Marrakech Introduction Walking Tour, Marrakech

Marrakech Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Marrakech

The fourth largest city in Morocco, Marrakech is a true out-of-the-ordinary getaway combining old historic atmosphere with a lively sights of today. The medina quarter of Marrakech – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – comprises a medieval walled city, dating back hundreds of years to the days of Berber Empire, whose mazelike alleys are still densely packed with vendors and stalls luring buyers with a wealth of traditional textiles, pottery, jewelry, spices and more.

The exact meaning of the name Marrakech is debated between the "Land of God", possibly originating from the Berber words “amur n akush”, and the "country of the sons of Kush" interpretation suggested by an 11th-century manuscript found in the Qarawiyyin library in Fez.

While the region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times, the city itself was founded only in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, a chieftain and cousin of the Almoravid king, Yusuf ibn Tashfin. The red walls, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122–1123, and various other buildings constructed in red sandstone during the same period, have given Marrakech its nickname – the "Red/Ochre City". The latter grew rapidly and established itself as one of Morocco's four imperial cities, eventually becoming a cultural, religious, and trading center for the whole Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.

In the early 16th century, following a period of decline, Marrakech regained its preeminence under the wealthy Saadian sultans Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur, who embellished it with sumptuous palaces, such as the El Badi Palace (1578), and restored many of its 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 established Protectorate in Morocco which lasted until the country regained independence and its monarchy was restored in 1956. Today, the reigning Moroccan monarch, Mohammed VI, strongly advocates tourism and is committed to keeping the number of tourists visiting the country growing year on year.

Pursuant to this goal, hotel development in Marrakech has posted a dramatic growth in the 21st century. Serving as a major economic center and tourist destination, nowadays Marrakech is one of the busiest cities in Africa, home to numerous mosques, palaces and gardens, including Jemaa el-Fnaa, the busiest square on the continent, and a symbol of the city visible for miles away, the 12th-century Moorish minaret of Koutoubia Mosque. Marrakech's thriving souk (marketplace) is also the largest in the country.

To see these and other top attractions of Marrakech, take this introduction walk and discover what this former imperial city has to offer!
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Marrakech Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Marrakech Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Morocco » Marrakech (See other walking tours in Marrakech)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Jemaa el-Fnaa
  • Musee Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts)
  • Bahia Palace
  • El Badi Palace
  • Saadian Tombs
  • Kasbah Mosque
  • Bab Agnaou
  • Marrakech Ramparts
  • Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
Jemaa el-Fnaa

1) Jemaa el-Fnaa (must see)

Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest and most visited square in the medina quarter of Marrakech and is a lovely place to visit any time of day or night. This square has been a central marketplace, commercial area and meeting place since the city was founded in 1062. When the Almohades dynasty overthrew the Almoravides in 1147, much of Marrakech was destroyed, but this marketplace was quickly restored.

Nowadays, along the one side of the market you can see famous souks, while the other side is lined with hotels, gardens and terrace cafes. The ambiance here is always lively with lots of people and noise.

During the day you can easily quench your thirst buying fresh orange juice or water from the numerous sellers dressed up in traditional attire and bearing authentic leather water-skins and brass cups. Among the exotic attractions found in this market are Barbary Macaques performing tricks or sitting on your shoulder while you pose for a picture, as well as snake charmers and acrobats.

In the early evening, the juice sellers move on and their place is taken by the bands playing all sorts of music to which young Chleuh boys dance to amuse the public. Storytellers settle down to regale locals with their tales (sadly not in English), magicians practice their art and medicine men sell plant remedies.

At night, the music steps up a beat while food stalls are installed and the square becomes a huge open-air restaurant. The stalls are numbered, so once you have found the one you like, don’t forget to jot down its number for when you return to this lively square again.

Why You Should Visit:
Totally in line with expectations. The square is a meeting point and bursts with energy and trade vibes. Noisy and exotic.

