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Marrakech history

Posted by webobr on 5 April 2018
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Medina of Marrakech

Since its creation in 1070 JC by the dynasty almoravide, Marrakesh was always the metropolis of the big South. His fame was such it indicated all Morocco till the end of the XIXth century.

The creation of Marrakesh can be decomposed in three phases: Abou Baker chooses the site, Youssef Ben Tachefine bases the city by transforming the camp of the nomads into a place strengthened named Qsar al Hajar and Ali Ben Youssef was the first town planner. Indeed in 112 6 JC Ali Ben Youssef sets up a 9 km rampart, builds a new palace and endows the city of buildings in the public interest (mosque, oratories, fountains …). Monuments raised during his reign were of a big architectural and ornamental wealth marked by the Andalusian influence.

In 1147 JC Marrakech passed into the hands of the Almohads who, under the impulse of Calif Abdelmoumen Ben Ali, would make it the capital of a vast empire. It is a prosperous period for the city, which is expanding and becoming urbanized by the construction of the Kasbah, a gigantic autonomous royal district that has required the participation of 4000 craftsmen, and the completion of the great mosque Koutoubiya . Through these works Marrakech becomes a real imperial city with multiple functions: political and military, intellectual and spiritual, commercial and artisanal, great crossroads of the south in constant relation with the Sahara, Andalusia and the Maghreb.

After the seizure of Marrakech by the Marinids in 1269 JC, the city will experience its first period of decline and will be abandoned in favor of Fez. It remained so for three centuries. With the arrival in power of the Saadians in the second half of the XVI century Marrakech will regain its status as capital thanks to Abdallah al Ghalib (1557-1574) The greatest builder of the dynasty. He began by rehabilitating the water supply and building new buildings and neighborhoods and thoroughly redeveloping the Kasbah, which resurfaces from its ruins. His great works will be completed by those undertaken by Ahmed El Mansour who built the fabulous El Badia Palace and the dynastic necropolis, between 1562 and 1573; the district of the great mosque Ben Youssef renovated by the construction of the complexes el Mouassine.

Marrakech was once again taken over in 1669 by the first Alawite sovereign Moulay Rachid who made it one of his residences with Fez. His role became very limited.
Marrakech regained its vitality and its importance at the epoch of Sidi Mohammed (1757-1790). The city will be adorned with new buildings and new neighbourhoods. The centuries that follow will bring few changes to the city that will retain the features inherited from the reign of Moulay Abdellah.

The bulwarks of Marrakesh

This enclosure is 10 km long with a variable height between 6 and 9m, while its thickness varies between 1.60m and 2m. It is supported by bearded towers and pierced by monumental gates, of which  the most imposing are Bab Doukala, Bab Aghmat, Bab Aylane and Bab Agnaou.

The Gates (Bab Doukkala, Bab Aghmat)

Marrakech is surrounded by ramparts of mud. This wall is five meters high and two meters thick. It covers a length of about 12 km. It was built by the almoravid Ali Ben Youssef in 1126-1127.

A part of the enclosure is still well preserved, but it was enlarged during the successive enlargements of the medina, especially during the Almohad period. This huge enclosure is pierced by ten doors, among which which should be noted :

Bab Doukkala

Imposing structure composed of two bastions projecting from both sides a door giving passage to a corridor. This gate of Almoravid origin, owes its name to the homonymous territory, inhabited by Almohad populations.

Bab Aghmat

Gate of the city opening in one of the bastions that defended it. This rather curious plan, must result from a reshaping of the primitive gate of the Almoravid period.

El Badiâ Palace

This great palace was built during the last quarter of the 16th century by the Saadian Sultan Ahmed al Mansour (1578-1603) to commemorate his victory over the Portuguese army in 1578. To build the Palace el Badiâ (the incomparable one), the Saadian sovereign chose the northeast corner of the kasbah. El Badiâ was devoted to festivities and solemn audiences during which the sovereign could show his splendour. The palatial complex consists of a large courtyard in a rectangular form of 135 m by 110 m, in the middle of which was arranged a basin of 90 m by 20 m. Around this huge courtyard are organized the archaeological remains of ancient pavilions following a plan inspired by Moroccan domestic architecture. From the decorative richness so famous of this palace remains ornamental elements such as capitals and parts of the zellige parterre. El Badiâ was destroyed in the 17th siercle by the Alawite sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1627-1727). The demolition lasted about ten years. Much of its material was transported to Meknes to be reused in the construction of the city.

