Moroccan Architecture Tour in Marrakech (Self Guided), Marrakech

No tall skyscrapers, no sophisticated giant malls, no nothing to remind of the Western architecture. This tour is all about genuine Moroccan style. Featuring the most prominent architectural sights, this tour takes you to places that will amaze you with their mystic atmosphere, traditional motifs, and majestic structures. Every single building here has its own legend. So find time to discover the best of the Marrakech's architecture by taking the self-guided tour below.
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Moroccan Architecture Tour in Marrakech Map

Guide Name: Moroccan Architecture Tour in Marrakech
Guide Location: Morocco » Marrakech (See other walking tours in Marrakech)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.3 Km or 3.9 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Royal Palace of Marrakech
  • Bab Agnaou
  • Mansouria Mosque
  • Saadian Tombs
  • El Badi Palace
  • Bahia Palace
  • Musée Tiskiwin
  • Musée Dar Si Saïd (National Museum of Weaving and Carpets)
  • Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
  • Almoravid Koubba
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa
Royal Palace of Marrakech

1) 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.
Bab Agnaou

2) Bab Agnaou

There are 20 gates in the Marrakech ramparts, the most elaborate of which is the magnificent Bab Agnaou.

This Bab served as the entrance of the palace in the medina and appears to have been more of a decoration than a defense. It was built in the 12th century on the order of the Almohad sultan Yacoub el-Mansour.

It takes its blue/ochre color from the Gueliz sandstone of which it is built. It is made up of four semi-circular carved arcs one over the other, with a frieze along the top inscribed with verses from the Koran in Koufic lettering. The decorations feature geometric floral patterns.

Two broken areas at each end of the top of the gate suggest that two slender towers once stood, which might account for its name – Agnaou in ancient Berber means “ram without corns”.

The palace was the northern part of the Kasbah and housed the royal family. The rest of the Kasbah was inhabited by the military and the administrative staff. The gate was renovated and reduced in size during the 16th century.

The gate today is the most famous and the most photographed of the gates in the ramparts, and like them it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mansouria Mosque

3) Mansouria Mosque

Mansouria Mosque was built by Yakub al-Mansur, the Victorious. It is also known as the Kasbah Mosque and is located in the vicinity of Bab Agnaou. Mansouria Mosque is one of the city's most popular mosques. There is no access for non-Muslims, but you can admire the impressive architecture from the outside.
Saadian Tombs

4) Saadian Tombs (must see)

If you want to understand the incredible beauty of ancient Marrakech, you should visit the Saadian Tombs in the medina district.

The Saadian Dynasty ruled in Morocco from 1554 until 1659 and almost nothing remains intact from their reign, except the tombs which were commissioned by Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur in 1554 for himself and his family.

When the dynasty fell to the Alaouite Dynasty, the new Sultan Moulay Ismail wanted everything built by the Saadians destroyed but drew the line at touching the tombs. Instead, he had them partially sealed off, although important people were buried there until as late as 1792.

The tombs remained hidden until 1917 when they were discovered and restored by the Beaux Arts Service. The entrance is guarded by Daturas and Cypresses and in the surrounding gardens are the graves of soldiers and imperial household staff.

The mausoleum is made up of three beautiful rooms, each with domed ceilings, stalactites made of plaster and intricately carved marble pillars. 60 members of the Saadian family are entombed in the Hall of the Twelve Columns – which sounds, and looks, like something out of Lord of The Rings! The walls are covered in mosaics forming geometrical patterns, the high roof is domed and the pillars are of grey marble.

Because they were sealed and protected from external conditions the tombs were remarkably well preserved and the Beaux Arts have done a wonderful restoration job and those who rest here, rest in peace.

Why You Should Visit:
The stunning architecture of where the tombs are held will keep you in awe of the great design works back in those days.

When exiting, go and have a drink at the terrace of the Kasbah Café and overlook the square where the men will enter the mosk.
Also, on the corner is an argan cooperation with some of the best organic argan oil in Marrakesh. Buy some amlou there and you'll never eat Nutella again!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-4pm
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
Bahia Palace

6) 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
Musée Tiskiwin

7) Musée Tiskiwin (must see)

Marrakech has some excellent museums and one of the best is Musée Tiskiwin which stands on Rue de la Bahia. There is only a small sign indicating the entrance, so keep an eye out for it, as it would be a shame to miss this fascinating collection.

The house is a very beautiful example of Spanish/Moroccan architecture, built in the late 19th century. Dutch anthropologist and art historian Bert-Flint began his superb collection in 1946 and the museum opened its doors in 1996.

You will find the finest examples of Moroccan arts, carpets, musical instruments, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, basketwork, textiles and furniture not only from the area but also from villages and settlements along the legendary “gold road”. There are rooms dedicated to art from Mali and Mauritania.

