Medina of Marrakesh
The Medina of Marrakesh is an old Islamic capital originating from the 11th century. It is enclosed by 16km of ramparts and gates.
The city owes its original splendour to the Almoravide and Almohade dynasties (11th - 13th centuries), who made Marrakech into their capital.
The Medina has several architectural and artistic masterpieces from different periods in history:
- the ramparts and gates (in pinkish clay, like most of the original structures)
- the Koutoubia mosque (its 77m high minaret is a key monument of Islamic architecture)
- the Saadian tombs
- Djemaa El-Fna square
- Ben Youssef Madrassa
Beyond the walls, Marrakech has ample areas of greenery at the Palmeira palm groves, and the Menara and Agdal gardens.
Map of Medina of MarrakeshLoad map
Visit December 2009
I cannot count the number of times that I lost my way in Marrakech. And not only in the maze of the souks. Not one map seems to be able to properly display this organically grown city on paper. Especially finding the Ben Youssef madrassa proved to be too complicated for my orientation skills. Approaching from either the south or the north, I always ended up somewhere amidst the shops of the souks.
Fortunately, Marrakech has plenty of things to see so you'll end up at an interesting place anyway. Its main landmark is the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque. It dates from the 12th century but looks as if it was built yesterday (probably because of the restoration it has undergone in the 1990s). It never stops to draw one's attention, from whichever side you approach it. A major sight, that could have gotten WH status on its own merits.
More hidden from first sight are the palaces. The 19th century El Bahia palace for example gets more and more impressive at each courtyard. Especially the woodwork in the ceilings and around the doors is amazing. I was also struck by the number of tourists at the site - easily hundreds. This is December, this is Southern Morocco, and whole European families had turned this once remote and mysterious caravanserai city into their holiday break.
More of that was to come at the Saadian Tombs. A snake-shaped queue had formed at the inner courtyard. The people in it were all waiting for a glimpse of what must be the most amazing tomb of them all. I had to wait about half an hour before it was my time to have a peek. It proved worth queuing for: from floor to ceiling this whole room is covered with motifs. Mosaics on the floor, Italian marble tombs, curly stone carvings at the walls, gilded archways and an elaborate wooden ceiling. What a place to be buried!
Two full days proved to be too short to see all of Marrakech. I even tried to do it fast forward, by using the Hop on Hop off-bus. That way I did cross the Palmeraie, but had to skip the Menara gardens, the El Badi palace and the Musée de Marrakech. I walked and walked until my feet got sore, and I still hadn't seen all I had wanted.
Everything they say is true. You will get lost in Marrakesh. It's dirty. It's stinky. It's crowded and commercial. The buildings are crumbling. It's extremely hot and dusty. And it's very interesting. They say you either love it or hate it. Well, I both hated it and loved it, in that order. After riding the night train from Rabat, my family and I arrived in the Marrakesh train station early in a May 2017 morning, checked into a nearby hotel, and slept. Of course, we decided to check out the medina later in the afternoon, but not before checking out the Jardin Majorelle (not WHS, but I recommend you check it out). Upon arriving at Djemaa El Fna, the first stop was at a pharmacy to buy argan oil to bring for people back in the Philippines. First impressions weren't too great; the square was bustling, but it felt all too familiar and somewhat touristy. Nothing was really catching our eyes the way we imagined the magical city of Marrakesh would be. The "pinkish clay" was more like dull muddy brown. The single impressive monument around, Koutoubia Mosque, was closed for non-Muslims. Luckily, we met a licensed tourism official who brought us to a great restaurant nearby. Mint tea, tagines, couscous, salads, and pastillas galore! I was also treated to my first sight of belly dancing. On the not so great side, that dinner was also the most expensive on the whole trip, and that was a trip that included paella in Valencia, foie gras pasta in Toulouse, and entrecote in Paris. But back to Marrakesh, the fam was ready to leave Marrakesh, but I just knew there was more to find, so I, along with just my parents, decided to take an adventure in the medina the next morning.
