Marrakech Attractions and Tourist
The center of Marrakech is for non-Muslims to visit only from the outside. The over 800-year-old Koutoubia Mosque is the city’s tallest building with its 71 meter high minaret. This tower is strikingly similar to La Giralda in Seville, and has the same builders. The mosque calls for prayer five times a day, either through the speakers, or by a flag, so that the deaf also bring this. It is still not allowed to build a higher building in Marrakech. The Koutoubia Mosque can thus be seen from almost the entire city, and is a very good landmark.
In the huge square of Djemaa el-Fna, The Place of the Dead, located in the middle of the Medina, you get the feeling of walking right into the thousand and one night. This is the largest, busiest and most exotic square in all of Africa, and is constantly alive. Here it is teeming with snake carpenters, acrobats, tourists, milling barbecue plates, musicians, handymen, street dentists and henato drivers. For centuries, this square has been the site of slave markets, beheadings and trade.
The Bahia Palace (Palais de Bahia)
This grand palace was built in the late 1800s for the Sultan’s Grand Vizier (corresponding to the First Prime Minister) Abou Ahmed, and is a neatly decorated complex built in three separate styles; Moroccan, Jewish and Arabic. This is how all his political guests should feel welcome and taken care of. Everything is in natural colors and marble. From the outside, the walls don’t seem to hide anything special, but inside there are fountains, shady orange groves, courtyards, and separate living spaces for the Grand Vizier’s four wives and 24 concubines. Here you should include a guide. The Bahia Palace is located in the Jewish quarter of Mellah in southeastern Medina. Open from 0830 to 1200 and from 1430 to 1730, entry 7 kroner.
Museum of Moroccan Art (Palais Dar Si Said)
This palace was built by Abou Ahmed’s brother, Sidi Said, at the same time as the Bahia Palace, and is now home to the country’s largest collection of Moroccan arts and crafts from across the country. Here you can see textiles and weapons, copper and gold objects, carpets and ceramic art. The building is an architectural attraction in itself. The museum is located just northwest of the Bahia Palace and is closed Tuesdays. Entry about 15 kroner.
Half a kilometer south of Djemaa el-Fna is the complex that houses the tombs of members of the Saadian dynasty, which ruled the region in the 16th century. In three separate mausoleums, the kings, queens and children lie in magnificent buildings with intricate carvings and marble columns. Outside are about a hundred more graves, but the strange thing is that none of the graves are marked by name or year, and only the height gives a clue as to the person’s status and importance. The mausoleums were closed in the early 18th century and rediscovered in 1917. They are located in Rue de la Kasbah, and are open to the public from 0830 to 1145 and from 1430 to 1745. Closed Tuesdays. Entrance around 7 kroner.
Bin Yousuf Madrassa
A madrassa is an Arabic school, and Bin Yousuf Madrassa is located just north of the souks in Marrakech’s medina. This was a college built by the Saadian sultan el-Ghalib in the 1560s, and the largest of its kind in all of Morocco. The buildings are centered around a beautiful inner courtyard adorned with cedar and marble, and, according to Islamic custom, have no images of living beings, only inscriptions and patterns. The school closed in 1960 and is now open to visitors only. Open daily from 0900 to 1700, entrance about 15 NOK.
The center of Marrakech is relatively compact, and most of the sights and attractions are within walking distance of each other for a fairly diverse person. If you prefer to take a guided tour around the city, there are several options. An easy and inexpensive alternative to seeing most attractions with relevant information and transport is to use the Hop On Hop Off buses. The ticket costs around one hundred kroner for adults, children half price. The buses have eighteen regular stops where you can hop off and stay as long as you want. The buses pass every 20 minutes and you continue at your convenience. Start from Gueliz tourist office in Ville Nouvelle. But, be aware that in the Medina there are the most crowded streets where buses do not appear, and this is the most fascinating and authentic Moroccan part of Marrakech. Here you have to get your legs.
Day 1 in Marrakech
Start your day with a guide to guide you in the blissful chaos of Marrakech’s medina. Not only because the souks are a maze where it is very easy to get lost, but also because a good guide can both show you the best stores, help you distinguish good quality from cheap juggling, and not least keep ongoing sellers and the like at a distance. It does not cost you much, but saves you a lot of time, many detours and frustrations, and you get interesting information about what you see. Marrakech’s guides should be provided with official cards from the tourist office, and if you are not contacted by a guide at the hotel, the front desk is guaranteed to recommend and call one.
