Marrakesh is the capital of the region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz in Morocco and is located at the base of the Atlas Mountains. It is home to more than a million residents. The city is composed of two parts which lie adjacent to each other. One part is the ancient fortification called the Medina and the second part is the modern part of the city known as Gueliz. Originally, Marrakesh was a stronghold that was built in the year 1062. But, over the years it would transform into a city that would a major hub for culture, religion and trade. It would then become the center from which the Almoravid Sultan named Youssef ben Tachfine, would rule over Andalusia and North Africa often with an iron fist. But, the city changed once again as the son of Youssef ben Tachfine came to power and brought in Spanish artist and craftsman to create the cities buildings.
But, the major transformation of the city of Marrakesh would come under the rule of the third Almohad sultan, Yacoub el Mansour. This sultun built an extensive collection of mosques, palaces and stone gardens with imported materials from not ony Italy, but also Asia. The golden age of Marrakesh would come to pass as the city began to fall into decline during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Evenutally it was conquered by the Saadians in 1554. The Saadians made it their capital and Marrakesh would soon enter its second golden age during the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century Marrakesh would gain further glory by Moulay el Hassan I when he decided to be crowned in the city and also have his palace erected there in 1873.
Rising high over the markets and roads of Marrakesh is one of the cities most prominent attractions, the Koutoubia Mosque. This is a red stone building that was originally built in the year 1147. However, it had to be torn down and rebuilt because it wasn’t aligned to Mecca correctly in the year 1199. This mosque has seventeen aisles and one hundred and twelve columns. This mosque is so large that it could literally hold thousands of worshippers.
The minaret rises two hundred and twenty-one feet high and consists of six chambers, one on top of the other and can be ascended by a ramp. Visitors should take heed that the mosque is only open to practioners of the Muslim faith. A fascinating part of Marrakesh is the Djemaa el-Fna or Square of the Dead. This is a lively square that is filled with performers and artists. Here you can find snake charmers, musicians, healers and storytellers.
There are also many booths here where exotic foods such as fried snails and sheep heads can be purchased. This square is also the head of the cities bazaars where visitors can find all manner of handcrafted goods from pieces of pottery to Moroccan rugs.
The Ben Youssef Madrassa is an Islamic college that is named after Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf. It was one of North Africa’s largest religious schools and could house up to nine hundred students. It was closed in 1960 but was later reopened in 1982 after it had been refurbished. Today its a historical landmark. Located a short distance from the Ben Youssef Madrassa is the Shrob ou shouf. This fountain was built during the sixteenth century and Its wooden top is carved to look like a honeycomb and the structure is sheltered by a green tiled roof.
The Museum of Marrakesh was built in the nineteenth century by Mehdi Menebhi and is situated in the Dar Menebhi Palace. In 1997 it was restored and now serves as a museum that exhibits traditional and modern works of Moroccan art, coins, books and pottery. This beautiful museum is designed in the classic Andalusian architectural style and features fountains and interesting carving and tile work. Another prominent museum in Marrakesh is the Dar Si Said Museum. This museum is housed in a palace on the Riad Ezzitoun El Jadid and exhibits the arts, crafts and culture of the Berber people.
The city of Marrakesh is home to a large number of open aired booths called Souks. These booths form elaborate markets where all manners of goods can be purchased. Her merchants sell baubles from all around North Africa and craftsmen make goods out of metal, leather and wood. And for those looking for something a little more esoteric, there are souks dedicated to the selling of unusual animals and even souks dedicated to the selling of love potions and elixirs. The best part of these markets is their accessibility. Most of them can be reached by foot from any of the local hotels in the area. And more often than not, they are in close proximity of outdoor cafes and restaurants.