Going into the day, I figured that the Medersa Ben Youssef would be the most interesting site to visit in Marrakesh, so I prioritised going there over Bahia Palace, the other major choice. It turned out that the medersa was all I could take in with the plan, as we ended up only visiting 2 sites. When we got to Djemaa El Fna that morning, we tried desperately to find the medersa, but this was when we got lost. My dad and I generally have relatively good senses of direction, so it was a bit surprising how easy it was for us to get lost here. Eventually, we met a local man who told us that the medersa was closed for prayers until sometime in the afternoon. He then offered to bring us to the tanneries in order to "practice his English." We got to the tanneries after what must have been hundreds of twists and turns down seemingly random alleys in the medina, and the men there gave us some mint leaves (to relieve from the stench of "pigeon sh*t") and a guided tour of the tanneries. Without dobut, we were getting caught in some elaborate scam, but experiencing the tanneries was such an interesting experience that we didn't mind. Of course, we were brought to a nearby leather shop right after the tour, where a huge Berber salesman talked us into buying a camel skin belt, which I do use until now, so I guess it wasn't such a bad thing after all.
Anyway, we were directed to the medersa after this, but as you may expect by now, we got lost again. We finally found the medersa after what was probably over an hour wandering the maze of the medina. It's in a really small nonchalant alley, too, so make sure not to pass it by. Medersa Ben Youssef is definitely something to see in Marrakesh. It's home to some of the most intricately embellished Islamic architecture that I've seen. In contrast to the intricacy in the main hall, the classrooms were extremely small and bare, though. I do wonder how such a prestigious Islamic university managed to fit its students, let alone conduct classes, there. Theories aside, the medersa is a must-see for anyone who visits the city. It's a flowering of Islamic art and architecture that offers some relief from the roughness of the streets of the medina. Speaking of the medina, I still don't think the medina is as magical or unique a place as its strongest supporters may say. It's not exactly the best preserved or the most impressive Islamic city out there, but it's definitely a thriving living city with a soul of its own. 2 days is not enough to explore the medina, partly because there is so much to see and experience, but also because it's so hard to find your way around. This might be a place to get a guide. But it's equally great an experience to get lost in its winding dusty streets and meet its people, whether they're out to scam you or not. Marrakesh is an experience, and if you give it a chance, it's bound to give you some unforgettable memories.
Feeling The Medina of Marrakesh. Before coming to Marrakesh, people told us, you’ll either love it or hate it. This wasn’t our first trip to the country, but this particular trip would let us have two weeks in Morocco to explore. So setting up a base in Marrakesh for a few days made sense on our trip in April 2018.
Our first step into the main square, Djemaa El-Fna, and it just felt so right. The square was a teeming mass of people, the smells from the nightly food stalls filled the air, and everywhere was the cacophony of noise. Everywhere. Horns, music, yelling, screaming, laughing.
But beyond the square and the souks, there’s a cultured influence here. It’s clear to see this is the one of the world’s great Islamic capitals.
The El Bahia Palace was absolutely remarkable in its architecture and beauty. There is perhaps no finer royal palace anywhere in the world. The courtyards and gardens bring a serenity that we didn’t expect to find in Marrakesh. But the ornate ceilings are the highlight and not to be missed.
When it comes to artwork and Islamic tilework, a visit to the Ben Youssef Madrasa is in order. It is beautiful!
However, we weren’t prepared to get lost in the medina. Perhaps we should have been. We now tell friends visiting that one of our top Moroccan travel tips is to be prepared to get lost – and enjoy it.
Like our friends said, you’ll either love Marrakesh or hate it. We ended up loving it.
Read more from Travel Addicts here.
I love this city - although I can't decide whether I prefer Marrakech or Fez. Oh well, no reason why you can't just enjoy both for different reasons!
