Marrakech (Arabic: مراكش, Murrākuš) is a major city in the northwest African nation of Morocco. It is the fourth largest
city in the country after Casablanca, Fes and Rabat, and is the capital of the mid-southwestern economic region of Marrakesh-Tensift-El Haouz. Located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped
Atlas Mountains, by road Marrakesh is located 580 km (360 mi) southwest of Tangier, 327 km (203 mi) southwest of the Moroccan capital of Rabat, 239 km (149 mi) southwest of Casablanca, and 246 km
(153 mi) northeast of Agadir.
Marrakesh is the most important of Morocco's four former imperial cities. Inhabited by Berber farmers from Neolithic times, the city was founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin. In the 12th century, the Almoravids built many madrasas (Koranic schools) and mosques in Marrakesh that bear Andalusian influences. The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122-1123, and various buildings constructed in red sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the "Red City" or "Ochre City". Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading centre for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa; Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest square in Africa. After a period of decline, the city was surpassed by Fes, but in the early 16th century, Marrakesh again became the capital of the kingdom. The city regained its preeminence under wealthy Saadian sultans Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur, who embellished the city with sumptuous palaces such as the El Badi Palace (1578) and restored many ruined monuments. Beginning in the 17th century, the city became popular among Sufi pilgrims for Morocco's seven patron saints, who are entombed here. In 1912 the French Protectorate in Morocco was established and T'hami El Glaoui became Pasha of Marrakesh and held this position nearly throughout the duration of the protectorate until the role was dissolved upon independence of Morocco and the reestablishment of the monarchy in 1956.
The exact meaning of the name is debated. The probable origin of the name Marrakesh is from the Berber (Amazigh) words mur (n) akush),
which means "Land of God". According to historian Susan Searight, however, the town's name was first documented in an 11th-century manuscript in the Qarawiyyin library in Fez, where its meaning
was given as "country of the sons of Kush". The word mur is used now in Berber mostly in the feminine form tamurt. The same word "mur" appears in Mauretania, the North African kingdom from antiquity,
although the link remains controversial as this name possibly originates from μαύρος mavros, the ancient Greek word for black. The common English spelling is "Marrakesh" although "Marrakech" (the
French spelling) is also widely used. The name is spelled Mṛṛakc in the Berber Latin alphabet, Marraquech in Spanish and "Mer-reksh" in Moroccan Arabic.
From medieval times until around the beginning of the 20th century, the entire country of Morocco was known in English and other European literature as the "Kingdom of Marrakesh", as the kingdom's historic capital city was often Marrakesh. The name for Morocco is still "Marrakech" to this day in Persian and Urdu (مراكش) as well as many other South Asian languages. Various European names for Morocco (Marruecos, Marrocos, Maroc, Marokko, etc.) are directly derived from the Berber word Murakush. Conversely, the city itself was in earlier times simply called Marocco City (or similar) by travelers from abroad. The name of the city and the country diverged after the Treaty of Fez made Morocco a French protectorate, but the old interchangeable usage lasted widely until about the interregnum of Mohammed Ben Aarafa (1953-1955). The latter episode set in motion the country's return to independence, when Morocco officially became al-Mamlaka al-Maġribiyya (المملكة المغربية) ("The Maghreb Kingdom"), its name no longer referring to the city of Marrakesh. Marrakesh is known by a variety of nicknames, including the "Red City", the "Ochre City" and "the Daughter of the Desert", and has been the focus of poetic analogies such as one comparing the city to "a drum that beats an African identity into the complex soul of Morocco."
The Marrakesh area was inhabited by Berber farmers from Neolithic times, and numerous stone implements have been unearthed in the area. Marrakesh was founded in 1062 (454 in the Hijri calendar) by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and second cousin of the Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin (c. 1061-1106). Under the Almoravids, pious and learned warriors from the desert, numerous mosques and madrasas (Koranic schools) were built, developing the community into a trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural and religious center, supplanting Aghmat, which had long been the capital of Haouz. Andalusian craftsmen from Cordoba and Seville built and decorated numerous palaces in the city, developing the Umayyad style characterized by carved domes and cusped arches. This Andalusian influence merged with designs from the Sahara and West Africa, creating a unique style of architecture which was fully adapted to the Marrakesh environment. Yusuf ibn Tashfin completed the city's first mosque (the Ben Youssef mosque, named after his son), built houses, minted coins, and brought gold and silver to the city in caravans. The city became the capital of the Almoravid Emirate, stretching from the shores of Senegal to the center of Spain and from the Atlantic coast to Algiers.
