The red city of Marrakesh is a palm-tree oasis at the threshold of the Sahara. Second oldest of the Imperial Cities, Marrakesh was founded by the Almoravids in the 11th century. Today it is the capital of southern Morocco, and as such is a jewel of the Islamic world. Its chief monument is its Koutoubia Mosque, built by the Almohads. Its' characteristic minaret dominates the city.
Djemaa El Fna: This largest souk in Morocco is a world unto itself. Camera-carrying tourists and kif-smoking young people rub shoulders with men in town from the Atlas Mountains, or wandering tribesmen from the Sahara in their blue robes. If you go at 4 PM, you'll meet the cast of characters ranging from acrobats, monkey trainers, soothsayers, palm readers, trick cyclists, magicians, jugglers, flame eaters, etc. The most characteristic star in this drama is the red-clad water seller, a goatskin sack draped across his back, a necklace of brass cups dangling from his throat. Tinkling his bell in your ear, he makes his way through the masses. Today he earns more money posing for tourists (Give him at least 2 or 3 DH) than he does selling water from the gold faucet of his goatskin sack. Everybody in Djemaa El Fna has something to sell, and you are the prime target. Don't leave your companion stranded to fend for him/her self. Snake charmers are here also. With one eye on a deranged cobra and another on you, he will take the snake from its basket. Then he'll put the snake away and rush over to collect a Dirham from you as entertainment tax. If you watch, you pay! If Allah is smiling on you during your visit, you'll get to see a performance by the black Muslims of Mauritania, who are known for their acrobatic feats and barefoot dancing. Scarlet-colored sashes are slung around their ivory toned garb, a dramatic sight in movement to the tam-tam.
The Koutoutia Mosque: This mosque dominates the city with its 222-foot high minaret. It was built in the 12th century from pink sandstone. The tower is crowned by three decorative gilt balls, which according to legend, were presented by the wife of the sultan. This mosque is the sister of the Giralda Tower at Seville and the Tower of Hassan at Rabat. The sides, each one different, are covered with beautiful decorative facing. The Koutoubia was erected on the site of the Palace of Stone in which the Almohads lived. All in all, this mosque makes Marrakesh one of the great cities of the Islamic world and represents a triumph of Moorish architecture.
The Souks of the Medima: Some of the finest craftsmen in Morocco are found on these narrow streets. The most colorful is the dyers Souk. Hanging on lines strung across the streets are silk and woolen skeins in every hue of the rainbow. Leather workers, bookbinders, shoemakers, brass and copper artisans ply their age-old crafts. The aromas alone will lure you to the exotic spice section. Some of the alleyways are covered with latticework, casting slanting shadows on everything. Donkeys, laden with goods, ply their way through the crowds. Merchants try to lure you into their souk. If you go in, it's almost impossible to get out without buying something.
Medersa Then Yussef: This monument was built by a 14th century sultan. The style is traditional, with a quartet of ornately decorative inner facades surrounding a central courtyard. Look for the 11th century marble base with its heraldic birds. Until 1956 Medersa was used as a university, filled with medical students who lived in cell-like rooms upstairs. Tip the guide.
The Sardian Tombs: These tombs, built during the 16th century are elaborately decorated. They contain the remains of all but five of the Saadian rulers, The royal burial ground, in back of the Casbah Mosque, wasn't discovered until 1917. All in all, the necropolis forms the most dramatic architecture in the city, and of the three halls, the most elegant is the Chamber of 12 Columns, Many of the tombs contain the remains of children. Daily from 8:3D-noon, 2:30-6, Tip the guide.
Bahia Palace and Gardens: If the king isn't hosting a VIP, you can visit this splendidly decorated palace, built between 1894 and 1900. Called "the Brilliant Palace", Bahia is noted for its decoration and its Moorish gardens. Incidentally, these gardens - with their sweet smell of jasmine are irrigated by water from an artificial lake. In the palace you proceed through tiny courtyards and sumptuously decorated salons. Hours vary.
Dar Si Said: Now an arts museum, this second palace was erected during the 19th century. You enter via a sweet-smelling patio garden, graced with the sound of birds. The collection is interesting, especially the handicrafts from the high Atlas Mountains. The rugs and capes are exceptional.
The Royal Palace: This is where King Hassan II lives when he's in Marrakesh. It cannot be visited, but visitors are fond of riding around it in a horse drawn carriage. It's a huge palace - the trip around its high walls is about two miles. The palace is known as Dar El Makhzen.
Aguedal: A splendid imperial garden from the 12th century... studded with olive trees... and irrigated by pools.
Memara Gardens: These gardens are surrounded by an adobe enclosure and are about 1200 yards long and 800 wide. There's also a pavilion surrounded by a 12-foot wide parapet.
Mamounia Gardens: The deluxe hotel Mamounia is built in these gardens. They are cool and tranquil... a shady walk through orange and olive trees.
Palm Grove: A horse-drawn carriage ride around the ramparts is considered a must. Negotiate with the driver because it will not be cheap. The palm oasis embraces an area of about 30,000 acres... and trips usually last for 5 miles. You'll see the interesting gates of Marrakesh during the journey - and may possibly stop off and mount a camel.