On arrival into Marrakech airport, you’ll be chauffeur driven to your accommodation.
Marrakech enjoys a legend status which conveys the ideas of mystery, sensuality, and exoticism. Its influence has been so strong and intense in the history of Morocco, that as a matter of fact the country was named after the city, and not the other way round.
Marrakech was founded in 1062 by one of the chieftains of the Almoravid king Youssuf Ibn Tashfin. The Almoravids were desert warriors, very much attached to their Islamic religion; the original garrison developed very quickly into a city where numerous mosques and madrasas (Koranic schools) were built. Andalousian craftsmen built and decorated several palaces, merging their style with the Saharan and African traditions, which gave the city a distinctive architectural flavour. The Almoravids also erected the city walls, and created a complex system of underground irrigation canals to bring water from the High Atlas, the khettara – a system still in use to water the several gardens of the city.
At its height, Marrakech was the capital of the Almoravid empire, which stretched as far as Senegal, most part of Spain, and Algiers. In 1147 the Almohads, tribesmen from the High Atlas mountains who practised orthodox Islam, sacked the city, replacing the Almoravids as rulers of the empire, and destroying many of the palaces and mosques of their predecessors. New ones were built soon, though, including the famous Koutoubia mosque, which dates from this period. Ever since, alternate ages of splendour and decline sculpted Marrakech’s unique and charming character, at once decadent and full of life.
Nowadays, Marrakech is a vibrant city which exhibits a curious blend of the ancient and the modern, allowing travellers the chance to experience the genuine medieval atmosphere of the old medina, and visit the trendiest bars, art galleries and restaurants in the French Quarter, Guéliz, built at the beginning of the 20th Century, all in one day.
You’ll be collected from your accommodation for a private tour of the city.
Djemaa El Fna, the Square
Nobody knows for certain of the origin of this square, whose name evokes, in Arabic, the contradictory notions of assembly or gathering, and that of absence. Probably as old as the city itself, it was a place for public executions during the day, and the meeting point of musicians, mystics, food sellers, pickpockets, acrobats, snake charmers, storytellers, dancers, fortune tellers and other exotic characters at night (happily enough, nowadays it only retains its more playful aspect). Watching sunset from one of its terraces when the call to prayer from the Koutoubia minaret fills the air is one of these ‘zen’ moments that Morocco offers – do not miss it!
Built in the 16th Century as mausoleum for some Saadian rulers and their families, the Saadian Tombs were unknown of until they were discovered by the French in 1917 thanks to aerial photographs. The site comprises more than one hundred graves, distributed in 3 mausoleums whose decoration exemplifies Islamic architecture with floral motifs, calligraphy, zellij and carrara marble, and finely worked cedar wood and stucco. Outside the buildings are a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants.
The Koutoubia Mosque
Built by the Almohads in the late years of 12th Century, the Koutoubia Mosque, and specially its minaret, is the most important landmark of Marrakech, and a symbol of the city itself. The minaret served as model for the Giralda in Sevilla and the unfinished Tour Hassan in Rabat, all three being designed by the same architect. Koutoubia means ‘booksellers’, as the trade of books was concentrated in the neighbourhood during the Middle Ages. The minaret of the Koutoubia, 77 meters high, is visible from almost any point of the city – an old ordinance, still in force, forbids any building of Marrakech to surpass the Koutoubia minaret in height.
El Bahia Palace
Built in the late 19th Century, and decorated by the best artisans of Morocco at the time, this palace – intended to be the most magnificent of its age – features an exquisite blend of Andalousian and Moorish styles. Specially interesting are the harem apartments, the trapezoidal garden, and a huge tiled courtyard with fountains.
Visit the Jewish quarter, which became home of a thriving community of native and Spanish Jews, famed for their rabbinical schools and scholars. Visit the Rabbi Hanania Hacohen cemetery, which is also the burial place of Rabbi Mordekhai Ben Attar and Rabbi Pinhas Hacohen Azough, known as the “Patron of Marrakech.