Marrakesh is one of the great citadels of the Muslim world. The city was fortified by Tashfin's son, Ali ibn Yusuf, who in 1122-1123 built the ramparts which remain to this day, completed further mosques and palaces, and developed an underground water system in the city known as the rhettara to irrigate his new garden. In 1125, the preacher Ibn Tumert settled in Tin Mal in the mountains to the south of Marrakesh. He preached against the Almoravids and influenced a revolt which succeeded in bringing about the fall of nearby Aghmat, but stopped short of bringing down Marrakesh following an unsuccessful siege in 1130. The Almohads, Masmouda tribesmen from the High Atlas mountains who practiced orthodox Islam, took the city in 1147 under leader Abd al-Mu'min. After a long siege and the killing of some 7,000 people, the last of the Almoravids were exterminated apart from those who sought exile in the Balearic Islands. As a result, almost all the city's monuments were destroyed. The Almohads constructed a range of palaces and religious buildings, including the famous Koutoubia Mosque (1184-1199), and built upon the ruins of an Almoravid palace. It was a twin of the Giralda in Seville and the unfinished Hassan Tower in Rabat, all built by the same designer. The Kasbah housed the residence of the caliph, a title borne by the Almohad rulers from the reign of Abd al-Mu'min, rivaling the far eastern Abbasid Caliphate. The Kasbah was named after the caliph Yaqub al-Mansur. The irrigation system was perfected to provide water for new palm groves and parks, including the Menara Garden. As a result of its cultural reputation, Marrakesh attracted many writers and artists, especially from Andalusia, including the famous philosopher Averroes of Cordoba.
The death of Yusuf II in 1224 began a period of instability. Marrakesh became the stronghold of the Almohad tribal sheikhs and the ahl ad-dar (descendants of Ibn Tumart), who sought to claw power back from the ruling Almohad family. Marrakesh was taken, lost and retaken by force multiple times by a stream of caliphs and pretenders, such as during the brutal seizure of Marrakesh by the Sevillan caliph Abd al-Wahid II al-Ma'mun in 1226, which was followed by a massacre of the Almohad tribal sheikhs and their families and a public denunciation of Ibn Tumart's doctrines by the caliph from the pulpit of the Kasbah mosque. After al-Ma'mun's death in 1232, his widow attempted to forcibly install her son, acquiring the support of the Almohad army chiefs and Spanish mercenaries with the promise to hand Marrakesh over to them for the sack. Hearing of the terms, the people of Marrakesh sought to make an agreement with the military captains and saved the city from destruction with a sizable payoff of 500,000 dinars. In 1269, Marrakesh was conquered by nomadic Zenata tribes who overran the last of the Almohads. The city then fell into a state of decline, which soon led to the loss of its status as capital to rival city Fes.
In the early 16th century, Marrakesh again became the capital of the kingdom, after a period when it was the seat of the Hintata emirs. It quickly reestablished its status, especially during the reigns of the Saadian sultans Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur. Thanks to the wealth amassed by the Sultans, Marrakesh was embellished with sumptuous palaces while its ruined monuments were restored. El Badi Palace, built by Ahmad al-Mansur in 1578, was a replica of the Alhambra Palace, made with costly and rare materials including marble from Italy, gold dust from Sudan, porphyry from India and jade from China. The palace was intended primarily for hosting lavish receptions for ambassadors from Spain, England and the Ottoman Empire, showcasing Saadian Morocco as a nation whose power and influence reached as far as the borders of Niger and Mali. Under the Saadian dynasty, Marrakesh regained its former position as a point of contact for caravan routes from the Maghreb, the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan African.
For centuries Marrakesh has been known as the location of the tombs of Morocco's seven patron saints (sebaatou rizjel). When sufism was at
the height of its popularity during the late 17th century reign of Moulay Ismail, the festival of these saints was founded by Abu Ali al-Hassan al-Yusi at the request of the sultan. The tombs of
several renowned figures were moved to Marrakesh to attract pilgrims, and the pilgrimage associated with the seven saints is now a firmly established institution. Pilgrims visit the tombs of the
saints in a specific order, as follows: Sidi Yusuf Ali Sangadji (1196–97), a leper; Kadi Iyad or Kadi of Cueta (1083-1149), a theologian and author of Shifa (treatises on the virtues of Mohammed);
Sidi Bel Abbas (1130-1204), known as the patron saint of the city and most revered in the region; Sidi Muhammad al-Jazuli (1465), a well known Sufi who founded the Djazuli brotherhood; Abdelaziz
al-Tebaa (1508), a student of Djazuli; Abdallah al-Ghazwani (1528), known as Mawla; and Sidi Abu al-Qasim Al-Suhayli, (1185), also known as Imam Al Suhyani. Until 1867, European Christians were not
authorized to enter the city unless they acquired special permission from the sultan; east European Jews were permitted.
