What to see
The Koutoubia Mosque is one of three surviving works from the Almohad Period (1147-1238 AD), making it one of the first stops for anyone visiting Marrakesh. With walls that look like they’ve been designed with lace behind a large plaza surrounded by porticos, and most importantly a 70-meter tall cubed minaret, the Koutoubia Mosque and its distinctive North African architecture is the highlight of the city for many tourists. The name of the mosque comes from the Arabic word for “book.” The reason for this is that there was formerly a book market in front of the mosque. Don’t forget to take in the sunset over the mosque’s elegant decorations, incredible atmosphere and unique structural features. Koutoubia Mosque turns an almost pink color during the last light of the setting sun.
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square (Marrakech Souk)
Located in the heart of the old city, quiet enough during the daytime that you wouldn’t even notice it, this square dons a new costume in the evening. Both locals and tourists flock to this square, and walking amongst the crowds in the evening is an experience not to missed. How many amazing things can you fit in just one square? The answer is food stalls, monkey-tamers, fortune-tellers, snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, musicians and souvenir vendors! Even the aroma of the square is unique – the wafting of North African cuisine from the stalls, where the smell of spices mix with incense is incredible. The square that once held public executions is now one of the first places visited by tourists from all over the world. At night, the square is lit by thousands of lights, inspiring a plethora of novels and films. The square also plays an important role in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film The Man Who Knew Too Much. The song “Marrakesh Night Market” by Canadian musician Loreena McKennitt is also about Jemaa el-Fnaa Square.
The Majorelle Garden was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle between 1920 and 1930, and is a botanical and landscape garden set on 50 acres of land. The garden was owned by famous fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent between 1980 and 2008, and has a range of cactuses, exotic plants and trees, pools, canals, and fountains. The most distinctive feature of the garden is the eye-catching blues, often referred to as Majorelle Blue. You’ll also find the Berber Museum in the garden, with jewelry and artifacts of Berber culture on display.
Bahia Palace in Marrakesh’s old city (Medina) is one of Marrakesh’s most beautiful home-palaces. The palace was built for the Grand Vizier of Sultan Sidi and was completed in two stages, between the years of 1859-1873 and 1894-1900. The central courtyard of Bahia Palace has jasmine, orange, banana and myrtle trees, and when you enter you’re stunned by both the enchanting imagery and sweet scent. The marble courtyard is one of the oldest parts of the palace, made from North African marble. This palace is one of the must-sees of Marrakesh, with its ornate ceiling, stone and tile work, and overall architecture all coming together in perfect harmony.
Dar Si Said Museum
Dar Si Said Museum is one of the most famous museums in Morocco, exhibiting the country’s traditional arts in a building of exquisite tiles, marble floors, stonework and beautiful ceiling decorations. The collection includes weapons, copper works, carvings, bridal clothes and local handicrafts like carpets. The gardens are lovely to stroll through with fragrant orange, mandarin, and myrtle trees – perhaps this is the best place to take photos. In fact, some of the best photos you’ll take in Marrakesh will be here at this museum.
El Badi Palace
Constructed between 1578-1593 on the orders of King Ahmad al-Mansur, El Badi Palace has 360 rooms and a pool in the courtyard. It was built using fine Italian marble and funded using the ransom paid by the Portuguese after the 1578 war between the two countries. The large central courtyard has pools and gardens, providing a marvelous view even with just a glance. Summer pavilions were once located in all four corners of the courtyard. Now, only the foundations of the Crystal Pavilion remain. The Pavilion of Fifty is on the other side, which was once used by the sultan just for affairs of the state. The most important part of the palace is the 12th century minbar originally from the Koutoubia Mosque. There is a separate fee for this section.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
At the entrance of the madrasa you’ll encounter a large courtyard, in the center of which is a pool. The woodwork, paintings on the walls, and tile work are all well worth the visit to this structure that is a delight of aesthetic harmony. Some of the decorations of the madrasa are very similar to the Alhambra Palace in Spain, suggesting a relationship between the countries’ art and geography. With a 130 total of rooms, you’ll appreciate just how massive it was for its time. The 12th century Ben Youssef Mosque also captures the eye with its decorative ceilings and inscriptions. The famous madrasa is one of the most important places to visit in Marrakesh.
Ben Youssef Mosque
The Ben Youssef Mosque was named after the Almoravid emir Ali ibn Yusuf. Built between 1121 and 1132, the mosque is one of the most visited places of the city. With a rectangular base 120 meters long and 80 meters wide, and a minaret of about 30 meters, the mosque was the largest of the Almoravid period. The development of the city was designed around the mosque and so it has long been the center of Marrakesh city life. Along with the Almoravid Koubba this mosque is one of the few surviving pieces of Almoravid architecture. Today Ben Youssef Mosque is viewed as the most important mosque in Marrakesh.
What to eat
Tajine is one of the staples of Moroccan cuisine, made with different meats, vegetables and spices. It’s then cooked in large covered earthenware pots, which is then brought to the table. A tajine is similar to the earthenware pots used in some Turkish cuisine, though the tajine itself is much larger. Moroccans prepare tajines with all kinds of other dishes. In Marrakesh, don’t forget to try tajines with your choice of lamb, beef, chicken and camel meat. Most restaurants will serve tajines, and they’ll give you a sense of true Moroccan cuisine.
Made using semolina and wheat flour, flavored with meat and vegetables, and cooked in an earthenware dish, just as in Casablanca, it’s of Marrakesh’s most famous dishes. While making this dish, the semolina flour is first moistened, which helps it form into grains. Then it’s covered with wheat flour, and steamed or boiled. Looking a little like rice, the couscous can then be served on its own, or with meat and vegetables. You can’t leave Marakesh without trying it!
Bestila (Moroccan Chicken Pie)
This pie traditionally uses pigeon meat wrapped in thin filo, but chicken is just as good if pigeon isn’t available. Eggs, almonds, raisins, cinnamon, honey, and cinnamon all go in along with the meat to create a dish which as sweet as it is savory. Traditionally, this dish is only prepared during festivals and special celebrations, so you won’t find it everywhere. If you do get the chance to eat it, make sure you savor every mouthful.
While there are subtle differences in the recipes different families hand down to the next generation, harira usually contains flour, lentils, chickpeas, rice, onions, celery, cilantro, parsley and tomatoes – it can even come with diced lamb. It can then be garnished with lemon, ginger or cinnamon. Being a thick, hearty soup packed full of vegetables, it’s filling enough to be a meal on its own! Found at weddings and other celebrations as well as Ramadan, it’s a taste of Marakesh you really should try if you get the chance.