Marrakech's Palaces Tour (Self Guided), Marrakech

A nice activity while in Marrakech is visiting the few palaces this city possesses. Some of them, refurbished and restored, successfully function today as museums. Others, on the other hand, are slowly turning into ruins, but still have a long story to tell and spectacular architecture to amaze with. Take the Marrakech's Palaces Tour and enjoy the mystic atmosphere of these grandiose buildings.
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Marrakech's Palaces Tour Map

Guide Name: Marrakech's Palaces Tour
Guide Location: Morocco » Marrakech (See other walking tours in Marrakech)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.2 Km or 3.9 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Majorelle Museum
  • Majorelle Garden
  • Dar Si Said
  • Bahia Palace
  • El Badi Palace
  • Royal Palace of Marrakech
  • Agdal Gardens
Majorelle Museum

1) Majorelle Museum (must see)

If you want to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, you will find it in the lovely Majorelle Museum, which is one of the most visited places in Marrakech, especially for its gardens.

Jacques Majorelle was a French artist, born in Nancy in 1886. He later attended the Nancy School of Art before moving to Paris. Although the Art Nouveau movement had more or less passed, he continued with the style, which he learned at school in Nancy.

In 1910 he paid his first visit to Africa and fell in love the country. He moved to Marrakech in 1917 and started painting his wonderful canvases full of color depicting the African way of life. In 1930 he was one of the first artists to use Africans as nude models. He painted his house in bleu Majorelle, a rich deep cobalt, and edged the windows and roof in yellow.

His house was bought after his death by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé and they installed their personal collections of Maghreb, Oriental, African and Asian carpets, ceramics, pottery, textiles, weapons and woodwork, creating the museum.

There is a stunning collection of Berber and Tuareg jewelry and wedding costumes and some rooms are dedicated to Jacques Majorelle’s fine works.

Why You Should Visit:
Interesting and informative representation of the indigenous culture of Morocco!

Rather high price for Morocco, so book for a cheaper full three-visits ticket (Majorelle Garden plus 2 museums – Berbère & YSL). This way, you won't have to suffer the long line to get into the Garden.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-5:30pm
Majorelle Garden

2) Majorelle Garden (must see)

When you visit the Museum of Islamic Art, you will first go through Majorelle Gardens and it is a good place to linger for a while.

Jacques Majorelle was a French artist, specializing in Art Nouveau paintings. He lived in Morocco for many years in his lovely house in Marrakech, where he laid out the gardens and opened them to the public in 1947.

The beautiful botanical gardens cover 12 acres with the house, which is painted in bold Cobalt called Bleu Majorelle. Most of the stonework in the gardens is in the same color, with jardinières painted in bright yellow, orange and green.

The gardens are home to over 15 different species of native birds, and goldfish, turtles and frogs abound in the ponds. You can follow the shady paths and admire the fountains, or relax on one of the many benches. There is a wonderful bamboo plantation, olive and banana trees, palms and bougainvilleas that add a slash of bright red and pink.

The gardens are an oasis of calm, but likely to be full of visitors, especially during the afternoon. There is a very good café serving mint tea and coffee and a shop where you can buy souvenirs and prints of Majorelle’s work.

After the artist’s death, the gardens became rather overgrown and abandoned-looking. The land was bought in 1980 by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who restored the gardens to their former splendor. Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered here and there is a small memorial to him. The gardens are now managed by the YSL Foundation.

Why You Should Visit:
Blue is the main color here and it goes beautifully with the different plants and garden settings. Even with some crowds, you can still manage to take a few good pictures.
The YSL memorial, the Berber Museum, the water features, the bookstore, and the café are all fabulous.

Buy a combination ticket at the YSL museum about 100 yards down the road. You can skip the line!
Dar Si Said

3) Dar Si Said

A calm and interesting place to spend a few hours is at the Museum of Moroccan Art (Dar Si Saïd), one of Marrakech’s most beautiful houses.

Dar means house, and this one was built for Si Saïd ibn Moussa, the Minister of War, whose brother was the Vizier Bou Ahmed. More than a simple town house, this magnificent building was put up in the mid 19th century and surrounds a superb courtyard full of flowers and cypress trees with a gazebo and a fountain.

The exhibition rooms around the courtyard have carved doors, extraordinary stuccowork and mosaics. You can visit the domed reception room and the harem quarters. If there aren’t too many visitors while you are there, a small tip might persuade the guardian to let you visit the harem’s tiled courtyard – which isn’t usually open to the public.

The museum features a long history of arts and crafts artifacts with jewelry, rugs, wedding costumes, leather-work, pottery and an antique sort of wooden Ferris wheel.

The prize of the collection is a 10th century Spanish marble basin, brought to the city by the Sultan Ali ben Youssef in 1120. He put it in the mosque, even though it has eagle and griffons carved on it and Islamic law states that no decorations should represent living creatures. The basin was removed to the Ben Youssef Madrasa during the Saadian Dynasty and was donated to the museum when the college was restored.