During the early 20th century, Marrakesh underwent several years of unrest. After the premature death in 1900 of the grand vizier Ba Ahmed, who had been designated regent until the designated sultan Abd al-Aziz became of age, the country was plagued by anarchy, tribal revolts, the plotting of feudal lords, and European intrigues. In 1907, Marrakesh caliph Moulay Abd al-Hafid was proclaimed sultan by the powerful tribes of the High Atlas and by Ulama scholars who denied the legitimacy of his brother, Abd al-Aziz. It was also in 1907 that Dr. Mauchamp, a French doctor, was murdered in Marrakesh, suspected of spying for his country. France used the event as a pretext for sending its troops from the eastern Moroccan town of Oujda to the major metropolitan center of Casablanca in the west. The French colonial army encountered strong resistance from Ahmed al-Hiba, a son of Sheikh Ma al-'Aynayn, who arrived from the Sahara accompanied by his nomadic Reguibat tribal warriors. On 30 March 1912, the French Protectorate in Morocco was established. After the Battle of Sidi Bou Othman, which saw the victory of the French Mangin column over the al-Hiba forces in September 1912, the French seized Marrakesh. The conquest was facilitated by the rallying of the Imzwarn tribes and their leaders from the powerful Glaoui family, leading to a massacre of Marrakesh citizens in the resulting turmoil.
The Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. It has been described as a "world-famous square", "a metaphorical urban icon, a bridge between the past and the present, the place where (spectacularized) Moroccan tradition encounters modernity." It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The name roughly means "the assembly of trespassers" or malefactors. Jemaa el-Fnaa was renovated along with much of the Marrakech city, whose walls were extended by Abu Yaqub Yusuf and particularly by Yaqub al-Mansur in 1147-1158. The surrounding mosque, palace, hospital, parade ground and gardens around the edges of the marketplace were also overhauled, and the Kasbah was fortified. Subsequently with the fluctuating fortunes of the city, Jemaa el-Fnaa saw periods of decline and renewal. Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history. The square attracted tradesmen, snake charmers ("wild, dark, frenzied men with long disheveled hair falling over their naked shoulders"), dancing boys of the Chleuh Atlas tribe, and musicians playing pipes, tambourines and African drums. Richard Hamilton said that Jemaa el-Fnaa once "reeked of Berber particularism, of backward-looking, ill-educated countrymen, rather than the reformist, pan-Arab internationalism and command economy that were the imagined future." Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists, pickpockets, and entertainers in medieval garb still populate the square.
Marrakesh has the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco and the image of the city is closely associated with its souks. Paul
Sullivan cites the souks as the principal shopping attraction in the city: "A honeycomb of intricately connected alleyways, this fundamental section of the old city is a micro-medina in itself,
comprising a dizzying number of stalls and shops that range from itsy kiosks no bigger than an elf's wardrobe to scruffy store-fronts that morph into glittering Aladdin's Caves once you're inside."
Historically the souks of Marrakesh were divided into retail areas for particular goods such as leather, carpets, metalwork and pottery. These divisions still roughly exist but with significant
overlap. Many of the souks sell items like carpets and rugs, traditional Muslim attire, leather bags, and lanterns. Haggling is still a very important part of trade in the souks.
One of the largest souks is Souk Semmarine, which sells everything from brightly coloured bejewelled sandals and slippers and leather pouffes to jewellery and kaftans. Souk Ableuh contains stalls which specialize in lemons, chilis, capers, pickles, green, red, and black olives, and mint, a common ingredient of Moroccan cuisine and tea. Similarly, Souk Kchacha specializes in dried fruit and nuts, including dates, figs, walnuts, cashews and apricots. Rahba Qedima contains stalls selling hand-woven baskets, natural perfumes, knitted hats, scarves, tee shirts, Ramadan tea, ginseng, and alligator and iguana skins. Criee Berbiere, to the northeast of this market, is noted for its dark Berber carpets and rugs. Souk Siyyaghin is known for its jewellery, and Souk Smata nearby is noted for its extensive collection of babouches and belts. Souk Cherratine specializes in leatherware, and Souk Belaarif sells modern consumer goods. Souk Haddadine specializes in ironware and lanterns.
Ensemble Artisanal is a government-run complex of small arts and crafts which offers a range of leather goods, textiles and carpets. Young apprentices are taught a range of crafts in the workshop at the back of this complex.
