Palaces and Palais to visit in Marrakech

The historic wealth of the city is manifested in palaces, mansions and other lavish residences. The main palaces are El Badi Palace, the Royal Palace and Bahia Palace. Riads (Moroccan mansions) are common in Marrakesh. Based on the design of the Roman villa, they are characterized by an open central garden courtyard surrounded by high walls. This construction provided the occupants with privacy and lowered the temperature within the building. Buildings of note inside the Medina are Riad Argana, Riad Obry, Riad Enija, Riad el Mezouar, Riad Frans Ankone, Dar Moussaine, Riad Lotus, Riad Elixir, Riad les Bougainvilliers, Riad Dar Foundouk, Dar Marzotto, Dar Darma, and Riad Pinco Pallino. Others of note outside the Medina area include Ksar Char Bagh, Amanjena, Villa Maha, Dar Ahlam, Dar Alhind and Dar Tayda.

El Badi Palace

The El Badi Palace flanks the eastern side of the Kasbah. It was built by Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur after his success against the Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings in 1578. The lavish palace, which took around a quarter of a century to build, was funded by compensation from the Portuguese and African gold and sugar cane revenue. This allowed Carrara marble to be brought from Italy and other materials to be shipped from France, Spain and India. It is a larger version of the Alhambra’s Court of the Lions. Although the palace is now a ruin with little left but the outer walls, the site has become the location of the annual Marrakech Folklore Festival and other events.

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, also known as Dar el-Makhzen, is located next to the Badi Palace. The Almohads built the palace in the 12th century on the site of their kasba, and it was partly remodeled by the Saadians in the 16th century and the Alaouites in the 17th century. Historically it was one of the palaces owned by the Moroccan king, who employed some of the most talented craftsmen in the city for its construction. The palace is not open to the public, and is now privately owned by French businessman Dominique du Beldi. The rooms are large, with unusually high ceilings for Marrakesh, with zellij (elaborate geometric terracotta tile work covered with enamel) and cedar painted ceilings.

Bahia Palace

Back courtyard of the Bahia Palace

The Bahia Palace, set in extensive gardens, was built in the late 19th century by the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh, Si Ahmed ben Musa (Bou-Ahmed). Bou Ahmed resided here with his four wives, 24 concubines and many children. With a name meaning “brilliance”, it was intended to be the greatest palace of its time, designed to capture the essence of Islamic and Moroccan architectural styles. Bou-Ahmed paid special attention to the privacy of the palace in its construction and employed architectural features such as multiple doors which prevented passers-by from seeing into the interior. The palace took seven years to build, with hundreds of craftsmen from Fez working on its wood, carved stucco and zellij. The palace is set in a two-acre (8,000 m²) garden with rooms opening onto courtyards. The palace acquired a reputation as one of the finest in Morocco and was the envy of other wealthy citizens. Upon the death of Bou-Ahmed in 1900, the palace was raided by Sultan Abd al-Aziz.

Gardens

The Menara gardens are located to the west of the city, at the gates of the Atlas mountains. They were built around 1130 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 Saadi dynasty and renovated in 1869 by sultan Abderrahmane of Morocco, who used to stay here in summertime.

The pavilion and a nearby artificial lake are surrounded by orchards and olive groves. The lake was created to irrigate the surrounding gardens and orchards using a sophisticated system of underground channels called a qanat. The basin is supplied with water through an old hydraulic system which conveys water from the mountains located approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi) away from Marrakesh. There is also a small amphitheater and a symmetrical pool where films are screened. Carp fish can be seen in the pond.

The Majorelle Garden, on Avenue Yacoub el Mansour, was at one time the home of the landscape painter Jacques Majorelle. Famed designer Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the property, which features a stele erected in his memory, and the Museum of Islamic Art, which is housed in a dark blue building. The garden, open to the public since 1947, has a large collection of plants from five continents including cacti, palms and bamboo.

The Agdal Gardens, located south of the medina and also built in the 12th century, are royal orchards surrounded by pise walls. Measuring 400 hectares (990 acres) in size, the gardens feature citrus, apricot, pomegranate, olive and cypress trees. Sultan Moulay Hassan’s harem resided at the Dar al Baida pavilion, which was situated within these gardens. This site is also known for its historic swimming pool, where a Sultan is said to have drowned.

The Koutoubia Gardens are situated behind the Koutoubia Mosque. They feature orange and palm trees, and are frequented by storks. The Mamounia Gardens, more than 100 years old and named after Prince Moulay Mamoun, have olive and orange trees as well as a variety of floral displays.

In 2016, artist André Heller opened the acclaimed garden ANIMA near Ourika, which combines a large collection of plants, palms, bamboo and cacti as well as works by Keith Haring, Auguste Rodin, Hans Werner Geerdts and other artists.

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