Everywhere you look in the Djemaa el-Fna, one of the main cultural spaces in Marrakesh and major symbol of the city since its foundation in the eleventh century, you’ll discover drama in progress and this is why it attracts travelers from all around the world.
This triangular square provides everyday commercial activities and various forms of entertainment. All day long, and well into the night, a variety of services are offered, such as dental care, traditional medicine, fortune-telling, preaching, and henna tattooing; water-carrying, fruit and traditional food may be bought.
Nevertheless, the show doesn’t peak until shadows fall and snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkeys, Gnaoua dancers, senthir players and hundred of chefs arrive with grills in tow, cueing berber musicians to tune up their instruments. It transforms this city center into an open-air theatre and that’s explains why the Djemaa el-Fna was inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2001) by Unesco.
In addition, one can enjoy many performances by storytellers, poets, snake-charmers, Berber musicians (mazighen), Gnaoua dancers and senthir (hajouj) players. The oral expressions would be continually renewed by bards (imayazen), who used to travel through Berber territories. They continue to combine speech and gesture to teach, entertain and charm the audience. Adapting their art to contemporary contexts, they now improvise on an outline of an ancient text, making their recital accessible to a wider audience.
BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA
The Ben Youssef Madrasa was an Islamic college in Marrakesh, who expanded the city and its influence significantly. In this college, hundreds of students from all over the country In Morocco, learnt about sciences, and especially theology.
Considered for ages as the most sumptuous of the Arab world, this madrasa based in Marrakech, built in 1570 on the saadian sultan’s Abdellah Al Ghalib initiative, is composed of a central courtyard, 132 rooms and a marble basin, stuccos, mosaics.
After his refurbishment in 1982, the building reopened to the public and it is considered as one of the most interesting historical site in Marrakech.
THE BAHIA PALACE
Built during the nineteenth century, the Bahia Palace used to belong to the great master of the kingdom, Si Ahmed ben Musa, Great vizir of sultans Moulay el Hassard the first and Moulay Abd el Aziz. The Bahia palace, which literally means Palace of the beauty was a gift from the great vizir to the favorite of his 80 official wives.
The typical beauty of the monument makes it one of the most admirable palace of Marrakech. The different parts of the palace, that comprise small interior gardens et fountains, cover a surface approaching 10 h. Indeed, the building has more than 150 rooms. The royal family keeps going to the palace to stay there some time.
Only a small part of it is open to the public. Though, we can still admire the andalouse garden, the private apartments of the so-called “beauty” and the consulting room.
EL BADI PALACE
Proudly called “The incomparable Palace”, the El Badi Palace in Marrakech is reminiscent of the saadian troops victory over the portuguese army by the end of the sixteenth century. Its construction was commissioned by the monarch Ahmed al-Mansur Saadi who had gained power after his brother’s death during the battle of three kings that ended on the year 1578. The wealth of the new sultan was so great that he decided to build a gigantic palace of an unaccountable value (made of materials such as onyx, marble, gold).
The palace took no less than twenty-five years to attain such a level of magnificence. Once built, one could number 360 different rooms ! The main function of the building was to house royal parties and ceremonies. Nowadays, the building is mostly ruined, while it stays encircled by numerous gardens and ornamental lakes. The palace was not destroyed during a con flit but by one man, king Moulay Ismail, who, jealous of this architectural prowess, decided to have it destroyed by 1696.
On every year, during the annual morrocan folklore party, the ruined palace breathes again by welcoming celebrations, while it also stays alive all year long by welcoming many birds that made their nest there.
DAR SI SAÏD MUSEUM
Formerly a large residence built in the end of the 19th century by Si Saïd, Ba Ahmed brother’s, chamberlain of the sultan Moulay Hassan Ier and grand vizier of Moulay Abdelaziz, Dar Si Saïd is now used as a museum since 1932 by the Administration of the Beaux Arts. The Dar Si Said museum in Marrakech, is dedicated completely to the moroccan wood handicraft.
The essential of the collectifs of this regional museum comes from Marrakech and the south (Souss, High Atlas, Anti Atlas, Bani).
We find homogeneous groups of woodwork, jewels originate from the south, pottery and ceramic, arms, costume and a rich collection of carpets, weaving of the south and some archaeological finds including the marble basin of the beginning of the 11th century.
Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi spared no expense on his tomb, importing Italian Carrara marble and gilding honeycomb muqarnas (decorative plasterwork) with pure gold to make the Chamber of the 12 Pillars a suitably glorious mausoleum.
Al-Mansour played favourites even after he died, keeping alpha-male princes handy in the Chamber of the Three Niches , and relegating to garden plots some 170 chancellors and wives – though some trusted Jewish advisors earned pride of place, literally closer to the king’s heart than his wives or sons. All tombs are overshadowed by his mother’s mausoleum in the courtyard, carved with poetic, weathered blessings and vigilantly guarded by stray cats.
Al-Mansour died in splendour in 1603, but a few decades later, Alawite Sultan Moulay Ismail walled up the Saadian Tombs to keep his predecessors out of sight and mind. Accessible only through a small passage in the Kasbah Mosque, the tombs were neglected by all except the storks until aerial photography exposed them in 1917.
As the most famous and visible monument of the city of Marrakech, the Koutoubia mosque is the local eiffel tower. Abdelmoumen, first monarch of the Almohade dynasty, built this mosque during the twelfth century. Its grandson Yacoub El Mansour finalized the work by adding a superb minaret. Each of its face are different from one another. The alluring ornamentation and the equilibrium of its architectural parts make this tower prestigious. Standing at 69 meters high, the Koutoubia is the highest minaret of Morrocan and truly help to locate oneself in the city. At its summit, three balls are there to symbolize earth, water and fire. The mosque used to be one of the most important one in Morroco. As a true cultural center, one could find the major manuscripts of that time.
MINBAR OF THE KOUTOUBIA
The minbar is is a mosque pulpit ordered by the sultan Ali Ben Youssef. Its construction started in 1137 to end eight years later. First settled in the Ali Mosque, it has then been displaced towards the Koutoubia Mosque, also called the librarian’s mosque. This minbar made of sculpted wood and decorated with marquetry was of an extremely high value, as a true jewel of the hispanic-moor art of the twelfth century. It can be moved by a very ingenious system of rope that made some believe that it was magical. One can now see it at the El-Badi Palace.
Considered as one of the greatest gate of the Medina of Marrakech, Bab Agnaou was built during the 13th century at the time of the Almohad dynasty in order to protect the acces to the administrative and military headquarters of the Kasbah.
Also called by some sources “the mute ram without horns”, the façade of Bab Agnaou consists of alternating sections of stones, likely quarried not too far from oçthe other monuments marrakech, and bricks surrounding the horseshoe arch. The corner-pieces are decorated with floral decorations extending around a shell. This ornamentation is framed by three panels and on these panels is an inscription from the Quran in Maghribi, foliated Kufic letters.
The stone appears to be in a poor state. The causes of the decay have been attributed to the presence of soluble salts, particularly chlorides and sulfates, present in the mortar used to fix the stones. Local air pollution is also having a negative effect on the state of the gate.
Bab Agnaou was renovated and its opening reduced in size, during sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah, around mid to late 18th Century.