10 must places to see in Marrakech

1. Place Jemaa el Fna’ – main square of Marrakesh
2. Ali ben Youssef Medersa (Madrassa) and Mosque
3. Musée de Marrakech
4. Koubba el Badiyyin
5. El Bahia Palace
6. Markets – the suqs
7. Majorelle Gardens and the Museum of Islamic Art
8. Saadian Tombs
9. Ramparts of Marrakesh
10. Palais Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts)

1. Place Jemaa el Fna’ – the main square in Marrakesh

The Place Jemaa el Fna’ (or as transliterated from French Djemma el Fna) is really the heart of Marrakech. It is a large central square in the old city (Medina) and during the day it’s a perfect place to grab a freshly-squeezed orange juice and a handful of dates. At the end of the afternoon the Jemaa el Fna’ transforms into an entertainers paradise — if you’re into snake charming, juggling, music and that sort of thing. Snack stalls are replaced with stalls offering more substantial fare and the square comes alive with entertainment that hasn’t changed much since medieval times.

The Djemma el Fna is surrounded by cafe’s overlooking the square so you can just relax and watch the world go by if you’re tired of jostling the crowds below. Be prepared to be asked for money when you take photos of the performers and stop to watch the entertainment.

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2. Ali ben Youssef Madrassa (Medersa) and Mosque

The Madrassa (or Medersa as transliterated from French) was a Koranic school (the university of the day) built in the 16th century by the Saadians and could house up to 900 religious students. The architecture is beautifully preserved and you can explore the tiny rooms where the students used to live. The mosque is adjacent to the Madrassa.

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3. Musée de Marrakech

A visit to the Madrassa ben Youssef can be combined with a trip to the museum, which is in a palace built in the late 19th century for Mehdi Mnebbi, a former Moroccan defense minister and ambassador to Britain. Post-independence, the palace was taken over by the state and gradually fell into disrepair before being privately restored and reopening in 1997 as the museum. The former palace now houses temporary contemporary art exhibitions (some pieces are for sale) in what were the palace kitchens, as well as permanent displays of traditional arts and crafts in what were the main hall and the now-restored hammam. The building’s centerpiece is a peaceful covered inner courtyard with a towering brass chandelier hung above a central fountain. There is a small cafe and a bookshop in the entrance courtyard.

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4. Koubba el Badiyyin

Across the square in front of the Ali ben Youssef mosque is the Koubba el Badiyyin, the sole surviving structure of the city’s Almoravid founders other than the mudbrick city walls.

A combined ticket gives same-day access to the Medersa, Museum, and Koubba el Badiyyin.

The Medersa, Musée de Marrakech and the Kouba el Badiyin is a 1-minute walk from Riad Chi-Chi.

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5. El Bahia Palace

This palace is a wonderful example of the best of Moroccan architecture. There’s lots of detail, arches, light, engravings and what’s more it was built as a harem’s residence, which makes it even more interesting. The palace is open daily with a break for lunch although it is closed when the royal family visits.

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6. The markets – the suqs

The suqs (or souqs) are basically undercover markets that sell everything from chickens to high-quality crafts. The suqs of Marrakech are considered to be among the best in Morocco, so if you like shopping and bargaining you’ll enjoy yourself tremendously. Even if you don’t like shopping, the souqs are a cultural experience you wouldn’t want to miss. Souqs are divided into small areas that specialize in a certain good or trade. The metal workers all have their little shops clustered together, as do the tailors, butchers, jewellers, wool dyers, spice merchants, carpet salesmen and so on.

The suqs are situated north of the Jemaa el Fna’ and finding your way around the narrow alleyways can be a bit tricky. Guides are plentiful in Marrakech, so you can always use those services, but getting lost in the chaos is also part of the fun. It’s often more interesting to peek in to souqs where local wares are being produced, than to be taken to yet another carpet shop by your guide. If you get lost, just ask for directions back to the Jemma el Fna’.

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7. Majorelle Gardens and the Musuem of Islamic Art

In the 1920’s, French artists Jacques and Louis Majorelle created a stunning garden in the middle of Marrakech’s new town. The Majorelle gardens are filled with color, plants of all shapes and sizes, flowers, fish ponds and perhaps the most pleasing aspect, tranquility. The designer Yves Saint Laurent now owns the gardens and has also built himself a house on the property. The building that gets most of the attention however is the bright blue and yellow building the Marjorelles used as their studio and which now houses the Museum of Islamic Art. This small museum includes some good examples of Moroccan tribal art, carpets, jeweler, and pottery.

The gardens and museum are open daily with a 2 hour lunch break from 12-2pm.

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8. Saadian Tombs

The Saadian dynasty ruled much of southern Morocco during the 16th and 17th centuries. Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour created these tombs for himself and his family in the late 16th century, 66 of them are buried here. The tombs were sealed up rather than destroyed in the 17th century and were only re-discovered in 1917. Consequently they are beautifully preserved and the intricate mosaic is stunning. Despite being situated in the heart of the somewhat hectic old town (medina) the tombs are surrounded by a nice peaceful garden.

The tombs are open daily except Tuesday. It’s advisable to get there early and avoid the tour groups.

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9. The Ramparts of Marrakech

The walls of the medina have been standing since the 13th century and make for a wonderful early morning stroll. Each gate is a work of art in themselves and the walls run for twelve miles. The Bab ed-Debbagh gate is the entry point for the tanneries and provides an excellent photo opportunity full of vivid colors from the dyes used. It is a little smelly though.

A great way to see the ramparts is to take a horse and carriage ride.  Late afternoon when you still want to see things but are tired, hire a carriage and ride in state around the ramparts.

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10. Palais Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts)

A palace and museum in one and well worth a visit. The palace is opulent and beautiful in itself with a lovely courtyard where you can relax and take some pictures. The museum’s displays are well laid out and include jewelery, costumes, ceramics, daggers and other artifacts. The museum is open daily with a couple of hours break for lunch.

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