Marrakech or Marrakesh is one of the largest cities in Morocco and one of the busiest tourist destinations in Africa. The city grew during the middle ages because of its strategic importance for connections between northern and sub-Saharan Africa, and was also a major destination for Sufi pilgrims. Marrakech is also a former capital of the kingdom of Morocco.
Marrakech's warm climate makes it a good destination for tourists year-round. Summer days can be very hot, and some businesses shut down during the most extreme heat. Winters are surprisingly warm during the day, but nights can be very cold. Probably the best time to plan a holiday in Marrakech is during spring and autumn. Be aware when scheduling a holiday in Marrakech during the holy month of Ramadan, as devout Muslims fast during the day and celebrate at sunset, that some shops and restaurants may be closed.
Marrakech's main attraction for a holiday in Marrakech is its Medina, or old city. The main square of this walled medieval settlement, Djemaa el-Fna, is filled with entertainers, food vendors and market stalls. This square, which as been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, comes alive most at night, when open-air grills serve street food to passers by and musicians and street theatre groups perform. The square is surrounded by networks of narrow, winding alleys leading to traditional souks or markets.
Almost anything can be found in the souks, from clothing to spices, art, ceramics and more. Foreigners typically pay inflated prices, but everything is negotiable. For crowded places full of bargaining merchants, the souks are surprisingly relaxed, at least compared to other markets in the Middle East.
Within the Medina is the Kasbah, which once enclosed the palace of the Caliph. This area, quieter and less hectic than most of the Medina, is home to amazing historical sites such as the Saadian Tombs. These tombs were built in the 16th and 17th century under the Saadi dynasty, and contain not only the burials of Muslims but also of members of Marrakech's Christian and Jewish communities.
It was also the Saadi sultans who built the El Badi Palace. Once a magnificent replica of Spain's Alhambra, built using materials imported from as far away as China, the palace is now a ruin. Some of its underground passages remain accessible, and the site provides spectacular views of the city.
Less splendid than El Badi, but much more intact, is El Bahia Palace, a 19th-century nobleman's residence. Stepping inside El Bahia allows visitors to experience how Marrakech's wealthy and powerful created islands of calm and cool amidst the heat and bustle of the city.
The major mosque in the Medina is the Koutoubia Mosque; its tall minaret is visable from throughout the city. Gardens full of fruit and palm trees are situated at the rear of this 12th-century house of worship. Non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque.
Not all of Marrakech's attractions are in the Medina. For example, the Majorelle Gardens are located in the modern suburb of Gueliz. This botanical park hosts a collection of plants from all around the globe, and is much valued as a peaceful place to escape the noise and crowds of the city. The park is also home to the Berber Museum, which celebrates the history and customs of the indigenous Berber people.
The cuisine of Marrakech mixes traditional Moroccan ingredients with the legacies of French colonisation.
Size: 7 square kilometres
Population: 1,063,415 people
Neighbourhoods: Medina, Gueliz
Landscape: Narrow historic streets, foothills of the Atlas mountains