During the 21st Century Marrakech has become the hub for both economic growth and tourism. Although it is only the fourth largest city in Morocco it seems to have become the most popular destination for many to visit. The souks are an obvious draw, where shyness is a no-no and haggling is a must, but what else does this enchanting city have to offer?
If you are visiting Marrakech for the first time before you do anything else you need to take a day to wander around the cobbled alleyways, getting lost following the narrow streets and exploring the city not highlighted on the tourist routes. This is where you will find the locals having a long lunch or yet another mint tea; where food is a third of the price and taste-buds are excited by the spices added to the local tagines.
The walled medina has a wealth of historical and cultural sights to see. So when you have exhausted the maze of covered walkways take some time to wander around one of the many sights on offer.
At the top of our list, and a must-see during your visit, are the distinct and unique palaces built centuries ago.
El Badi Palace (Palais El Badi)
Price to enter the Ruins: 10Dhs per person (another 10Dhs per person should you wish to visit the Mosque enclosed within the grounds of the palace).
The first thing that strikes you when passing through the archway in front of the palace is not the fact that the design of the vast building was influenced by the Alhambra in Granada; it is the number of storks now standing guard on the ramparts.
Commissioned by the Saadian Sultan, Ahmad al-Mansur, in 1578 all that stands now are the ruins of the once eye-catching palace. Draped in gold from Sudan and decorated throughout with Italian marble this would have been a palace any Monarch would have been proud of. In its place today stand the remnants of a more prosperous time. You can still gauge the magnitude of the building which at one time boasted to have 360 rooms and an underground jail for miscreants to be detained in. The grandeur of the palace however has been lost. Partly thanks to Sultan Moulay Ismail who torn the building apart in the 17th Century in order to rehouse the treasures and trinkets within his own palace in Meknes.
Those who like to photograph ruins or future archaeologists will love spending time here exploring every nook and cranny: trying to unearth the secrets of years gone-by. From the top of the steep stairwells you will be able to see out across the whole of the Medina; a privilege I am sure any King would have wanted during his reign. From here you are almost face to face with the storks standing to attention; be warned they completely ignore you until you get to close to their precise jewels – the eggs they are protecting.
Whilst now an almost complete ruin you can still imagine a time where this was the glory of the city, where visiting Royalty would have wandered around in complete awe.
Our top tip: Go early in the morning. There are few places of shade and therefore going in the high heat of the day may be uncomfortable.
Bahia Palace (Palais La Bahia)
Price to enter the Palace: 10Dhs per person.
In comparison to the Badi Palace the Bahia Palace has been well maintained and is still used today by the Moroccan government. Built in the late 19th Century (1859 – 1900) the 160 roomed palace is surrounded by eight hectares of beautifully maintained gardens.
The marble courtyard is a focal point for visitors with several paths of multi-coloured zellige directing you around the many rooms of artefacts and sculptures preserved throughout history. Take the time to sit in one of the many rooms and absorb the atmosphere of the building and its magnificence. The building itself was designed with a balance of Islamic and Moroccan styles and is a true delight to wander around and enjoy.
Located on the edge of the Jewish quarter the beauty of the palace draws the eye. The terracotta coloured walled garden is a prominent feature against the run down area of the Mellah.
Here you can take an afternoon to wander around the numerous art and sculpture exhibitions that are now housed within the many rooms or you can simply saunter around the pathways, relax in the gardens and enjoy the architecture. Unlike the Badi Palace you will find several areas of shade therefore making it a great place to visit during the sometimes unbearable heat of the afternoon.
Our top tip: After visiting the Badi Palace have a relaxing lunch at Kosybar before enjoying an afternoon exploring the Bahia Palace (both are in the same area of the city).
Both palaces are equally enchanting for different reasons – one for the history, one for the beauty. The workmanship, skill and time that it took to create each palace is a true marvel. Within the walls of the palaces you leave the chaotic nature of the city behind giving you time to take in the exquisite nature of each building: appreciating the dedication of others to the detail of their designs. You find yourself wondering what it would have been like to be able to wander the grounds when they were first built.