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6 Reasons to Visit Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech is a former capital city of Morocco founded in 1070 that today is a vibrant centre of bustling souks, Islamic architecture and Moroccan hammams. In tribute to the One Thousand and One Nights folktale, Marrakech describes itself as a city of 1001 activities.

Here are the top 6 reasons to visit Marrakech.

Experience Jemaa el-Fnaa

Jemaa el-Fnaa at night
Jemaa el-Fnaa at night.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, sometimes known at the Square, is one of the main cultural spaces in Marrakech and is listed on UNESCO’s sites of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Jemaa el-Fnaa is a vast marketplace located in the heart of the old city that’s a vibrant hub of activity that includes poetry readings, snake charmers and monkey trainers, henna tattooing, and musical and dance performances.

While the Square is a hive of activity during the day, it steps it up a notch at night, when there are rows of stalls offering Moroccan street food and delicacies such as tagine, couscous and mint tea. Jemaa el-Fnaa is also a centre of cultural exchange. You’re likely to see crowds gathered around a storyteller, regaling listeners with Moroccan folklore that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Explore the Souks of the Medina

Spices laid out on a table in a souk in Morocco.
Aromatic spices in a Moroccan souk, Marakkech.

The Medina is the old city of Marrakech that was founded in 1070-72 by the Almoravids, and served as a major political, economic, and cultural centre of the Islamic world. On UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Medina of Marrakech is famous for its incredible souks, which are vibrant, colourful markets selling anything you can think of. A visit to the souks will present you with rows of aromatic spices, colourful fabrics and intricately woven rugs, mystical lanterns, fashion accessories and traditional Moroccan clothing such as djellabas (loose-fitting robes) and kaftans (long dresses).

While shopping can be a fun activity, simply exploring the souks of the Medina is an experience in itself. Don’t be surprised if you get lost in the narrow, winding, cobblestoned lanes of the Medina as you witness artisans hard at work and the sounds of haggling. As you navigate through the labyrinthine network of souks, make sure to immerse yourself in the sensory overload of Moroccan culture. You may come across some hidden gems and can depart with the memory of exploring the unique, maze-like alleys of Marrakech.

Bags for sale and cafes in a souk in Medina, Marrakech, Morocco.
An open-air souk in the Medina.

Admire the history and architecture of Marrakech

Koutoubia Mosque at night
Koutoubia Mosque at night.

Marrakech is sometimes called the ‘Red City’ because of the reddish hue of its buildings, derived from the distinctive, local clay used for construction. The city also has various architectural highlights that reflect Morocco’s history and cultural influences such as the iconic Koutoubia Mosque.

Koutoubia Mosque, located in the Medina and a 10 minute walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa, is the largest mosque in Marrakech. Founded in 1147 by the Almohad Caliph Abd al-Mu’min, it has, over the centuries, served as a mosque as well as a sanctuary with its gardens and fountain. Koutoubia Mosque is a showcase for Almohad architecture, known for its ascetic beauty, and its most prominent feature is its 77-metre minaret, the tallest structure in Marrakech.

Bahia Palace is a 19th century palace originally built for the personal use of Si Musa, the Grand Vizier of Sultan Muhammad IV. Today it’s a popular tourist destination for visitors to take in traditional Moroccan-inspired architecture with intricate mosaics, vibrant, colourful tiles, and arches framing picturesque views of tranquil courtyards and gardens.

A courtyard in Madrasa Ben Youssef, Marrakech, Morocco, with arches, colourful tiles and a marble pool in the centre.
Madrasa Ben Youssef, Marrakech.

Madrasa Ben Youssef is an Islamic college founded in 1564-1565 by Sultan Abdullah Al-Ghaleb Assaadi. For centuries it served as an intellectual hub and a centre of learning, with students coming from afar to deepen their knowledge in religious sciences, philosophy, medicine and mathematics.

The Madrasa is an architectural gem, utilising a diversity of construction material and decorations such as carved wood, zellige (a traditional Moroccan art), sculpted plaster and calligraphy. Another subtle architectural highlight is Madrasa Ben Youssef’s water management system, engineered on the basis of rainwater collection and storage chambers, which provided visitors and students with water for drinking and washing, and a cool environment in the hot climate of Marrakech.

Savour the taste of Moroccan cuisine

Traditional Moroccan tagine of chicken with dried fruits and spices, top view.
Traditional Moroccan Tagine.

Moroccan cuisine is a diverse blend of Berber, Arab, Andalusian, Ottoman and Mediterranean influences, with its most well-known dish being the flavoursome Tagine. Prepared in a conical earthenware pot that goes by the same name, Tagine is a slow-cooked stew that dates back to the 8th century. Lamb, chicken or fish is simmered with vegetables, fruits and nuts, as well as a blend of spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and saffron. The conical lid traps steam, which then condenses and moistens the ingredients, resulting in a flavourful dish.

Another dish regularly associated with Moroccan cuisine is couscous, tiny pellets of durum wheat semolina that are served with meat or fish, spicy stews and vegetables. Couscous is regularly eaten on Fridays in Morocco. As a symbol of cultural cooperation between Maghreb countries Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia, the knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of couscous are inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

When it comes to drinks, Moroccan mint tea is a popular beverage that serves as an expression of Moroccan hospitality culture. It’s used to welcome guests to one’s home and to show respect to visitors. Ingredients are green tea, fresh mint, sugar and water, resulting in a sweet and refreshing beverage that’s served throughout the day.

Relax in a hammam, a traditional Moroccan bathhouse

Bath tub in a brick-walled interior with arches and ornaments.
Hammam, a public bathhouse.

Hammams are public bathhouses that have been an integral part of Moroccan culture for centuries, and there’s a large concentration of them in the Medina of Marrakech. The hammam process typically has several stages including:

  1. Warm up: Visitors enter a steam room, opening up pores and preparing the body for cleansing.
  2. Cleanse: You lather yourself or a hammam attendant lathers you with Moroccan black soap, which is left on the skin for around 10-15 mins.
  3. Exfoliate: Dead skin cells are removed using an exfoliating mitt and the body and hair are washed.
  4. Moisturize: Argan oil, produced from the indigenous Moroccan Argan tree, is applied to body and hair to remoisturize.
  5. Additional treatment: Depending on the hammam and on your gender, there may be additional steps including a massage, facial masks and the serving of Moroccan mint tea.

Hammams are not only places to unwind and relax, but they’ve also been communal hubs for meeting and socialising. As part of a regular bathing culture, visitors would have the opportunity to meet new people, serving a vital aspect in building ties within the community. Friends and family members would also go together to celebrate important life events such as religious holidays and marriages.

Experience Moroccan coffee culture

Freshly milled ground coffee in summer on old wooden table
Marrakech has a thriving coffee culture

The coffee culture of Marrakech is different to the go-go caffeine hit culture found in other parts of the world. Instead of transactional coffee shops that expect customers to get in, drink quickly and move on, cafés in Marrakech have a more laid back vibe. They are places where one can relax, socialise with friends and family, watch sports on a TV screen, and enjoy the atmosphere. Many have outdoor seating to accommodate for Morocco’s warm climate year-round. So during your trip, it’s worth taking some time to unwind at a café, ordering Nous Nous (half milk, half coffee) or Café Noir (espresso), and watching the bustling crowds of Marrakech pass you by.

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