Almoravid koubba

The unique architectural witness of the Almoravid period in Marrakech, the koubba was dug up around 1948 due to archaeological excavations. It is located in the district of Ben Yussef near the mosque that bears the same name. The almoravid kubba is a small architectural complex destined to ablutions and depended on an Almoravid mosque. This monument is in the form of a sumptuous dome encircled by the remains of small cells that served as latrines. The dome is built above a rectangular basin. The interior of the dome is decorated with a splendid decoration whose themes are epigraphy, and arabesque floral.

Saadiens Tombs

The royal necropolis of the Saadian family was created after the burial of Prince Mohamed Sheikh in 1557. His son, who had raised a kubba, was buried there in 1574. This building and known as koubba Lalla Mesaouda. Ahmed El Mansour buried his mother there in 1591 and his three successors. This complex consists of several funerary halls among them one finds the koubba of Lalla Mesaouda, the second building is the central hall known as the hall of twelve columns which houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed El Mansour, the mihrab room and the three niches room, another room houses children’s graves. The whole monument is pleasantly decorated with great finesse in execution.

Fountain Mouassine

This public fountain is the largest of all the fountains in Marrakech. It is part of the Mouassine complex, which includes a mosque, a library, a hammam, a Medersa (School) and the Mouassine fountain. The latter was built during the Saadian period under the order of Sultan Abdellah al Ghâlib between 1562 and 1563. It is of a beautiful architectural composition and gathers three large watering troughs covered with vaults and opened on the street by three arcades.

The mosque the Koutoubia

It is the most famous religious monument of Marrakech. This mosque of great architectural style and decorative richness has a complex history. It is actually a double sanctuary with a minaret.

The first Koutoubia was inaugurated in 1157 and the second and the minaret were built a year later in 1158 JC on the order of Abdelmoumen. The two sanctuaries are distinguished by their innovative plan, which gives a central importance to the qibla wall. In fact, this valorization can be seen by the T-shaped plan drawn by the overlap between the two main naves of the prayer hall, which are the axial nave and the longitudinal nave.

What highlights this monument is its gigantic minaret which is one of the wonders of art and architecture in Islam. Built of cut stone, it has inside a ramp that allows access to rooms covered with domes and to its summit. Its height is 77 m. It has decorative registers on top facades made of green and white ceramic tiles.

Medersa Ben Youssef (School of Ben Youssef)

The Medersa ben Youssef is one of the most important historical monuments in Marrakech. It is also one of the largest Medersa of the Maghreb. It was raised by the saadien Abd Allah al Ghalib in 1564-1565, this is attested by inscriptions on the capitals of the prayer hall and on the lintel of the front door.

The Medersa has a 1,680m2 square plan, a prayer hall and 130 student rooms. All in all, Medersa is a true reflection of the magnificence of Saadian art.

Jamaa El Fna Square

It is a significant example of the richness of the performing arts in Morocco. This world-renowned square has always been the main attraction for visitors to the city of Marrakech. It is a space of shows and recreation that were chained up until a late hour in the evening. The square continues to attract crowds of visitors from all corners of the world to attend shows animated by snake charmers, monkey trainers, storytellers, musicians and other popular artists. The intensity of these spectacular original activities advocated the designation of this place by UNESCO in 2001 as a World Oral Heritage, the first of its kind on a world scale.

Bahia Palace

The Bahia Palace, a large old house and a group of houses were assembled and converted into a palace at the end of the 19th century by the Moroccan architect El Mekki on behalf of the great vizier Ahmed ben Moussa called Ba Hmad (1841-1900). The best workers and artisans in the country worked there continuously for six years (1894-1900).

It is a suite of courtyards, gardens, lounges, outbuildings and annexes remarkable for their structure as well as for their ornamentation. These groups are as follows:

The little Riyadh

It is an interior garden on which open rooms and niches. It is there that Ba Hmad received the government people in the large council hall with a painted and openwork ceiling. It was also there that the offices of Marshal Lyautey were later set up.

The little yard

Four rooms opening onto an open-air courtyard entirely tiled with marble and zellij (ceramic tiles) constituted the private apartments of Ba Hmad; they were transformed in Lyautey’s time into an officer’s room.

The large marble courtyard known as the ‘Courtyard of Honour’

It is a huge courtyard (50 m x 30 m) with open sky, paved with marble and zellij surrounded by a gallery with carved wooden columns, on which opens an imposing reception room called the Council Room, the largest of the palace (20 m x 8 m) and whose painted ceiling is of great beauty.

The Great Riyadh

This is the oldest part of the palace built by Ba Hmad’s father, Si Moussa, which was completed in 1866-1867 and subsequently refurbished. In addition to the garden, this Riyadh is distinguished by its two rooms and two niches with refined decoration.

The private apartment

Two rooms and two niches overlook a space covered by a painted ceiling, lit by sculpted and finely openwork plaster panels.