The most popular sights in Marrakech are the Jemaa el Fna and the Souks, especially in the evening when Moroccans are out and about. During the day, we took the opportunity to see several of the older sights, some of which now house museums.
The Jardin Majorelle, located a short walk outside of the Medina (old city) was built by French artist Jaques Majorelle. The gardens, designed by Majorelle, are now more famous than his painting.
The gardens and beautiful blue studio survive thanks to the interest and preservation by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge (Saint Laurent passed away in 2008; the garden is now maintained by their foundation). The interior of the studio now houses a museum of Berber (also known as Amazigh) art and culture. The gardens were lovely to walk through and were refreshingly cool despite the day’s hot temperature.
Switching from (relatively) new and well-kept to old ruins, we visited the ruins of the Palais Badi. While quite extensive, the signage was limited. In the ruins were several installation pieces of modern art, part of a city-wide exhibition called “Not New Now” (at least that’s the name in English — who knows if it’s a fair translation).
Easily confused with the Palais Badi is the Palais Bahia. Its beautiful courtyards, archways, and ceilings survive and are enjoyed by visitors and its many resident cats. The Palais Bahia also hosted art pieces and video from Not New Now.
The next morning we made our way down to the Saadian Tombs, which housed several tombs outside in the garden courtyard and others inside beautiful open-air rooms. They used similar tile patterns to the Place Bahia, although the complete room is more impressive at the tombs.
Maybe indicating that we are still acting like we are on a short trip and trying to fit in all of the sights, we made it to two additional sights: the Museum of Marrakech and the Ben Yousef Madrasa. The museum, housed in a former palace, showcases a few rooms as they would have been used, and displays a few artifacts. However, the main attraction was the building and its large covered courtyard featuring a very large chandelier. Unfortunately, the modern covered roof unfortunately acted as a built in sepia filter and muted the colors of the tiled courtyard.
Next door we visited the Ben Yousef Madrasa, a former Koranic school. No longer in operation, the building was restored and is open to tourists. I thought it had the most impressive tile work and calligraphy of any of the sites that we saw in Marrakech. It also hosted a couple of modern art pieces from Not New Now. We sat and listened to an English-language tour guide who explained the calligraphy (passages from the Koran) and the modern art, which he said was supposed to be very important for the city, but he thought “it looks absurd.”
After this, we were off to Essaouria on the coast — hopefully we will have that update written soon. Also, I plan a couple shorter posts about experiences in Marrakech and Morocco more generally.