3 historical gems you simply must visit in Marrakech

Established over one thousand years ago on the edge of the Sahara, Marrakech is a wonderful city with a rich history. One of Morocco’s four Imperial cities, Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to many fascinating places of historical interest.

If you are travelling to Marrakech there are so many wonderful sights to visit, but the 3 historical gems you simply must see are the Saadian Tombs, the decorative Ali ben Youssef Medersa and the Koutoubia mosque and minaret.

visit in MarrakechSource: Airfrance

The Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs are a forgotten treasure situated a short distance from the centre of Marrakech. At the end of the 16th century, Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur ordered the construction of this burial site for himself and his descendants.

The burial site consists of two lavish mausoleums with 60 tombs. There are also over 100 more in the beautiful gardens, all housing members of the Saadian dynasty.

You may be wondering how the tombs have survived. When the Saadian dynasty was toppled, superstition prevented their destruction. The original palace next to the tombs was destroyed, but the burial site itself was simply sealed off and gradually forgotten about. A French aerial photography survey exposed them in 1917.

The main mausoleum houses the tomb of Saadian Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ed Dahbi, and is lavishly decorated with Italian Carrara marble and decorative plasterwork incorporating real gold. The second chamber is the tomb for the Sultan’s Alpha-male princes, while chancellors and their wives were buried in the gardens, which are overlooked by the tomb of the Sultan’s mother.

The Saadian tombs are a little tricky to locate. Head south on Rue Bab Agnaou from Djemaa el Fna until you reach a small square flanked by two gates (it’s about a 15-minute walk from Djemaa el Fna). Take the gate on your left and discover the quaint Kasbah Mosque from where you will find a narrow passageway that leads to the tombs.

independent travelSource: The Joban

Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

This 14th-century quranic college is a masterpiece in Hispano-Moresque architecture. With its intricate honeycomb stucco work and mosaics, the Madrasa is a wonderfully artistic example of islamic architecture.

In 1960 Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa was transformed into a museum and it was renovated in 1999. It is one of the places you simply must see when visiting Marrakech.

The impressive bronze gate at the entrance is decorated with fine wood carvings and mosaics. Above the entrance, an inscription reads, ‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’. Step into the courtyard and you won’t be disappointed.

Around a central pool, the whole inner courtyard is lined with beautiful colourful zellige tiles, and walls and columns are decorated with outstanding carvings and stuccoworks. At one end is a hall containing the ornate mihrab (prayer niche), indicating the direction of Mecca.

For more than four centuries, the college was home to 900 students studying theology and law. Above the central courtyard are the small windows of the tiny student dormitories.

Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa is located in the northern medina, a ten-minute walk from Djemaa el Fna, Marrkech’s main square.

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Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

The Koutoubia Mosque is the most notable landmark of Marrakech. While access to the Mosque is reserved to Muslims, standing in front of the impressive soaring minaret is still worth the visit. You can still get a good view of the Mosque’s features (Almohad architecture) from the exterior, which you can freely walk around. The elaborate architecture is different on each side. Visitors who practice Islam can attend worship, with prayers held five times a day.

Koutoubia is the largest Mosque in the city and can hold up to 25,000 worshippers. The Mosque is capped with four golden globes and has six interior rooms in the tower. The name, Koutoubia, comes from “kutubiyyin” or booksellers, because the base used to be a site for the city’s manuscript and book traders.

This beautiful Mosque is a must-see when you are visiting Marrakech. Located on Mohammed V Avenue, it’s about 5 minutes’ walk from Djemaa el Fna square. You can see the minaret from Djemaa el Fna, but the best views are from the rose garden located just to the west of the Mosque.

Enjoy your stay in Marrakech!

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