The constant hassling of tourists for everything in Marrakech become a little annoying but you get used to it quite quickly and there are ways to minimise the trouble. Away from the souks and the hotels there are lots of great sights that make up the WHS. El Bahia Palace is one of the more impressive, but even the ruins in El Badi Palace have their own charm.
There are lots of ways you can approach a visit to Marrakech. I stayed for about three days and did a good mix of sights, getting lost, and just relaxing in the cafes.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
Travelling by train from Casablanca airport to Marrakesh, I soon found myself at Bab Doukkala and the entrance to the medina. Besides nearby the palacial riad that I was staying in, I was immediately besieged by the sounds, smells, sights and tastes of the souk. Here were stalls selling brochettes, tangerines, dates, live chickens, flat bread, ceramics and a thousand other necessities of life.
Over the next few days I explored this city, seeking out huge and decorated palaces, tiny synagogues and a massive Jewish cemetery.
We went to the medina in Marrakesh in March this year. I found it far less threatening than the medina in Fes. There is more room to move around and you are not getting almost run over by mules all the time. The people are friendly, however be careful not to be conned into buying items that you don't really want. The stall owners can be very pushy and all will tell you that their goods are unique, however you can often find the same item around the corner and often cheaper. Haggling over prices is expected so don't pay the asking price unless you are totally happy that it is already a bargain.Do be careful where you eat, look at the food and then look at the cafe/restaurant, is it clean does the food look fresh. Be careful of the monkeys, they are trained to steal off you if they can while they look cute they are cunning and sometimes can scratch or bite and that will only lead to severe medical problems.
Over-all we had a good day in the medina but did find that the further you went in the less variety there was as everything was the same. If you want to see as much as possible then start early (they open about 10am) and take some food and water with you, the stores don't close until about sundown so you should have plenty of time BUT do take note of which way you are going, it is like being in a rabbit burrow. Be mindful of those around you and hold on tight to your belongings,one last thing...those anying people that follow you around and try to sell you there goods...don't look at them and just keep on walking, this worked for me others in our group tried to argue with them and this only leads to you wishing you simply had shut up and kept walking. They will argue with you and follow you for ages, I witness one fellow follow a man in our group for over five minutes.
This is an experience that will stay with you forever, if you have the chance then you simply should not miss it.
I visited this WHS in June 2011. Marrakesh is home to several impressive monuments such as the Koutoubiya Mosque, the Kasbah, the Badi' Palace, the Ben Youssef Madrasa and the Saadian Tombs. However, the highlight of my visit was the Place Jama' El Fna, inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
I was there in 1974. It was a surreal experience for me, saw many things that I had seen in photos long ago in Life Magazine...sort of sent chills through my body. Compared to other cities in Morocco, it is an adventure you will never forget. I stayed there for about a week, living cheap in the medina, eating cheap at a cafe in the medina...good idea to eat where other vagabonds eat, I never got sick. The Plaza Djemma el Fna was good to see, but once you walk through the entrance to the medina, you've entered a world as different as you'll ever find anywhere in the world.
The merchants are like anywhere, want you to buy everything, wonder why you don't, will ship it for you anywhere you want....I didn't, there is no recourse if they don't. What are you goin to do, fly back and complain?
But, everything you see is about a good as it gets, you could furnish a palace with what you'll see.
I got there via a bus from Fez, a terrible city. Avoid it if you can, the Moroccans are so uptight there. I was a vagabond back then, hitched across N. Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
If you are really adventurous, go to Essouira, stay there for awhile, live in the medina. Another unforgettable experience. And you can enjoy the ocean as well.