The ramparts of Marrakesh, which stretch for some 19 kilometres (12 mi) around the medina of the city, were built by the Almoravids in the 12th century as protective fortifications. The walls are made of a distinct orange-red clay and chalk, giving the city its nickname as the "red city"; they stand up to 19 feet (5.8 m) high and have 20 gates and 200 towers along them. Bab Agnaou was built in the 12th century during the Almohad dynasty. The Berber name Agnaou, like Gnaoua, refers to people of Sub-Saharan African origin (cf. Akal-n-iguinawen - land of the black). The gate was called Bab al Kohl (the word kohl also meaning "black") or Bab al Qsar (palace gate) in some historical sources. The corner-pieces are embellished with floral decorations. This ornamentation is framed by three panels marked with an inscription from the Quran in Maghrebi script using foliated Kufic letters, which were also used in Al-Andalus. Bab Agnaou was renovated and its opening reduced in size during the rule of sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah. Bab Aghmat is located east of the Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, and is near the tomb of Ali ibn Yusuf. Bab Berrima with its solid towers stands near the Badi Palace. Bab er Robb (meaning "Lord's gate") is a southern exit from the city, near Bab Agnaou. Built in the 1100s, it provides access to roads leading to the mountain towns of Amizmiz and Asni. Bab el Khémis, situated in the medina's northeastern corner, is one of the city's main gates and features a man-made spring.
Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in the city, located in the southwest medina quarter of Marrakesh alongside the square. It was completed under the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199), and has inspired other buildings such as the Giralda of Seville and the Hassan Tower of Rabat. The mosque is made of red stone and brick and measures 80 metres (260 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide. The minaret was designed to prevent a person at the top of the tower from viewing activity within the king's harems. The Umayyad-style minaret is constructed from sandstone and stands 77 metres (253 ft) high. It was originally covered with Marrakshi pink plaster, but in the 1990s experts opted to remove the plaster to expose the original stone work. The spire atop the minaret is decorated with gilded copper balls that decrease in size towards the top, a style unique to Morocco.[
Ben Youssef Mosque, distinguished by its green tiled roof and minaret, is located in the medina and is Marrakesh's oldest mosque. It was originally built in the 12th century by the Almoravid Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf in honor of Yusuf ibn Ali al-Sanhaji. When built it was the city's largest mosque but today it is half its original size. It was rebuilt in the 1560s by Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib, as the original had fallen into ruin. He also built a madrasa with a large library beside the mosque, but this also deteriorated over time, leaving only the 19th-century mosque intact. The Almoravid Koubba Ba’adiyn, a two-storied kiosk, was discovered in a sunken location on the mosque site in 1948. In the Moroccan architectural style, its arches are scalloped on the first floor, while those on the second floor bear a twin horseshoe shape embellished with a turban motif. The dome of the kiosk is framed by a battlement decorated with arches and seven-pointed stars. The interior of the octagonally arched dome is decorated with distinctive carvings bordered by a Kufic frieze inscribed with the name of its patron, Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf. The quinches at the corners of the dome are covered with muqarnas. The kiosk has motifs of pine cones, palms and acanthus leaves which are also replicated in the Ben Youssef Madrasa.
The Saadian Tombs were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum to bury numerous Saadian rulers and entertainers. It was lost for many years until the French rediscovered it in 1917 using aerial photographs. The mausoleum comprises the corpses of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty that originated in the valley of the Draa River. Among the graves are those of Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and his family; al-Mansur buried his mother in this dynastic necropolis in 1590 after enlarging the original square funeral structure. It is located next to the south wall of the Almohad mosque of the Kasba in a cemetery that contains several graves of Mohammad's descendants. His own tomb, richly embellished with decorations, was modeled on the Nasrid mausoleum in Granada, Spain. The building is composed of three rooms; the best known has a roof supported by twelve columns and encloses the tomb of al-Mansur's son. The room exemplifies Islamic architecture with floral motifs, calligraphy, zellij and carrara marble, and the stele is in finely worked cedar wood and stucco. Outside the building are a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants.
The Medina holds the tombs of the seven patron saints of Morocco, which are visited every year by pilgrims during the week long ziara pilgrimage. According to tradition, it is believed that these saints are only sleeping and will awaken one day to resume their good deeds. A pilgrimage to the tombs offers an alternative to the hajj to Mecca and Medina for people of western Morocco who could not visit Arabia due to the arduous and costly journey involved. Circumambulation of the tombs is undertaken by devotees to achieve inner purity. This ritual is performed on Fridays in the following ordained sequence: Sidi Yusuf ibn Ali Sanhaji, Sidi al-Qadi Iyyad al-Yahsubi, Sidi Bel Abbas, Sidi Mohamed ibn Sulayman al-Jazouli, Sidi Abdellaziz Tabba'a, Sidi Abdellah al-Ghazwani, and lastly, Sidi Abderrahman al-Suhayli. The most important of the seven tombs is the shrine of Sidi Bel Abbas.