Moroccan Architecture Walking Tour, Marrakech

Moroccan Architecture Walking Tour (Self Guided), Marrakech

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. Its towering minaret is a symbol of the city that features ornate detailing, reflecting Islamic design principles.

The Marrakech Ramparts are ancient fortifications encircling the old city. Built to fend off invaders in the old days, these walls showcase the craftsmanship of Moroccan artisans.

Bab Agnaou, an entryway to the historic Medina, is one of the grand gates of Marrakech, exhibiting intricate carvings.

The Kasbah Mosque, a serene oasis within the city, showcases traditional Moroccan architecture, complete with graceful arches, intricate tilework, and a peaceful courtyard.

The Saadian Tombs are a hidden gem, discovered in the 20th century. This architectural wonder boasts stunning mausoleums adorned with elaborate stucco work and tile mosaics.

Meanwhile, El Badi Palace is a testament to Moroccan grandeur, with its vast courtyards and remnants of opulent architectural elements. Its ruins still evoke a sense of awe and wonder.

Another architectural jewel of note is Bahia Palace. Renowned for its tranquil gardens, ornate rooms, and masterly zellige tilework, it reflects the opulence of Moroccan aristocracy.

Finally, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, an ancient Islamic school, is a marvel of Islamic masonry, characterized by its complex geometric patterns, carved cedarwood, and serene courtyards.

Exploring these and other architectural wonders in Marrakech is not only a visual delight but a cultural and historical journey through the heart of this vibrant city. In the realm of Instagram, Marrakech stands tall, with every single building here having its own legend. So, spare some time to discover them with the help of our self-guided walk. You'll find it rewarding!
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Moroccan Architecture Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Moroccan Architecture Walking Tour
Guide Location: Morocco » Marrakech (See other walking tours in Marrakech)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
  • Marrakech Ramparts
  • Bab Agnaou
  • Kasbah Mosque
  • Saadian Tombs
  • El Badi Palace
  • Bahia Palace
  • Musee Tiskiwin
  • Musee Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts)
  • Almoravid Koubba
  • Musee de Marrakech (Marrakech Museum)
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa
Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

1) 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.
Marrakech Ramparts

2) 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.
Bab Agnaou

3) 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.
Kasbah Mosque

4) 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.
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!
El Badi Palace

6) 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.
Bahia Palace

7) 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.
Musee Tiskiwin

8) Musee Tiskiwin

Marrakech has some excellent museums and the Musée Tiskiwin, which stands on Rue de la Bahia, is among the most fascinating. The structure itself is not as impressive as (e.g.) the Bahia Palace, but again, it gives you an idea of 19th-century Spanish/Moroccan architecture - the former property of Dutch anthropologist and art historian Bert-Flint, who began his superb collection in 1946, with the museum having opened its doors in 1996.

Inside, you will find the finest examples of Moroccan arts, carpets, tents, musical instruments, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, basketwork, textiles and furniture not only from the area but also from villages and settlements along the legendary trans-Saharan "Gold Route". The maze of small rooms within this former riad offers a fascinating "physical" tour from Marrakech to the Touareg region of Algeria and Niger, and on to Mali and Timbuktu before heading back to Morocco via Mauritania.

Mr. Flint (who can still from time to time be glimpsed on the premises) 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. Make sure you pick up one of the photo-copied booklets at the reception desk, as these 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.

The Berber tent made totally out of camel hair is an unmistakable must-see!
Musee Dar Si Said (Museum of Moroccan Arts)

9) 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.
Almoravid Koubba

10) Almoravid Koubba

Since there aren't many buildings that survived the centuries in good condition, visiting the Koubba will be a real treat for amateur archaeologists. The sole surviving Almoravid building intact in Morocco, it was built in the 12th century and had been renovated/rebuilt in the 16th, before being buried under an outbuilding attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque.

Like so many cities, today's Marrakech is much higher than it once was, due to the custom of importing earth to cover the rubble of destroyed or pulled-down structures. The Koubba remained hidden until excavation work around the mosque began in 1948, and you can now reach it down a flight of steps.

Embodying all the decorative motifs which linger in any Arabian Nights fantasy, the small building has a ribbed dome and windows cut into ornate shapes – a variation on the classic North African (and Andalusian) style. Inside, it has motifs of acanthus leaves, palms, and pine cones, and there are subterranean chambers within the ruins running alongside.

There is quite a lot of calligraphy representing passages from the Quran; the foundation inscription, in particular, is the most ancient example of cursive Maghrebi script in North Africa. The Koubba was used for washing before prayer, and the inscription reads as "I was created for science and prayer, by the prince of the believers, descendant of the prophet, Abdallah, most glorious of all Caliphs. Pray for him when you enter the door, so that you may fulfill your highest hopes."
Musee de Marrakech (Marrakech Museum)

11) Musee de Marrakech (Marrakech Museum)

Housed in the 19th century Dar Menebhi Palace, which was beautifully restored in 1997 by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation, the Musée de Marrakech is worth visiting to see one of the best examples of Arab/Spanish architecture.

With its calming fountains, seating areas and detailed tile work, the central courtyard, which functions as the museum's atrium, was once open to the sky but now has been covered with glass. Its show-stopper is, undoubtedly, the huge hanging chandelier made of metal shards, each one delicately decorated with inscriptions and geometric symbols.

The side rooms around the courtyard have lovely painted wooden ceilings and house several pieces of interest, such as historical books and manuscripts, jewel-encrusted daggers and swords, clothes, coins, carpets and pottery from Arab, Berber and Jewish civilizations. The museum also holds temporary exhibitions on modern Moroccan art, but sadly, the explanations of each item, along with those in the permanent exhibition, are all in Arabic/French.

Why You Should Visit:
As long as you don't go inside expecting a historical museum experience, you will enjoy a stop here.
The interior courtyard is stunning with beautiful tiled floors, elegant arches and wonderful decoration.

Don't miss the delightful courtyard café offering a shady peaceful spot to enjoy a mint tea and some 'gazelle horn' almond pastries. You don't have to enter the museum to drink/eat there, so it is worth going just for the refreshment.
Ben Youssef Madrasa

12) Ben Youssef Madrasa (must see)

You'll find the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa in the Medina district of Marrakech and you shouldn't miss a trip to visit this important building, renovated and opened to the public in 1982. Founded in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 16th, during the Saadian Dynasty, the Madrasa was part of the complex of the nearby Almoravid mosque which was founded by Ali Ben Youssef during his reign between 1106-42, to which it was once attached.

Madrasa means "center of learning" and can be ascribed to a school, a college or a university; in this case, the building served as an Islamic college - one of the largest in North Africa, housing up to 900 students in very cramped conditions, as there were only 130 tiny bedrooms. These basic 'cubicles' barely had room to lay a sleeping mat or use an area for studying and for cooking – so take plenty of photos to show to kids the next time they moan about not having enough space!

Historical and academical significance aside, the madrasa draws in visitors who come to marvel at the large central courtyard beautifully decorated in carved cedar and marble with lovely stuccowork, drawing comparisons to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The tiles are laid out in geometrical patterns and bear inscriptions – mostly phrases from the Quran – as, of course, no human or animal representations are allowed. There is also a big pool in the middle that served for ablutions before entering the prayer room that backs onto the courtyard.

Go early or late; avoid midday as it's too crowded to enjoy.

Walking Tours in Marrakech, Morocco

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