The many stalls selling traditional food here pose greater risk of food poisoning than the restaurants. Select a busy restaurant with many locals in it as a sign of good authentic fare to enjoy. The other option is to eat at one of the several rooftop restaurants surrounding the square: great view of the action but less confronting, though slightly more expensive.
Beware of pushy salespeople, "free offers", people with animals (e.g. monkeys, snakes), pickpockets, motorbikes, bicycles and carts. If you visit at night, don't shop – it's too busy to do much. Just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. During the day (ideally in the morning, when it's cool) is the best time to shop and bargain (bargain hard!).
Consider hiring a guide. Expect to pay $40 for 3-4 hours (agree on the price before hiring) as the Jemaa is massive and it is very easy to get lost. Make sure you tell the guide what you want to see.
Musee Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts)

2) Musee Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts)

The Museum of Moroccan Art (Musée Dar Si Saïd) is located in one of Marrakech’s most beautiful palaces, and is a calm and interesting place to spend a few hours. The word Dar means “house”, while Si Saïd is part of the name of Si Saïd ibn Moussa, the Minister of War, for whom this palace was built in the mid 19th century and whose brother was the Vizier Bou Ahmed.

By far more than just a simple townhouse, this magnificent building features a number of amenities, such as a superb courtyard full of flowers and cypress trees, a gazebo and a fountain. The exhibition rooms around the courtyard are embellished with intricately carved doors, extraordinary stucco-work and mosaics. In addition to these, visitors can also explore the domed reception room and harem quarters.

The museum collection is considered to be one of the finest in Morocco, with jewelry from the High Atlas, the Anti Atlas and the extreme south; carpets from the Haouz and the High Atlas; oil lamps from Taroudannt; blue pottery from Safi and green pottery from Tamgroute; and leather-work from Marrakech.

But the true jewel of the collection is a 10th-century Spanish marble basin, which was brought to Marrakech by the Sultan Ali ben Youssef in 1120. Initially, he put it in the mosque, even though it carried images of an eagle and griffons carved upon which is contrary to the Islamic law prohibiting decorations depicting living creatures. Eventually, under the Saadian dynasty, the basin was moved to the Ben Youssef Madrasa, and then, after the college was restored, donated to the museum.

Why You Should Visit:
The palace is always worth a visit for its wonderful interior, especially now that is has been renovated.
The main public areas are now filled with antique carpets showcasing the different styles found in Morocco.
If you have no previous knowledge of Moroccan carpets, this wonderful exhibition will give you some valuable insight into the remarkable variety of styles & colors available in the country.
Bahia Palace

3) Bahia Palace (must see)

Designed to be the greatest of its time, this late 19th century palace, whose name translates to the "palace of the brilliant/beautiful", sure does live up to its title. Extended over 8 hectares, one of which is a garden, the Bahia Palace complex offers an oasis of quiet from traffic noise and the bustle of the adjacent medina souk; its rooms and courtyards dazzle the eye with intricate, colorful tile work, mosaics, colored glass, fine carvings, and elaborate ceilings.

Situated close to the royal El Badi Palace and about 900 meters southeast of Jemaa el-Fnaa, the Bahia was built for Si Moussa, the Grand Vizier of Sultan Hassan I. At the time, it was Morocco's largest and most luxurious palace, comprising 150 rooms (a subset is open to the public), with attached patios, courtyards, fountains, and gardens. Furthermore, during the French Protectorate, it was the residence of General Hubert Lyautey, who added electricity, fireplaces, and heating.

While the area open to visitors is not huge (you can walk around in about 30mins if you are limited on time), it is nice to spend a little longer taking it all in. Regrettably, the rooms lack period furniture, but the stunning tiled walls and ceilings make up for it.

Although you can wander around on your own, it is wise to hire a guide as there is little information in English, and you can get lost.
El Badi Palace

4) El Badi Palace (must see)

All that remains of the once stately El Badi Palace are the extensive ruins, so when you visit it and walk among the remains, spare a thought for the ghosts of past splendors.

