Marrakech History and Culture
An oasis in every sense of the word, Marrakech was once a beacon for the trading caravans that had driven north through the desert and navigated over the often snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Marrakech may be Morocco’s third most important city after Rabat and Casablanca, but its fabulous palaces and lush palm groves exercise a powerful hold over tourists. It has always been the place where sub-Saharan Africa meets Arab North Africa, and, even today, this market town located on the edge of nowhere remains a compellingly exotic port of call.
Jemaa El Fna
The spiritual and historical heart of MARRAKECH was laid out as a parade ground by, the Jemaa El Fna the city’s founders. After the new rulers of Marrakech constructed a walled royal domain to the south – known as the kasbah – the open ground passed into the public domain. Sultans have come and gone and royal palaces have risen and fallen, but the Jemaa El Fna remains eternally vital. Used earlier to display the heads of executed criminals, it is still home to some extraordinary sights, like snake charmers and monkey trainers. By night, it transforms into a busy eating area.
Koutoubia Mosque. Its minaret is the city’s pre-eminent monument, towering above all else and has always been the rest visible sign of Marrakech for travelers approaching from afar. This is wholly ﬁtting, because the mosque is not only the city’s main place of worship, it is also one of the city’s oldest buildings, dating back to the 12th century, not long after Marrakech was founded. The designer of the Koutoubia minaret went on to create Tour Hassan in the Moroccan capital, Rabat and the tower of the Giralda in Seville.
Marrakech’s earliest inhabitants made their living from trading with the Africans and with the Spaniards who came by sea. Luxuries like gold and ivory came from the south, while leather, metalwork and ceramics were sent north. Even today, trade continues to be the city’s mainstay, with thousands of craftsmen eking out an existence in the maze of souks that all much of the northern half of the medina.
City Walls and Gates
The city walls date from the 1120s when, under threat of attack from the Almohads of the south, the ruling Almoravid sultan, Ali Ben Youssef decided to encircle his garrison town with fortiﬁcations. The walls he had built were up to 9 m (30 ft) high and formed a circuit of 10 (6 miles), punctuated by some 200 towers and 20 gates. Despite changes made in the 20th century to accommodate motor vehicles, the walls remain largely unchanged.
Majorelle Gardens of Marrakech’s numerous gardens; these are the most famous and the legacy of an expatriate French painter, Jacques Majorelle, who considered himself a “gardenist”. In 1924, he acquired land and set about creating a botanical sanctuary around his studio.
Majorelle opened his gardens to the public in 1947 and they remained a popular attraction until his death 15 years later. The property fell into disrepair until 1980, when it was rescued from ruin by French fashion designerYves Saint-Laurent and his artist-friend, Pierre Bergé.