Opening hours: Wed-Mon: 9am-4:30pm
Bahia Palace

4) Bahia Palace (must see)

The Bahia Palace was built in the late 19th century, intended to be the greatest palace of its time. The name means "brilliance". As in other buildings of the period in other countries, it was intended to capture the essence of the Islamic and Moroccan style. There is a 2-acre (8,000 m²) garden with rooms opening onto courtyards.

Set up at the end of the 19th century by Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan, for his personal use, this palace would bear the name of one of his wives. Here, the harem, which includes a vast court decorated with a central basin and surrounded by rooms intended for the concubines. As the black slave Abu Ahmed rose to power and wealth towards the end of the 19th century, he had the Bahia palace built by bringing in craftsmen from Fez.

Why You Should Visit:
The rooms are beautiful and it's amazing to see how the King & Queen and his consorts lived in this quaint palace.
The Islamic Art is breathtaking and just wonderful to look at.
The main courtyard is simple but when the sun is out, looks beautiful.

It is a good idea to go with a local private tour guide who will fill you in on the details of the palace's history and will make sure you don't get lost!
The area accessible to visitors isn't huge, so you can walk around in about 30mins if you are limited on time, although it's nice to spend a little longer taking it all in.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-4:30pm
El Badi Palace

5) El Badi Palace (must see)

All that remains of the once proud El Badi Palace are the extensive ruins and 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 the palace to be built in celebration. He wanted it to be the most important building in Marrakech and named it “Incomparable”, but sadly he died before its completion in 1603.

Today it is hard to imagine just how magnificent this palace 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.

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 in Sudan. There was an underground prison for those who fell from the sultan’s favor.

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 ruins.

Extensive restoration work has allowed for the rebuilding of one of the pavilions where you can see a Minbar from the Koutoubia Mosque; further ongoing work has seen the restoration of the pools and some of the walls, where now only storks live.

Why You Should Visit:
Huge and beautiful palace to wander around with lots to see including a network of underground tunnels and a well-preserved minbar.

The internal staircase on the northeast side takes you up to a rooftop where you can view the Palace from up high and gaze across the rooftops of Marrakech. Storks can also be viewed.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Royal Palace of Marrakech

6) Royal Palace of Marrakech (must see)

The Royal Palace in Marrakech is not open to the public, but it is worthwhile going to see if you can take a photo of one of the members of the royal family or foreign presidents going in or out of its elaborate entrance.

It is perhaps the largest palace in the country and has been used as winter quarters by royal families for centuries. It is an enclave within the medina – or a city within the city.

The first palace was built after the Almohad tribe won the city in 1147 following many years of battles against the ruling Almoravides, who had made Marrakech their capital city. When the Almohad Dynasty was installed they pulled down almost all the buildings constructed by their rivals and built the Kasbah within the city walls.

Part of the Kasbah housed military and administrative staff, but most of it was given over to the royal quarters where the sultan lived and housed his harem. The Almohad Dynasty was succeeded by the Marinid Dynasty in 1269 and they enlarged the palace.

The Marinids were succeeded by the Wattasid’s in 1472 who were defeated by the Saadis in 1554. In 1666 the Alaouite Dynasty was installed and their descendants rule Morocco today.

During this time, although most of the buildings in the medina were either destroyed or pulled down so that each dynasty could stamp its name on the city, the palace was simply enlarged and renovated.

Today the capital of Morocco is Rabat, but this hasn’t diminished the importance of the Royal Palace in Marrakech. In 1989 the Unification Treaty of the Arab Maghreb and in 1994 the GATT contracts were signed here.
Agdal Gardens

7) Agdal Gardens

Marrakech is often very hot and dusty and is always busy and noisy and after a while it’s necessary to escape and relax somewhere calm. Agdal Gardens is an excellent place for this.

The gardens cover an area of 400 hectares to the south of the Royal Palace. Agdal means walled meadow in Berber and the gardens have a pisé wall around them.

They were founded in 1157 as a private orchard for Sultan Abd al-Mu’min. They were renovated and enlarged in the 19th century during the Saadian Dynasty, which was when the wall was erected.

The oblong plots are full of apricot, fig, lemon, orange and pomegranate trees, linked by paths lined with olive trees.

There are several ponds and the whole area is irrigated by khettera – which are ingenious underground channels that bring water from the Ourika Valley in the High Atlas Mountains.

The largest pool is called the “Tank of Health” and was once used for teaching soldiers how to swim. Beside this pool you will see the minzah Dar el Hana, where various sultans would spend a few days during the summer months to escape the heat of the city. Another pavilion in the gardens is the Dar al Baida, which housed the sultan’s harem.

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