The Medrasa Ben Youssef
Ancestors of modern universities, the ancient madrasas were theological colleges which concentrated also all scientific and philosophic knowledge of their age, providing both lodging and education to students. The Madrasa Ben Youssef was founded by Merinid sultan Abu-al-Hassan in the 14th Century, and the geometric patterns of its decoration have attracted the attention not only of artists but also of mathematicians, as they exhaust the catalogue of all possible geometric figures. Its 130 student dormitory cells once housed as many as 900 students, and cluster around a courtyard richly carved in cedar, marble and stucco. This masterpiece of Islamic art was in use for centuries, until it closed in 1960.
The Majorelle garden
In 1923 expatriate French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886 – 1962) purchased four acres of land at the edge of a palm grove located not far from Bab Doukkala, one of the most popular gates to Marrakech’s ancient medina. He built a villa for himself there in Moorish style, and progressively expanded his property, buying further parcels of land until it reached nearly twelve acres crowded with the painter’s important botanical collection, which he enriched through the years with specimens from all continents.
In 1947, Majorelle was forced to open his garden to the public in return for an entrance fee, in order to cover somehow its costly maintenance. Financial problems aggravated with time, though, due to the painter’s poor health and a serious car accident; eventually, to avoid poverty, Majorelle had to sell successive portions of the property. In 1961 he sold whatever remained of it, and returned to France, where he died in 1962.
Neglected and half abandoned, the garden and villa fell into disrepair until they were discovered by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who purchased both in 1980 in order to prevent a hotel complex from being built in the premises. They restored the old house, enriched the botanical collection, and assumed the maintenance of it, bringing back the garden to its former glory.
The massive souks of Marrakech are a true labyrinth of stalls and artisan workshops, organised in nearly twenty trade corporations that bring together more than two thousand and six hundred craftsmen. Each trade has its own quarter inside the souks, with shops devoted to the sales of everything imaginable, from carpets or lamps, to the ingredients for casting a magic spell.
The artisans must undergo a long apprenticeship and are subjected to a strict hierarchy. The apprentice becomes an artisan in full right only after making a piece of craftsmanship that he must submit to the judgement of a board of ancient masters, veritable guardians of the old traditions.
At the head of each trade corporation, a well respected artisan, democratically elected by his peers, is in charge of representing them, and of acting as conciliator in the event of dispute between members of the trade, or between them and clients, or members of other trades. He acts in accordance to an unwritten code and his decisions are never challenged.
Whether you are a big shopper or not, visiting a souk is a cultural experience that will allow you to witness the everyday life of Moroccans, partake of it if you wish, try your skills at bargaining, see artisans at work, and wonder at the wise and sensible social structure underlying the apparent chaos, all in one go; a day as packed with wonderful things as any of the shops you will see!
Departure towards the south of Morocco crossing the High Atlas mountains via theTizi Tichka pass, the highest mountain passage in the whole of North Africa.
On arrival to the southern town of Skoura, explore the depths of its immense palm grove, dotted with hundreds of kasbahs, many of them are regrettably in ruins. This palm grove was laid out in the 12th century by the Almohad sultan Yacoub el-Mansour, and named after its original inhabitants, the Berbers of the Haskourene tribe. The most beautiful kasbahs in southern Morocco can be found here. Many of them are still partially inhabited.
Transfer to Erfoud, at the edge of the Sahara desert. Continue by 4x4WD to the massive dunes of Erg Chebbi, a strikingly strange natural formation. On the top of the flattest area you could imagine, suddenly a long mountain of sand rises. This mountain is surrounded by flat and desolate nature on all sides, and you could end up wondering if it really is real. But so it is, even if its existence is so weird that it has given rise to legends and myths among the locals.
Late afternoon , you will enjoye short camel ride to witness the sunset from over the desert dunes and admire the peace and calm as well as the changing colours of the landscape. Dinner will be served in your luxury encampment.
Breakfast and drive towards Ouarzazate, En route you pass by the most spectacular Gorges of Todra; Craggy and colourful rock walls up to 1,000 feet high loom over a lush narrow valley dotted with oasis-like date palmeries and irrigated fields of grain.
After breakfast, enjoy a sightseeing tour of Ouarzazate including the Palace of Glaoui, Kasbah Ait Ourirt, and the local cinema studios. Continue to the fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou, one of Morocco’s World Heritage sites in Morocco. Built on the left side of a salty valley on a hill, it has been used as location for famous films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth.
Continue to Marrakech, where you will arrive in the afternoon.
Transfer to Marrakech airport for your departure flight.