Fresh from his victory over the Portuguese in the Battle of the Three Kings in 1572, the Sultan Ahmed el-Massour of the Saadian Dynasty ordered a palace to be built in celebration. He wanted it to be the most important building in Marrakech and named it “Incomparable”. Sadly, the sultan died before its completion in 1603.

Today it is hard to imagine just how magnificent this palace really was with its 360 rooms around the interior courtyard that measured 135 meters by 110 meters and was full of fountains and an enormous pond. However bare the current form, its sheer size is still impressive.

Most of it was paid for by the punishing reparation debt imposed on Portugal after the battle; the mosaics came from Italy, exchanged against sugar in lieu of money, and the gold fittings came from the gold mines of Sudan. Onyx, ivory, cedar wood, and semi-precious stones completed the original interior.

In 1683, after the Saadian Dynasty fell to the Alaouites, the new Sultan Moulay Ismail removed anything that had any value from the palace to decorate his new palace in another town, and El Badi slowly fell into ruin.

An internal staircase (look for a sign on the wall) on the northeast side leads to a small terrace overlooking the complex, giving you an idea of its size and organization. A small museum contains the restored 12th-century intricately carved 'minbar' (Imam's pulpit) from the nearby Koutoubia Mosque.

Why You Should Visit:
Huge and beautiful palace to wander around with lots to see, including a network of underground passageways, tile floors in rooms open to the sky, and a well-preserved minbar.

Unfortunately (for English speakers), the majority of posted information about the complex is in Arabic and French; however, the short video in English gives a good overview of the palace's history, construction, layout and original appearance. Hiring an Engish-speaking guide will greatly improve your appreciation of El Badi.
As you wander around the complex, look for stork nests on some of the higher walls.
Inside the palatial complex there is little shade, so a visit early in the morning will be both cooler and sparing the need to stand a long line for tickets.
Bring water and snacks, as no refreshments are available on site.
Saadian Tombs

5) Saadian Tombs (must see)

Those who wish to understand the incredible beauty of ancient Marrakech, should visit the Saadian Tombs in the medina's royal district, called the Kasbah.

The Saadian dynasty ruled in Morocco from 1554 until 1659 and almost nothing from their reign has survived till our day, except the tombs which were commissioned by Sultan Ahmed Al-Mansur in 1554 for himself and his family. When the dynasty fell to the Alaouites, the new Sultan wanted everything built by the Saadians destroyed, but drew a line at touching the tombs, which were partially sealed off (although important people were buried here until as late as 1792).

Al-Mansur himself, along with 60 members of the Saadian family, was entombed in the exquisite "Hall of the Twelve Columns" adorned with imported Italian marble, intricate and geometric tile work, gilded honeycomb muqarnas (decorative plasterwork), and elaborate ceilings stunning in detail and vibrant color. The nearby "Hall of the Three Niches" houses important princes while some 170 chancellors and wives are interred in the garden.

The tombs remained hidden until 1917 when they were discovered from aerial photographs, and lovingly restored by a French organization, the Beaux-Arts Service. Due to having been sealed and protected from external conditions, the tombs were remarkably preserved and the Beaux-Arts have done a wonderful job. Those who rest here, indeed rest in peace.

Why You Should Visit:
The stunning architecture of the tombs will keep you in awe of the great design produced back in the day.

