the Menara Garden
The Menara Gardens were built in the 12th century by the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu’min. The name ‘menara’ derives from the pavilion with its small green pyramid roof (menzeh). The pavilion was built during the 16th century by the Saadi dynasty. It was renovated in 1869 by Sultan Abderrahmane of Morocco, who was known to stay there in the summer.
Nowadays, Menara Gardens are one of the most photographed places in Morocco. It’s also a poplar place among locals for picnics.
EL Badi Palace
This once magnificent palace, whose name means ‘the incomparable,’ was built in 1578 by the “Midas” of Marrakech, a Saadian sultan named Ahmed el-Mansour. Its 360 rooms were once sumptuously decorated in marble, gold, onyx, ivory, cedar wood, and semi-precious stones, surrounding a vast central courtyard of pools, fountains, and sunken gardens. This was the venue for parties of extreme extravagance until the sultan died and the capital was moved to Meknès and the palace was stripped of anything valuable. Little remains of its glory days and the ruins of the battlements surround a vast empty space where lavish gardens and palace rooms once stood. Today the main attractions are the nesting storks that have made their home here and (for an additional entrance fee) the original 12th-century marquetry minbar (pulpit) inlaid with silver and gold and painstakingly restored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
El Bahiya Palace
El Bahia means ‘magnificent’ which this palace truly is. It is one of the largest buildings in the medina. It is the work of grand vizier Ahmed ben Moussa, known as Bahmad, who ordered the construction during his twilight years, from 1894 to 1900.
The palace holds a collection of courtyards, garden, salons, and outbuildings, all of which are equal in their beauty, architectural splendor, and surroundings. There is a large entrance courtyard with enormous trees, the small riad (traditional house) surrounded by rooms and niches, and a palace entirely decorated with zellij (mosaic tile) and finely-sculpted painted plaster and wood. I am afraid I don’t want to describe everything so that you can have a chance to discover it yourself.
The Majorelle Gardens is one of the glories of Marrakech. The garden may be small, less than half a hectare, but it packs a big punch with its series of mini landscapes that take the visitor on an unforgettable sensory journey, from cool, dreamy calm to hot, prickly exhileration. This garden is one of the places that inspire me and I just love being here.
Opened to the public in 1947, this eponymous garden is the chef-d’oeuvre of Jacques Majorelle, painter, plant collector, and scholarly enthusiast for the culture of Marrakech and the Sahara region In 1980 it was bought by the French couturier, Yves Saint Laurent, and his partner, Pierre Bergé, who saved it from destruction by speculators.
Think of it as live-action channel-surfing: everywhere you look in the Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh’s main square and open-air theatre, you’ll discover drama already in progress. The hoopla and halqa (street theatre) has been non-stop here ever since this plaza was the site of public executions around AD 1050 – hence its name, which means ‘assembly of the dead’.
By 10am, the daily performance is under way. Snake charmers blast oboes to calm hissing cobras; henna tattoo artists beckon to passers by; water-sellers in fringed hats clang brass cups together, hoping to drive people to drink.
The show doesn’t peak until shadows fall and 100 chefs arrive with grills in tow, cueing musicians to tune up their instruments. This is a show you don’t want to miss – but stay alert to horse-drawn-carriage traffic, pickpockets and rogue gropers. Arrive early in the evening to nab prime seats on makeshift stools (women and elders get preference).
Applause and a few dirhams ensure an encore. It's a bargain show, and critically acclaimed too: for bringing urban legends and oral history to life nightly, Unesco declared the Djemaa el-Fna a ‘Masterpiece of World Heritage’ in 2001.
During the day it is predominantly occupied by orange juice stalls, water sellers with traditional leather water-bags and brass cups, youths with chained Barbary apes and snake charmers despite the protected status of these species under Moroccan law.
As the day progresses, the entertainment on offer changes: the snake charmers depart, and late in the day the square becomes more crowded, with Chleuh dancing-boys (it would be against custom for girls to provide such entertainment), story-tellers (telling their tales in Berber or Arabic, to an audience of locals), magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines. As darkness falls, the square fills with dozens of food-stalls as the number of people on the square peaks.
The square is edged along one side by the Marrakesh souk, a traditional North African market catering both for the common daily needs of the locals, and for the tourist trade. On other sides are hotels and gardens and cafe terraces, and narrow streets lead into the alleys of the medina quarter.
Once a bus station, the place was closed to vehicle traffic in the early 2000s. The authorities are well aware of its importance to the tourist trade, and a strong but discreet police presence ensures the safety of visitors.