Famous Cities in Morocco Series (Episode 2 of 13): Marrakech
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
The country of Morocco has so many interesting towns and cities as well as beautiful landmarks. From the astonishing city of Casablanca to Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat, Morocco has everything one might hope to experience. These places boast historical monuments, such as the Hassan II Mosque, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and many others. In this article series, we will be featuring cities and landmarks in Morocco that are historically and culturally significant. In this second installment, we will be traveling to Marrakech, the ever-exciting Jemaa el-Fnaa, and the Koutoubia Mosque. We will learn about the history of the cities themselves as well as some famous and associated landmarks.
Historical Synopsis and the Background of Marrakech:
The city of Marrakech in Morocco is a very interesting place, especially with its long-standing historical background. Additionally, it is also nicknamed the “Red City”. Most of its buildings, houses, and other structures, within the old medina are made of a red-clay-brick material. Marrakech is a very old city. It dates to around “1062 when it was part of the Moroccan Almoravid empire.” Marrakech’s religious origins are that of Islam. Like the rest of the country, Marrakech has experienced numerous centuries of dynastic rule under many different empires, caliphs, and dynasties.
Marrakech has “suffered [with colonialism] like the rest of Morocco where they experienced attacks from the Portuguese, Spanish, and the French”. Geographically, it is important to note that Morocco is in close proximity to Portugal and Spain, but alas, France is still moderately far away. The Spanish chose Morocco as an attack point for two reasons. Firstly, their locations were very close to one another. By boat, Spain is thirty minutes away. Secondly, in earlier times, Morocco’s ports were a central destination for pirates to catch unsuspecting ships. In 1956, Morocco gained its independence. Marrakech later became a famous landmark for tourists because of its beautiful architecture, cavernous souks (markets), and the world-renown, Jemaa el-Fnaa.
Historical Landmarks–Jemaa el-Fnaa and the Koutoubia Mosque (the ‘Red Mosque’):
The Jemaa el-Fnaa is a truly magical place in Morocco. In this large-size square in the medina (old city), you can visit numerous stalls serving the best Moroccan food, snacks, sweet treats, and listen to “fortune-tellers, snake charmers, poets, and storytellers who are there to entertain the crowd,”. The Jemaa el-Fnaa has two different experiences: one for the morning market, and the other which occurs at night. The after-dark Jemaa el-Fnaa is a place that all tourists should experience in Marrakech.
I visited the Jemaa el-Fnaa when I visited Morocco in 2017 and remember there being probably hundreds of people who all come out to the square to have an exciting time that lasts for hours. This trip included listening to a storyteller, hearing musicians perform, almost getting lost (yes, that’s very possible), and eating the most delectable foods that Earth has to offer! Finally, I remember going to a restaurant very late at night. We walked up the stairs to a balcony to sit at a restaurant that overlooked the entire square, where we nibbled on and enjoyed the best that Moroccan cuisine has, such as Tagine and other beautiful foods! I highly recommend the Jemaa el-Fnaa if you are ever in Morocco; it is a must-see!
Koutoubia Mosque (the ‘Red Mosque’):
By far the prettiest landmark in all of Marrakech is the Koutoubia Mosque. Nicknamed the ‘Red Mosque, it was built with distinctive red-brick/rose-colored building materials. The name of the mosque “Koutoubia” comes from the Arabic word for bookseller which is “koutoub”, as there used to be a group of booksellers that sold their wares in the courtyard of the mosque. This mosque is very famous because of its minaret; in fact, it is 70 meters or about 230 feet high! Woah!
It is an active mosque, and because of that, non-Muslims are not allowed to come in and look around; however, you can explore its beautiful grounds which are also close to the world-famous Saadian tombs. Construction of the Koutoubia Mosque began in 1150 during the Almohad dynasty. It took many decades to finish the project. The architecture of this mosque is stunning given its red-brick blocks and the bluish/turquoise-appearing highlights near the top of that glorious minaret. Again, a stroll by the beautiful Koutoubia Mosque comes highly recommended if you are ever in Marrakech!
In conclusion, thank you for joining me on this second episode of the series “Famous Cities in Morocco”. This time, we journeyed to the wondrous city of Marrakech which, in my opinion, is the heart and soul of this beautiful country! Stay tuned for the next installment featuring the amazing city of Fes! It is my hope you got to learn a little bit more about the majestic landscapes and landmarks that Morocco has to offer. If you are ever in Marrakech, visiting the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and the Koutoubia Mosque is highly recommended. You will not be disappointed!
This is the second installment in a series of thirteen focusing on cities in Morocco with an emphasis on its history and famous landmarks. Each article will feature a historical synopsis about the city and 2 to 3 significant landmarks. Keep an eye out for the next article about Fes, Morocco coming soon. Thank you for reading!
To read the first episode in the series that featured Casablanca, the Hassan II Mosque, and the Quartier Habous, please click here!
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