Lest you find yourself going around in circles in Marrakech Medina, here’s the BuzzTrips guide to the top ten things to see in the Red City…
Medersa Ben Youseff
A 14th century school where almost 900 students at any one time were housed to learn the Qur’ an, or Koran. The Ben Youssef was almost completely rebuilt under Saadian rulers in the 1560s and bears some resemblance to the Alhambra Palace in Granada due to the extensive use of Andalusian craftsmen. From its stunning central courtyard with sunken bath, to its myriad of courtyards in which to lose one another, attic bedrooms, gorgeous zellij tiles and intricate carved cedar wood and stucco work, the Ben Youssef is a feast for the eye and the camera.
Rue Souk El Khemis; open every day from 09.00-9.00 (18.00 Oct-Mar); entrance of 50DH but you can buy a three sites pass for 60Dh which will get you into here, the Marrakech Museum and the Kouiba.
Almost next door to the Ben Youssef, the museum is housed within the 19th century Dar Menebhi Palace and now houses contemporary art exhibitions as well as Islamic coins, historical documents and valuable decorative items. Like the Ben Youssef, much of the Museum’s real beauty lies in its zellij tiles, its decorative domes and architecture. There’s a small cafe in the outer courtyard which also houses temporary exhibitions. It’s a brilliant place for photographing carved doorways and elaborate fountains and don’t forget to look up and see some of the wonderful Moroccan lamps.
Place Ben Youssef;open daily 09.00-18.00; entrance 30Dh (but see multiple ticket – above)
Worth popping into as entrance is included in the multiple ticket (see Medersa Ben Youssef) but you won’t need much time on this one. Just walk down the ruins to the former wash house which was the site of ritual bathing before entry to the Ben Youssef Medersa. Only excavated in 1952 after being buried beneath an outbuilding of the Mosque, the floral patterns and intricate layers within the marble and cedar wood ceiling are well worth seeing. They contain inscriptions of Maghrebi Script and are the oldest known inscriptions of their type in North Africa.
Outside Medersa Ben Yousseff, open daily 09.00-19.00 (18.00 Oct-Mar); entrance 10Dh (but see multiple ticket – above)
Walking up to the initial entrance hall of the Bahia Palace, you are immediately struck by the Andalusian influence in the typical, blue and white Mediterranean look of the palace which is so different from other historical sites in the city. But enter further and you discover a maze of beautiful courtyards and gardens and exquisite decorative tiles. One of the most impressive aspects is the grand, marble tiled courtyard with its fountains, galleries and gardens. Exploring the Bahia is like taking a long, cool drink before going back into the sun.
Rue Riad Zitoun el Djedid, open daily 08.30-19.00 (18.00 Oct-Mar); entrance 10Dh
Once a magnificent palace of 360 rooms decorated in gold, ivory, gems and marble, at first glance as you enter the gates of the Badi palace what you see is just a ruin with impressive towers. But climb the ramparts to the turrets and the secret is revealed. Occupying central position in the courtyard is a beautiful 90m X 20m pool, flanked by sunken orange groves. This is also a great vantage point for getting a closer look and some snaps of the storks who nest in the walls.
Rue Riad Zitoun El Kedim; open daily 08.30-19.00 (18.00 Oct-Mar) Entrance 10Dh
Head for the minaret of the Kasbah Mosque and you’ll see the path to the Saadian Tombs signed easily from there. Built by Sultan Ahmed el Mansour in the 16th century for the bodies of himself and his descendants, over 200 tombs of members of the Saadian dynasty are located here. Sealed off and ‘lost’ until 1917 when they were careful excavated, the tombs are contained in exquisite chambers of marble pillars, domed ceilings, carved wooden screens and mosaics surrounded by tranquil gardens. You’ll also find the ubiquitous and multitudinous kittens of Marrakech living in the gardens.
Alongside Kasbah Mosque; open daily 08.30-19.00 (18.00 Oct-Mar); entrance 10Dh
Landscaped by the French artist Jacques Majorelle from 1924 to 1947 and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, these gardens are a wonderland of structure and form. Paths lined with pots of gold and blue lead your feet and eye through five continents of flora and an artist’s palette of design and composition. The intense blue that characterises the garden is actually known as Majorelle Blue after its creator. In the midst of bamboo forests and water lily lakes you’ll find a memorial to Yves Saint Laurent where a queue of people wait to be photographed alongside. Get there early if you want to avoid the crowds.
Rue Yves Saint Laurent; open every day 08.00-18.00 (17.30 Oct-Apr); entrance 40Dh
Museum of the Art of Living
A splendid 19th century Riad in the heart of the Medina is the setting for the Museum of the Art of Living (Musée de L’Art de Vivre) where you’ll find six rooms, a courtyard garden and rooftop views over the Medina, in which are housed a permanent and temporary exhibitions. Discover the Moroccan way of life through the art of taking tea, cooking, perfume production, embroidery, jewellery and costumes.
2 Derb Chérif (near the Medersa Ben Youssef); open daily 09.00-18.00 (17.00 Oct-Mar)
Take home a beautiful, hand embroidered souvenir of your stay in Marrakech and support an organisation that is providing disabled women with work, dignity and independence. Al Kawtar was set up as a non profit making association in 2006 and offers day care, meals, technical, medical and spiritual well being to disabled young girls and women. The garments they produce are all made with the finest 100% natural fibres and can be tailor made to your colour and size requirements.
3 Derb Zaouia Laftihia
Dar Cherifa Literary Cafe
Leave your bartering head in the Medina and swap it for your cultural mind as you enter through the heavy wooden doors of Dar Charifa, the Medina’s oldest house and now a centre for all things art and literature. Tranquillity and enlightenment (if you’re lucky) descend as you enter the beautiful courtyard with its latticed screens and stucco decoration. Enjoy a mint tea and almond pastries as you let the calm ambience of the building wash over you. As well as the permanent collections of beautifully illustrated books, art and sculptures, the café hosts concerts, exhibitions and themed cultural evenings.
8 Derb Charfa Lakhir Mouassine, open daily 09.00-19.00 (18.00 Oct-Mar)
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+