by, 11-09-2006 at 11:50 AM (417 Views)
This is the most popular of Morocco's imperial cities and a must-see. The setting is stunning, with ocher stucco buildings on a dry, rocky plain and the snow-peaked Atlas Mountains as a backdrop (they're not always visible). Much of the medina is surrounded by beautifully restored pinkish-red ramparts, and lovely palm gardens are interspersed among the impressive buildings, including several nicely renovated courtyard mansions (riads) that now serve as hotels. The modern town has gracious, wide avenues and large, resort-style hotels.
The vast square called Djemaa el-Fna is the main show in town. It's a market scene straight out of the movies, with snake charmers, musicians, acrobats and storytellers. At night, the plaza is filled with gaslit restaurant stalls and people enjoying the food and spectacle. If you'd rather not be in the thick of things, you can enjoy the atmosphere from one of the rooftop terrace restaurants overlooking the plaza.
The most impressive monuments in Marrakesh are the Koutoubia Mosque and its minaret (250 ft/77 m tallthe building is not accessible to non-Muslims), the Ben Youssef Medersa (a magnificent 16th-century Islamic college) and the ornately decorated Saadian Dynasty tombs. Other sights to see, if time permits, include the 19th-century Bahia Palace, the ruined 16th-century El Badi Palace, the Qubba Ba'Adiyn (a beautiful fountain pavilion for a mosque), the Dar Si Said Museum (decorative arts) and the lovely Majorelle gardens, purchased and restored by fashion designer Yves St. Laurent. The Marrakesh Museum and the Maison Tiskiwin are two small museums worth visiting, if you have the time. Two complexes of gardens and orchards, the Agdal and Menara, make for nice short excursions outside of the medina. Whether you're sightseeing or shopping, you'll probably spend time in the souks north of Djemaa el-Fna.
Day trips out of Marrakesh are as fascinating as the city itself. Excursions include trips to Ouarzazate and Imlil, where you can take a mule ride to the Aremd hamlet and view Morocco's highest mountain, 13,644-ft/4,159-m snow-covered Toubkal. (This is Morocco's most popular hiking areawalking up the mountain is about a three-day trip.) Located only 46 mi/74 km south of Marrakesh, Oukaimeden is a winter resort with the highest ski lift in Africa and spectacular views. Oumast is a sand-colored town with a beautiful lake and an excellent pottery market on Tuesday. The Ourika Valley features the Djebel Yagour prehistoric rock carvings and the Ighreb Mosque. The 300-ft/90-m Cascades d'Ouzoud (impressive waterfalls) and Demnate (an ancient village carved out of rock) are also in the area and are worth visiting, if time permits. Those interested in architectural history will want to visit the mosque in Tin Mal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by the Almohads in the 12th century. Unlike most mosques in Morocco, it's open to non-Muslims. A minimum of three nights is required to do justice to Marrakesh and the surrounding area. Marrakesh is 135 mi/215 km south of Casablanca.
Message Edited by LL_Editor on 11-14-2006 03:09 PM