Ticket lines can be long, so an early morning visit will be generally cooler and more pleasant.
Unfortunately (for English speakers), there is little information in English, so hiring a local guide can enhance your appreciation.
When exiting, go and have a drink at the terrace of the Kasbah Café overlooking the square where men enter the Kasbah Mosque.
Also, on the corner is an argan cooperation with some of the best organic argan oil in Marrakech. Buy some amlou there and you'll never eat Nutella again!
Kasbah Mosque

6) Kasbah Mosque

The Kasbah Mosque is the second-best-known mosque in Marrakech, after the Koutoubia, and is also one of the biggest and oldest – built in 1190 – where you can still find some typical features of the Almohad architecture. The mosque opens out on a nice square surrounded by interesting buildings, and features a noteworthy minaret – prototypical for many later minarets built in the Maghreb and al-Andalus, with decorations different from those found in the Koutoubia. The imposing exterior of the mosque features high walls crowned at the top by merlons above the row of corbels. Along the walls are the large pointed horseshoe arches, most of which are now walled-in, while some frame the gates of the mosque or accommodate shops.

After successive restorations, the mosque is now in a perfect condition and is actively in use – the call for prayer draws in many hundreds of worshipers here daily (although some say there's enough room to accommodate many thousands of them). Access for non-Muslims is prohibited, but it is just as pleasant and relaxing to sit outside and enjoy the atmosphere. The area is much quieter and more open than most elsewhere in the Medina quarter; here are some really nice cafes to sit at and enjoy the sight of the surrounding impressive architecture.
Bab Agnaou

7) Bab Agnaou

When the old city of Marrakech was founded under the Almohad dynasty, it was surrounded by protective walls with a total of 19 huge gates in it guarding entry into the city. Bab Agnaou, located in the southwest corner of the city, is certainly the most noteworthy of all those remaining; a remarkable piece with rich decoration echoing the 12th-century fortification design and embellishments. At some point, this gate served as an entrance to the medina's El Badi Palace – home to the royal family – and as such was more of a decorative than defensive feature.

Its entryway appears as a large horseshoe arch with concentric circles of symmetrical carvings – four semi-circular carved arcs, one over the other, with geometric floral patterns and a frieze along the top inscribed with verses from the Koran (in Kufic lettering). The gate takes its blue/ochre color from the Gueliz sandstone of which it is built. The two broken areas at each end of the top suggest that two slender towers once stood in this place, which in turn may account for the name Agnaou, which means "sheep without horns" in ancient Berber.

Today, the Bab Agnaou gate makes one the best photo opportunities in the old city of Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Marrakech Ramparts

8) Marrakech Ramparts

The Marrakech medina walls, or ramparts, are massive: about 19 km in length, 9 meters high by 2 meters thick. Built in the 12th century as fortification to defend the city from the foes living in the High Atlas mountains, they look as if made of stone, whereas in reality they are made of a pinkish mixture of earth, stone and lime on a wooden structure. This might not seem very solid for a defensive structure, but the huge blocks of stone were difficult to come by in those days and, in any case, the walls were frequently repaired. Even today, one can notice the numerous square holes left from scaffolding during restoration works, which doesn't seem to make the experience any less appealing.

During the Almohad dynasty, each of the 19 gates of the Medina had massive doors of cedar studded with iron, which were shut at night. As the city outgrew its walls, they were extended to the north and south in the 16th century. You can walk or cycle along the exterior of the ramparts, but regrettably, you cannot access the top.

The best time to see the walls is at sunset when they seem to glow in the reddish light. The walls and the gates are open at all times and lit at night.

Why You Should Visit:
Some of the best-preserved and most photogenic walls to be found in the whole Arab world.

Automobile traffic through the gates can be hectic, so take care when crossing the street or taking pictures.
One of the best ways to view the walls is by riding a horse-drawn carriage, available from Jemaa el-Fnaa square (the tour takes about an hour). Negotiate a sensible price ($15-$25) before you get in the carriage to avoid arguments. Leave a tip and you'll be surprised at the response.
Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

9) Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret (must see)

The Koutoubia mosque and minaret, located 200 meters west of Jemaa el-Fnaa on Avenue Mohammed V, make a good orientation landmark in case you get lost in the medina's labyrinth. The name is derived from the Arabic "al-Koutoubiyyin" which translates as "bookseller", since the area was once dense with sellers of books and manuscripts. The largest mosque in Marrakech, the Koutoubia is closed to non-Muslims, but everyone can enjoy the adjacent park with trees (palms, orange, olives), flower beds, fountains and benches at all times – completely free of charge.