Marrakech with a Berber heritage and one of the original travel meccas, is a vibrant mix of past and present. The Djema El Fna is an ancient meeting place where caravans crossing the sahara with slaves and trade goods met. The city has had a violent past but its historical monuments have been largely spared. The impressive Koutoubia mosque and minaret overlooks the the main square and the vast living medina or old city. The Ben Youssef Madrassa (university) is exquisite! Built during Islams golden age, it is a glorious testament to the artisans and architects of the Merinid Dynasty based out of Fez. The Merinid Sultan Abu Inan Faris in the 14 century became the patron to the great world traveller Ibn Battuta who studied in the great madrassas of Fez and Marrakech. The Djema el fna remains a strange place where fortune tellers, snake charmers, entertainers, story tellers (not in english) , healers, musicians, local families and foreigners congregate nightly. At night is the unforgettable night market serving exquisite cous cous. tagines (stews). grilled lamb chops or brochettes (skewered meats). fish, salads, and much more. 1000's of locals and visitors fill the dozens of eateries set up each night. it's a raucous affair with all having a great time. The vast medina is open late selling anything though the marrakech slave market is closed; it now sells carpets. One can get seriously lost in the medina. Its creepy at night. Marrakech is a great medieval city that retains its exotic nature with a cosmopolitan european modernity.
The medina here is no preserved museum it is busy, dirty and noisy and it is here that it’s massive charm can be found. The whole place feels completely alive, especially the main square Djema-El-Fna. This was the highlight of the city for me; it was so busy and on the whole it seemed that the entertainment was directed at the locals and not at the tourists. It was fascinating to see this happen, and at night (picture) it turns into a huge open air restaurant, unfortunately a bout of travellers stomach, picked up elsewhere, stopped us on our last night from giving the food a try but our travelling companions ate their and really enjoyed it. The square is not much to look at, however it is really a great place to experience, and you will be hard pressed to find a better bargain than the freshly squeezed juice for 3dh (€0.30) at many of the stalls.
The alleys leading north from Djema-El-Fna are the souqs and are really the central aspect of the city. Marakesh is a real trading city as a destination of the caravans arriving from the Sahara; this is shown by many of the wares on sale from Berber, Toureg and even Dogon communities. The things that are not brought in from the dessert are made with-in the city; it is great to see production happening on such a human scale. You can see the things for sale being handcrafted in stalls and courtyards all through the souqs, it is great to know that they are not just cheap imitations imported from the far east. (A quick note in reply to Paul Tanner’s review of Fez, you may be happy to know that the art of turning old car tyre’s into slippers and decorations is still alive and well here). I think the souqs were where I had the most fun, I really quite enjoy bartering and I did plenty of that here.
Although the highlights of Marrakesh are the human activities, it also possess’ some great sights as well, the minaret of the Katoubia Mosque is a real symbol of the city. The Ben Youssef Medersa is one of the few religious buildings open to non-Muslims and is well worth a visit, the decoration with Quranic script is brilliant. The Saadian Tombs and remains of Palace El Badi are also worthy excursions into the Kasbah.
Marrakesh is a fantastic city that buzzes with life, and unlike many other destinations it is not solely for the entertainment of tourists, it is the way that the people of the city live and have lived since its founding. A real gem and worth a weekend of any ones time.
medina of marrakesh is for me one the most peaceful on in all morocco. full of berber people imigrated from the after atlas villages south morocco. main square j'ma el fna sure is the staring point of the imense labirinth of the huge medina of marrakesh. from tapestry, food, local clothes and shoes, islamic items,books (theres even a astore called "FNAC BERBER" funny!!) jewely, handicraft of all sorts. everything can actually be found over there. the old medina helds the museum of marrakesh. be careful during sunset time. take enough time to see some stores, get lost, talk to people and get out of medina before full dark night comes. may be hard, maybe not...never been there to check, but somefriends born in marrakesh told me they don't go there.
near the old medina and the market square: cutubia mosque. huge mesquita with astonishing calling tower. in the square restaurantes may have dangerous food. it's normal to et some stomach sixkness after some dinner in j'ma el fna. personally i never was sick. i always go to restaurant number one called aicha, named after the cooks name, fat lady, bossy and very very nice always smiling. in the morning instead of drinking orange juice in the hotel, try to go to the ones on the main sqaure also.number 6 is my favorite.
hope you have great time in marakesh.
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