Medina of Marrakech | A fascinating and typical Moroccan historic Town
The historic heart of Marrakech, the Medina is the largest in the Maghreb! In this almost millennial Old Arab City, tourists and modest marrakchis rub shoulders. Some stroll through the winding alleys, along the orange gardens and fountains, the others are busy, joining the souks of the Medina.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient district obviously shelters several magnificent monuments and vestiges such as the Koutoubia mosque, the Ben Youssef madrassa, and the Saadian tombs. You will also find many museums there. But above all, it is in the Medina that the famous souk of Marrakech is located and the Jemaa el-Fna square, the populous heart and "court of Miracles" of the city.
During your stay in Marrakech, you cannot fail to discover this fantastic typically Moroccan Old Town. But what should you absolutely visit? we reveal everything you need to know to visit the Medina of Marrakech in the best conditions!
History of the Medina of Marrakech
Founded by the Almoravids in 1070-1072, the Red City was for a long time one of the major political, cultural and economic centers of the Muslim West. The city quickly became the capital of the Almoravid Emirate. This Eurafrican empire stretched from the banks of the Senegal River to the center of the Iberian Peninsula, passing through the Atlantic coast of Morocco in the east to Algiers in the west. Under the impulse of the Almoravid leaders, mosques and palaces were built, with the help of Andalusian artisans from Seville and Cordoba. This Andalusian influence merged with the Saharan and West African stylistic elements.
You can still admire this unique and original architecture in the Medina of Marrakech. The city was also fortified by Ali Ben Youssef. The ramparts dating from 1122-1123 are still visible today!
In 1147 the Almohads captured the city. They destroy a large part of the Almoravid monuments. The new leaders nevertheless built numerous palaces and religious buildings, such as the famous Koutoubia mosque and the Kasbah. At the beginning of the 16th century, Marrakech became the capital of the Saadian Empire and returned to greatness. The city is embellished, the ruined monuments restored and sumptuous palaces are built. The El Badi Palace dates in particular from this period. Most of the Medina's monuments date from these different grandiose eras: the monumental doors, the gardens, the palaces, the Ben Youssef medersa, the Saadian tombs, and even the Jamaâ El Fna square.
What to see and do in the Medina of Marrakech?
The most interesting monuments as well as the majority of museums in Marrakech are found in the Medina. Unavoidable, you will probably spend most of your time there. The Medina is thus the most charming and touristy part of the city.
At first glance, the Medina will seem like an anarchic set of confusing disorder. After all, it is a veritable labyrinth of alleys, squares, souks and riads, in the midst of which stand palaces, mosques and Koranic schools. But it is this "bazaar" that makes the charm of the Medina. As far as it is from Arabia or Persia, it inevitably evokes the tales of the Arabian Nights, Aladdin or Sindbad.
The starting point: Jemaa el-Fna square
This large square is the heart of the Medina of Marrakech. Open and airy, this traditional, popular and lively hotspot is a must see! During the day, fairgrounds, peddlers and street artists provide the daily spectacle. At night, they are relayed by the food stands. It is the ideal starting point to visit the Medina of Marrakech and discover all its wonders.
The west: Koutoubia mosque
To the west of the square, you can start your visit to the Medina of Marrakech with the Koutoubia mosque. Built in the 12th century, its architecture and ascetic decor reflect the art of the Almohads. It is renowned for its minaret, 77 m high. It also houses one of the largest prayer halls in the Muslim West, which can accommodate up to 20,000 worshipers!
The North of the Medina
To the north of the square, you can discover some of the major monuments of Marrakech: the Mouassine mosque and its museum, the Maison de la photo or the fantastic Secret Garden. Your visit will certainly be extended by the Ben Youssef medersa, as well as magnificent riads, fountains and hammams. It is also north of the Medina of Marrakech that the souks district begins.
The South of the Medina
After visiting the north of the Medina, be sure to descend opposite the Jemaa el-Fna to the south. You will discover the Kasbah and the Mellah, two old districts located near the Royal Palace. Here you can visit several must-see places, such as the magnificent Bahia Palace or the fascinating museum of handicrafts and ethnology Bert Flint. We also recommend that you discover the ruins of El Badi Palace, very interesting remains. Above all, do not miss a visit to the Saadian Tombs, a hidden royal necropolis dating from the 18th century. Richly decorated, these tombs are surrounded by green gardens!
In the south of the Medina, you can also visit the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter of Marrakech. You will notably discover the pleasant souk of the district. The atmosphere is also quieter and less touristy in the south of the Medina. Take advantage of this moment of calm before returning to the twists and turns of the Old Town. Visiting the Medina of Marrakech also means getting lost in its souks and winding alleys.
Guided tours of the Medina of Marrakech
To not miss anything during your visit to the Medina of Marrakech, you can opt for a guided tour. It’s the perfect activity to explore the Old Town in great detail and learn more about the history of the "Red City".
These 3 to 4 hour tours will take you through the winding alleys of the Medina. Your local guide will explain everything there is to know about the palaces, gardens and monuments that you will discover. Many types of tours exist. Some will show you the local souks, others monuments and vestiges dating from glorious times. In each case, you will learn more about the history of Marrakech, its sultans and inhabitants.