A suitable starting point may be the Palace de Bahia. This grand palace was built in the late 1800s for the Sultan’s Grand Vizier (corresponding to the First Minister) Abou Ahmed, and is a neatly decorated complex built in three separate styles; Moroccan, Jewish and Arabic. This is how all his political guests should feel welcome and taken care of. Everything is in natural colors and marble. Afterwards it is not far to go to Dar Si Said, which is a museum of Moroccan art. This was actually a palace built by Abou Ahmed’s brother, Sidi Said, at the same time as the Bahia Palace, and is now home to the country’s largest collection of Moroccan arts and crafts from across the country. Here you can see textiles, weapons, copper and gold objects, carpets and ceramic art. The building is an architectural attraction in itself.
When it starts to approach mid-day, most of the sights close for a couple of hours for lunch. If you fancy visiting Marrakech’s sizzling markets, the souks, before most others do, this is the time. Until 7 p.m. 1500 there are considerably quieter and fewer visitors than later in the day. On the other hand, you will miss some of the most fascinating that Morocco has to offer, as the area boils with life, sounds, smells and impressions.
Either way, be sure to be on the huge Djemaa el-Fna, Africa’s largest and most exotic square in the 1700s. Take a deep breath and go straight into the thousand and one night. Here it is teeming with snake carpenters, storytellers, acrobats, tourists, milling barbecue plates, musicians, handymen, street dentists and henato drivers. For centuries, this square has been the site of slave markets, beheadings and trade. Tourists are quickly picked out and invited to participate in the activities, whether it is getting a snake (with the poison teeth removed) thrown around their necks or to assist one of the acrobats. Whatever you say yes to here, you are expected to pay for it. If you get a picture of yourself with a little monkey or snake or guy in a barber suit without having agreed a price in advance,you should not be surprised if he afterwards requests 300 dirhams and hopes that you are a fresh and naive tourist who will accept it. Regardless, it is common practice to ask before taking a photo of someone or someone here and give at least 5 or 10 dirhams as a thank you.
As the sunset draws near, try to get a table at one of the surrounding restaurants and first and foremost the rooftops of the restaurants. From here you will really only absorb the area’s unique ambiance, smells, sounds and views. Alcohol, on the other hand, is not served inside the medina unless you sit indoors at one of the exclusive restaurants.
When you manage to detach yourself from this view and are ready for dinner, you have plenty of options. You can, of course, eat yourself crammed for a few bucks at one of the hundreds of food stalls at Djemaa el-Fna. Many people may have concerns about eating here, but the food comes fresh from the roasting dish, so it will usually be perfectly safe. As always, it’s wise to steer clear of unprepared salads and meats.
At the other end of the scale, try the Moroccan restaurant Dar Essalam in 170 Riad Zitoun Kedim, which starts in Djemaa el-Fna’s southeast corner. It is set in a beautiful old 16th-century palace, and Alfred Hitchcock filmed parts of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” here. The place also features celebrities such as Winston Churchill and Sean Connery among its guests. You will also get live Moroccan music and belly dancing during dinner.
Day 2 in Marrakech
If you only have two days available in Marrakech, most people will prioritize as much time as possible in the souks and the medina, as for most people this will be the most exotic experience. In the souks you will be offered everything from spices to monkeys. Here you can walk around randomly for days without bringing everything. Merchants will work intensely to get your attention. Keep calm and do not ask for the price of something you would not like to buy. You come much longer with a smile and long pants, than with irritation and shorts.
A quieter part of the souks is located in the northwest corner where antique dealers are located, e.g. Rue de Bab Doukkala. When you’re ready for lunch, head to Marrakech’s seminal Cafe Arabe, located on the side street of Rue el Mouassine. From the rooftop terrace you can relax with a drink overlooking the snow-covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains.
Afterwards, continue south to Djemaa el-Fna and walk across the beautiful Place de Foucauld with its horseback. Right in front of you is Marrakech’s tallest building that you can see from almost everywhere in the city; Koutoubia Mosque with its 70 meter high minaret. You are not allowed here unless you are a Muslim, but you do not leave Marrakech without taking any photos of the mosque.
If you start getting enough of the constant buzz in the ever-sizzling medina, you can take a taxi to the huge Jardin Menara park in Ville Nouvelle, which is a quiet and welcoming green oasis in the city. Here, the city’s young couple stroll into what was once the Sultan’s private park.
In the evening, try dinner at yet another Moroccan restaurant, Ksar El Hamra, located just around the corner from Dar Essalam that you ate at last night. There is also an indoor garden terrace where you can dine outdoors, and like any Moroccan restaurant with respect for itself, there is live music and belly dancing.