Fna, a colourful market square in the heart of the ancient walled Medina. By day it's a buzz with dozens of fresh orange juice sellers touting at tourists to visit there cart; snake charmers mesmerizing their serpents with a hypnotic tune, henna artists, diaper clad monkeys, herbalists with cures for everything and nothing and even men with tweezers sitting behind folded tables displaying hundreds of teeth. Yet, this is nothing compared to the carnival of the weird & wonderful that fill the square at dusk, along with the 100 food vendors with their haze of delicious smells that descend over the crowds every evening.
Spectators gravitate around the pounding drums of dancers , story tellers, singers, Gnawa musicians and transvestite belly dancers in whats been aptly describe as the greatest free show on earth'. Tourists are welcome to watch but nothing here is staged for their benefit.
The whole northern part of the Medina is made up of overlapping souks, each devoted to a different trade. Wandering through these Souks is definately an experience in sensory overload. There is the Dyer's Souk, where skins and brightly coloured wool are hung out to dry, the Leather Souk, where you can watch all kinds of sandals and shoes being made, the Spice Souk with it's colourful and aromatic selection of goods and the Carpet Souk where intricate patterns are weaved into carpets using age old techniques. One of the loudest places is the fascinating Blacksmith's Souk, where welders make sparks fly and the constant noise of banging and clanging resonates through you. Nimble fingers bend and shape the metal into beautiful lanterns or ornate chairs to receive a final, shiny layer of lacquer before drying in the hot sun. You are sure to find an authentic hand crafted treasure to take home as a remindered of your trip to Marrakech. But getting the price you wish to pay will be by far the biggest experience of your Souk Shopping ........ love it or hate it, you MUST haggle and haggle well!!!
What to buy? Babouches (little pointy slippers), leather purses, bags and belts are also good buys. Ceramics including decorative bowls and tagines (not to be used for cooking), hand turned lemonwood utensils & BBQ skewers. Perhaps some tassels, napkin rings or curtain tie backs which come in an amazing array of colours. But if your airline luggage limit can take it, it's hard to pass up the intricate lamps and lanterns with their beautiful filigree work.