A smaller predecessor mosque was built on this site in 1147 by the Almohad dynasty after they had defeated the Almoravides and taken over Marrakech. Unfortunately, its qiblah wall, the one supposed to be facing Mecca, was badly orientated, so instead of simply adjusting its position, the Almohades built a new, larger mosque nearby while the old one fell into neglect. The current mosque is built from a reddish-brown sandstone and is decorated with curved window arches and pointed "merlons" or crenellations.

The square minaret stands 69 meters high by 13 meters wide, with six rooms set on top of one another, and is crowned with a ceramic strip, small tower and four guilded copper balls decreasing in size. The north-western side of the minaret contains ruins and the cisterns from an Almoravid palace which stood on this site before the Almohades took over.

Why You Should Visit:
One of Morocco's biggest mosques – not to be missed!

Equally beautiful, day or night, the building reveals different “personalities”, depending on the time of day. It is probably wise to avoid Fridays until after 3pm-ish, when the place is not so busy with worshipers.
Make sure to walk around the entire mosque, as there are picturesque views all around it. Don't miss the gardens behind – a perfect place for a good glass of mint tea and watching the world go by.

Walking Tours in Marrakech, Morocco

Create Your Own Walk in Marrakech

Create Your Own Walk in Marrakech

Creating your own self-guided walk in Marrakech is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Medina Walking Tour

Medina Walking Tour

Marrakech Medina is a historic district dating back to the Middle Ages. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, this ancient walled city is a labyrinthine maze of narrow streets and bustling markets, known as souks, where you can immerse yourself in the local way of life.

One of the most iconic spots here is Jemaa el-Fnaa, a bustling square that comes alive with street performers,...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Moroccan Architecture Walking Tour

Moroccan Architecture Walking Tour

No tall skyscrapers, no sophisticated giant malls, no anything else of Western architecture await you on this tour. Our self-guided walk is entirely about the genuine Moroccan style. We are going to reveal Marrakech which will amaze you with its majestic structures, traditional motifs, and mystic atmosphere.

Our first stop is a prominent example of Islamic architecture, the Koutoubia Mosque....  view more

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Marrakech Top Religious Sites

Marrakech Top Religious Sites

Islam is the official religion in Morocco, which is why it is only natural that mosques are the dominant religious sites in the country, and Marrakech is no exception. Outside these places of worship, the city's religious scene is represented by unique historical monuments (koubbas), cemeteries, and mausoleums – all quite interesting to explore.

Our journey starts with the Ben Youssef...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Gueliz Walking Tour

Gueliz Walking Tour

Gueliz, also known as the New City (Nouvelle Ville), is more like the downtown of Marrakech. Here you will definitely feel the Western influence: McDonald's, KFC, brand stores, and even a supermarket. Still, Gueliz is also famous for its art galleries and parks.

We'll start our acquaintance with Gueliz in the El-Harti Gardens (Jnane El Harti), a peaceful oasis amidst the bustling...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Marrakech Shopping Tour

Marrakech Shopping Tour

Shopping in Marrakech is an extraordinary experience that captivates the senses. Perhaps no other shopping in your life will compare to it: vivid, bright, juicy colors of carpets, clothes, and shoes; enchanting smells of local perfumes and spices; crafts, handmade jewelry, pottery; and of course, the long shopping mazes and souks.

One of the most iconic shopping destinations in Marrakech is...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Moroccan Palaces Walking Tour

Moroccan Palaces Walking Tour

One of the meaningful ways to pass the time away in Marrakech is to visit the local palaces. This is particularly true given that some of them, now restored and refurbished, function as museums. Others, on the other hand, are slowly turning into ruins, which is sad. Nonetheless, they all have a long story to tell and spectacular architecture fit to amaze any beholder.

Among the most renowned...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles