Monuments of Marrakesh
Close to the tinsmiths’ square, the Bahia Palace was built at the end of the 19th century by Ba Ahmed, vizier of the rulers Moulay Hassan and Abdelaziz. The result, many years of work by the country’s best craftsmen at this vast residence, gave it the name “la Bahia” meaning the splendid.
The initial project, like most of the Arab palaces, is gradually expanding and without an overall plan, which can give an impression of disorder. A succession of apartments surround courtyards and gardens planted with orange trees, cypresses and jasmines. A variety of corridors and staircases connect countless rooms of uneven dimensions.
When the Vizir died, his enemies and widows relieved the palace of its luxurious furniture. In 1908, Pasha El Glaoui welcomed his European friends there before the French hunted him three years later to settle there during the protectorate, the first French resident: Marshal Lyautey.
Only part of this palace, entirely decorated from floor to ceiling and with 150 rooms on 8 ha, is open to the public. One discovers there the old richly ornamented harem, which sheltered the 4 wives and the twenty or so concubines of Bou Ahmed.
As well as the vast courtyard of honour with its marbled ground and surrounded by a gallery with grooved and painted columns, where the crowd used to hurry to bring their grievances to the vizier. This immense space served as a forecourt for the imposing reception hall, paved with marble, covered with earthenware and sheltered by a painted and illuminated cedar ceiling of the Atlas Mountains.
Visit the Bahia Palace
Riad Zitoune-Jdid Street. Leave the place des ferblantiers and turn right, the Bahia Palace is a few meters away.
Open daily from 8:45 am to 11:45 am and 2:45 pm to 5:45 pm, except Friday. 8:45 am – 11:30 am and 3:00 pm – 5:45 pm. Entrance 10 Dh.
El Badi Palace
In 1578, the Saadian Sultan Ahmed el Mansour undertook the construction of a huge palace, supposed to surpass in size and splendour all that had been built until then. 25 years of work were necessary to achieve such an extraordinary result that the palace was named the incomparable…
When the sultan lavishly decorated the palace el Badi with precious marble, stucco ceilings and gold leaf cladding, his buffoon would have ironized: it will make a splendid ruin.
Unfortunately his words were not in vain: the palace was looted a century later, on the order of Sultan Alawite Moulay Ismaïl to decorate his royal palaces of Meknes.
Only the structures of the legendary Palazzo el Badi remain today. From the top of the adobe ramparts, the view on the roofs of Marrakesh and stork nests is worth the detour.
The entrance to the palace can be combined with a visit to the Koutoubia minbar. Its finely carved cedar wood steps, adorned with ivory and fine calligraphy in gold and silver, were executed in the 12th century by craftsmen from Cordoba.
The minbar had been out every Friday for prayer until 1962, and was meticulously restored to its original splendour.
Every year, in July, the Popular Arts Festival is held there.
Visit the El Badi Palace
Also called on some panels “El Badia”. Access from Bab Berrima at the place des ferblantiers, in a corridor between two walls.
Schedules: 8:30 am – 11:45 am, 2:30 pm – 5:45 pm.
Prices: 10 Dh the visit of the Badi Palace or 20 Dh combined with the visit of the minbar of Koutoubia.
The Saadian Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, who, with the construction of the palace el Badi, showed during his lifetime a certain taste for splendour, did the same with his last resting place. He died in splendour in 1603.
In order to build what would be his burial and that of his family, he imported Carrara marble from Italy and had the honeycomb stuccoes covered with pure gold from the vaults of the room of the 12 columns where he lies.
But it was without counting on the tenacity of the Alawite sultan Moulay Ismaïl, the first destroyer of the monuments of Marrakesh, who, without touching the tombs of his Saadian predecessors, concealed them all the same by walling the entrance. Thus the tombs remained in oblivion for centuries and were not rediscovered until 1917, when aerial shots were taken. When restored, the Saadian tombs opened again to the public.
Once a long and narrow corridor has been crossed, we enter a modestly flowered garden, the tombs are only visible from the outside.
The minaret of the Koutoubia, jewel of the Hispano-Moorish architecture, remains visible from various points of Marrakesh. At a height of 77 metres, it has been guiding lost travellers for almost nine centuries.
When the pious Almohad pilgrims built the mosque in the 12th century to mark the dynasty’s hold on Marrakesh, they realized that the dynasty did not have the right orientation on Mecca.
Error noticed, they decided to raze this first building, whose foundations can still be admired, in order to rebuild it to the standards of Islam, only the minaret was preserved. The name Koutoubia “mosque of booksellers” comes from the souk of the manuscripts “Koutoubiyin” whose stalls were scattered around the mosque.
The minaret, built of hard limestone, is different on each side. It combines a network of interlacing in relief with interwoven arcades. Two bands of large white and turquoise zellige tiles adorn the heights.
Legend has it that the four balls attached to the shaft of the Koutoubia minaret were originally made of gold. In order to discourage covetousness, genius protectors would have been committed to the custody of this treasure.
The mosque of the Koutoubia is not visited…