Mr. Flint wasn’t just happy spreading out his collection and sticking a name and date on it. Being an anthropologist and a historian, he has studied not only the details but the ethnology of each piece. When you arrive at the museum, you will be given a very good booklet that will clearly guide you through the origin and the history of every item, which makes the visit all the more interesting.

Why You Should Visit:
Eclectic and eccentric – it would never win any museum design award but very interesting content.
The setting is small and intimate and doesn't seem to attract large tour groups.
There is a lovely courtyard that you find as you finish viewing the collection.

Make sure you pick up one of the photo-copied guides at reception as these help explain what you are looking at.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-12:30pm & 2:30-6:00pm
Musée Dar Si Saïd (National Museum of Weaving and Carpets)

8) Musée Dar Si Saïd (National Museum of Weaving and Carpets) (must see)

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 townhouse, 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.

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.

Why You Should Visit:
This palace was always worth visiting for its wonderful interior, which has thankfully now been renovated.
The main public areas are now filled with antique carpets showcasing the different styles found across 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 here.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Mon: 10am-6pm; closed on Tuesdays
Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

9) Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret (must see)

The Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret isn’t open to non-Muslims, but there is nothing to stop you from taking photos and admiring this magnificent building, especially at night when it is dramatically lit-up.

When the Almoravides founded the city in the 11th century, they built a mosque, smaller than the present one, but when they were defeated by the Almohades in 1147, the new rulers considered the mosque “unclean” and had it pulled down.

They then built their own “pure” mosque, but due to a planning error, the qiblah wall, which is supposed to be set perpendicular to a line leading to the Mecca, was badly orientated and the Mihrab was off course. Instead of simply adjusting their praying position to be facing the Mecca, the Almohades built a second, larger building alongside and the other eventually fell into ruins.

The Minaret is the oldest of the surviving Almohades towers; it is 13 meters wide and 69 meters high, with six rooms set one on top of the other. Each level is reached by ramps around the rooms.

On the minaret’s roof you will see four golden globes: according to legend, at first there were only three globes, but the wife of a Sultan broke her fast before sunset during the Ramadan and had to give up her jewels as penitence. These were melted down and became the 4th globe. The present globes are made of copper.

Why You Should Visit:
You can't miss one of Morocco's biggest mosques!

The building should be viewed both day and night as it takes on different personalities dependant on the time of day.
Make sure that you walk around the entire mosque, as there are picturesque views all around it.
Probably wiser to avoid Friday until after 3pm-ish as there are special prayers on Friday.
Don't miss the gardens behind – perfect place for a good glass of mint tea and to watch the world go by.
Almoravid Koubba

10) Almoravid Koubba

There aren’t many buildings that have survived the centuries in good condition, so visiting the Almoravid Koubba is a real treat for amateur archeologists.

It was built in the 12th century and is the sole surviving Almoravid building intact in Morocco. It had been renovated and rebuilt in the 16th century, before being buried under an outbuilding attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque when the mosque was renovated and enlarged.

Like so many cities, Marrakech today is much higher than it was when it was founded. This comes from the custom of importing earth to cover the rubble of buildings that had been destroyed or pulled down.

The Koubba remained hidden until excavation work around the mosque began in 1948. It was finally excavated in 1957. Once it stood on ground level, but now you will reach it down a flight of steps.

The small building has a ribbed dome and windows cut into ornate shapes. Inside it has motifs of acanthus leaves, palms and pine cones. It has a unique support system for the roof, being octagonal overlaid by a square.

There is quite a lot of calligraphy representing passages from the Koran. The foundation inscription is the most ancient example of cursive Maghrebi script in North Africa. The Koubba was used for ablutions before entering the mosque.
Ben Youssef Madrasa

11) Ben Youssef Madrasa (must see)

Editor's note: The building is currently being refurbished and will probably reopen to the public in 2019/2020 (no date has been announced yet); however, the museum attached to the Madrasa is open.

You will find the Ali ben Youssef Madrasa in the medina district of Marrakech and you shouldn’t miss a trip to visit this important building. Madrasa means “centre of learning” and can be ascribed to a school, a college or a university – in this case the building served as an Islamic college where students came to learn and study the Koran.

The Ali ben Youssef Madrasa was named after the Almoravid Sultan who reigned between 1106 and 1142. It was founded in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 16th century during the Saadian Dynasty. The college closed in 1960; it was restored and opened as a historical site in 1982.

One of the biggest theological colleges in North Africa, it housed up to 900 students in very cramped conditions, as there were only 130 tiny bedrooms. In these basic “cells” there was little room to lay a sleeping mat and use an area for studying and for cooking – so take plenty of photos to show your kids the next time they moan about not having enough space!

The large central courtyard is beautifully decorated in carved cedar and marble with lovely stuccowork. The tiles are laid out in geometrical patterns and bear inscriptions – mostly phrases from the Koran – as, of course, no human or animal representations are allowed. There is a big pool that served for ablutions before entering the prayer room that backs onto the courtyard.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm

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