With only 5 hours to experience the wonders of Marrakech, we set out on foot (and occasionally on bus) to some of the city's most popular sights. Our tour guide was absolutely wonderful…divulging as much history and culture as he could feed our excited minds. Here's a quick rundown of the main sights we visited during our Marrakech experience:
Koutoubia Mosque & Gardens: Known as the largest mosque in Marrakech, Koutoubia stands as a prominent historic landmark among its lush gardens and expansive plaza areas. Its Moorish minaret towers an impressive 253 feet above the surrounding palm trees. Koutoubia (meaning 'booksellers') earned its name from the 100 booksellers that clustered themselves around its base in the 12th century. At the top of the minaret, there are 4 copper orbs. Legend has it that these orbs were formerly made of solid gold, and were only 3 orbs instead of 4. The 4th orb was said to have been donated to the mosque by the wife of Yaqub-al-Mansur as a penance for breaking her fast for 3 hours during Ramadan. The mosque is not currently open to non-muslims, but the plaza and surrounding gardens are worth a leisurely stroll.
Menara Gardens & Pavilion: As working farm and garden, Menara Pavilion is famed for its beautiful olive groves, reflecting pool, and Atlas Mountains backdrop. It's the perfect spot for a quiet walk or a picnic along the water. You can experience some great views from the balcony of the menzeh, the centerpiece of the reflecting pool. Just outside the pavilion entrance, you can catch a camel ride (although we opted to keep our feet firmly planted on Moroccan soil that day). Free admission.
Bahia Palace: With a name meaning "brilliance," it was easy to see why Bahia Palace is such a popular landmark in Marrakech. Inlaid woodwork ceilings, sunburst zellige tiling, colorful stained glass windows…this palace is a perfect example of beautiful Moroccan architecture and design. While only 8 out of the palace's 150+ rooms are open to the public, you can still visit the opulent harem once home to Bou Ahmed's 4 wives and 24 concubines. The courtyards (which are still used to receive foreign dignitaries) are also quite idyllic and charming. This was one of our favorite attractions in Marrakech! Admission fee is 10 Dirhams (equals roughly €2).
Saadian Tombs & Kasbah Mosque: Only recently discovered in 1917, the Saadian Tombs (within the right corner of the Kasbah Mosque) have become a popular tourist attraction because of their colorful tile decoration, Arabic script, and elaborate carvings. One interior mausoleum is home to the tombs of 60+ members of the Saadi Dynasty, while the garden area is laid with over 100 more princes and members of the royal household. Lines can get long, so prepare for a wait! Admission fee: 10 Dirhams (roughly €2).
Marrakech Souks: The souks of Marrakech reminded much of the bazaars of Istanbul…cheap knick-knacks, pashminas, pottery, lamps, carpets, teas/spices…the whole market nine yards. These kinds of markets are always worth a visit to experience the sights and sounds typical of a bustling hub of trade and tourism. You can find souks, both large and small, around almost every corner in Marrakech, so make sure to shop around the best prices on whatever you may buy. It's important to keep an open mind when experiencing cultural scenes like souks, but also be aware of your surroundings and avoid pushy vendors. Haggling is expected, but remember to be respectful. And of course, watch out for items that are "Made in China."
Jemaa el-Fna Square: This large square in the heart of Marrakech Medina quarter (Old city) is quite popular among tourists and locals alike. Within this square, you can find a myriad of street performers, teens walking around with apes on chains, snake charmers, food carts, juice vendors, magicians, handicraft peddlers, and Berber musicians. Needless to say, this place is quite the spectacle. On one side of the square, you can also find the entrance to a popular souk. I have to admit, I was a bit afraid to snap photos here. If any street vendor or performer saw you with a camera pointed in their direction, they immediately propositioned you for money. If you denied their request (as I watched many tourists do), the street performers got upset and often times, a bit aggressive. We were warned about this before entering the square, so I was armed with spare change just in case. The most fascinating sight to see? The snake charmers. We stood as far away as possible (because let's face it, snakes are terrifying), but close enough to watch as men held them above the shoulders of brave tourists and coaxed them to stillness with music. Mind boggling. This square is also where I purchased some really cute harem pants (for my fashion inclined sister) and some fun souvenirs for my own collection.