Marrakech has long since superseded Tangier as Morocco's
draw card - a mythic city of Islamic-African exoticism bathed
in the shadow of the cool blue High Atlas Mountains.
It was the city of the West Saharan Berber tribe, the
progenitors of Moroccan identity who linked the expansive
continental hinterland to the civilised lands of the northwest.
Marrakech enshrined that new character, bringing together
the fruit of the desert, palm trees, and the craftsmanship
of the north under the wings of Islam.
It's no wonder this walled red city, founded a thousand years
ago, has gone from hippie hang out to major package destination.
It has a lingering beauty with its palm-lined streets and
red earthen walls under the gaze of the minaret of the twelfth
century Koutoubia Mosque. The city trips to the heartbeat
of its central square, the Jemaa el Fna, a bewildering
place embodying a bygone mix of Indiana Jones strangeness
and tourist tackiness. Around this square the medina fans
out into souks plying all sorts of irresistible arts and crafts.
And when the dry heat of the city finally becomes overpowering
and you've exhausted all the enchanting garden retreats, the
mountains beyond beckon. There are many well-trodden routes
through this majestic range but with a good level of fitness
and some experience you can strike out into territory that's
likely to have seen few outsiders.
Go after dark to the city's focal point, the Jemaa
el Fna, the grand central square that's host to a
demimonde of snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers, dancers,
monkeys and dancers
Wander around the imposing Koutoubia Mosque which
dates from the twelfth century and dominates the Marrakech
Tour Marrakech's wide array of gardens, including the
Jardin Majorelle, the Menara (a large square
pool set in olive groves) and the Agdal, another
Get lost in the labyrinthine Medina Souks where
all the traditional and regional arts and crafts of Morocco
can be found; don't miss one of our team's favourites,
the Souk des Babouches, where you'll find beautiful
Avoid the tourist hordes at the sixteenth century Saadian
Tombs, mausoleums of the dynasty's Sultans and their
families, by going early in the morning or late afternoon
Immerse yourself in the history of Jewish Marrakech,
in their quarter the Mellah, where you'll find
traditional traders, old synagogues and a Jewish cemetery
just outside the city walls
Visit the tanneries near Bab Debbagh, where
you can witness the process of tanning - definitely one
of the most interesting sights in the city
Eat out in a palace restaurant in the medina
Take a ride in a caleche, a traditional horse-drawn
Local bus services are as crowded as you'd expect but provide
a cheap way of getting around the city. They can be caught
from Rue Moulay Ismail, adjacent to the Jemaa el Fna, along
Avenue Mohammed V and Avenue Hassan II. Perhaps the most useful
is the No 1 running from Jemaa along Mohammed V. No 3 and
8 run from the railway to the bus station and No 10 from Jemaa
to the bus station.
Marrakech's khaki coloured petits taxis are all over the city.
Make sure the driver switches the meter on as you get in or
you're likely to find yourself arguing over a fare when you
get to your destination. Few journeys within the city should
cost more than 20dh. Major taxi ranks are located in Jemaa
el Fna and outside the marché municipal in Guéliz
(the New Town).
Green horse-drawn carriages (caleches) are a pleasant
way to tour the city - especially around the city ramparts
and gardens. The municipal government has recently devised
set prices for this tour but you'll have to negotiate the
fare for other routes.
Jemaa el Fna
The Jemaa el Fna is certainly a major tourist attraction
yet it's retained its original social purpose for natives
as a meeting place for Marrakechis and people from the surrounding
area. It's constantly buzzing with activity, a big space full
of people hawking goods or entertainment to one another as
people talk and watch. Its name means 'assembly of the dead',
possibly a reference to the traditional display of the heads
of criminals executed there until the nineteenth century.
During the day the square is full of stalls and goods spread
out on the floor and entertainers of all kinds from snake
charmers to gnaoua musicians, fortune tellers to public scribes
performing for all and sundry - as long as you pay! As the
sun sets, the crowd reshapes into a mix of affluent Marrakechis
on their way home, students, backpackers looking for cheap
food at the steaming stalls and smart tourists making their
way to expensive restaurants. You may come across storytellers,
boxers, musicians, nakkachat women with their syringes of
henna to pipe onto your hands or stalls selling a spicey sweet
paste called slilou, a local aphrodisiac. Whatever you come
across there's a definite magic to this square that will keep
you coming back and linger in your memory for long after you've
The souqs of Marrakech are some of the best Morocco has to
offer but as in Fès they can be as exhausting as they
are rewarding. The main souks are north of the Jemaa el Fna
where you'll find all range of goods being hawked: textiles,
cosmetics, spices, carpets, leather goods, clothing and perfume
- plus a myriad of other things. While the twists and turns
and constant solicitation of your attention from traders can
be overwhelming, just keep in mind a few simple things and
the only trouble you'll have is deciding when to stop buying!
However lost you become, remember you will find your way out
- enjoy it! Don't get talked into hiring a guide, you don't
need one and they'll only be making a commission on what you're
being sold. And finally don't get strong-armed into buying
something you don't want so don't linger too long in one shop.
This mosque dominates the Marrakech skyline with the tallest
minaret in the city at 230 feet high. Although entry is limited
to Muslims only, you can still walk around the grounds and
appreciate its finery which dates back to the twelfth century:
the minaret was constructed by the Almohads and is a classic
of Moroccan-Andalucian architecture.
The tanneries, near Bab Debbagh ('Tanners' Gate'),
are the stuff of many Marrakechi myths; among other things
the tanners, are said to be in contact with unseen world of
the dead and they're considered to be masters of fertility.
You can spend a fascinating couple of hours watching and learning
about the pre-industrial process of making skins of various
plants and animals (including camel, goat and sheep) into
These heavenly gardens were designed by the French painter
Jacques Majorelle who lived in the city from 1922 to 1962
and are now owned by Yves St Laurent. Among the floral colours
you'll find the artist's blue villa that houses a small collection
of Moroccan art.
Top Sights outside of Marrakesh
High Atlas Mountains
This range is easily within a day trip range of Marrakech
but there's plenty to keep you there for several days. In
the Toubkal National Park, named after Morocco's highest
peak, Jebel Toubkal, make your way to the village of
Imlil for mint tea and walnuts, drive out to Amizmiz
which has been home to acrobats since medieval times and from
there stroll into the mountains or wander through the popular
Ourika Valley, a beautiful area of steep gorges and
terraced fields. There's also plenty of trekking to be done
in the High Atlas and several ways to summit Toubkal.
Essaouira ('little picture') is an atmospheric little coastal
town that's somehow managed to change little since its inception
in the eighteenth century as a military port. Its beautiful
beach makes it popular with independent travellers and its
waters provide some of the best windsurfing in Africa. There's
a smattering of attractions other than its sun and sea, including
its architecturally hybrid forts, but the primary draw of
this sleepy town is its relaxing atmosphere.