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At the foot of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco lies Marrakech. Once a remote oasis on the Haouz Plain, it was swarming with bandits. Now, however, it is an important city that reigns over the south of Morocco.

“Marrakech”, in terms of the history of the word, is debatable. One account says that it comes from the Berber word for “land of beauty”. It is quite easy to believe this: the air is crisp and crisp, the winters are warm and sunny. The sweltering summer days with cooler nights make for many night owls. Its fame lies in the spectacular setting, its exotic atmosphere, the mountain backdrop and the people. Marrakech is a must stop on your next vacation in Morocco.

Marrakech has a rich history. Consisting of modern Gueliz, built during the French occupation, and the old medina, Marrakech’s beginnings date back to the mid-11th century.

Beginning its life under the Almoravid sultans, Marrakech was a stronghold of Islam. It remains, today, a true Islamic city. Many luxurious buildings were erected during the last century, including the Koutouba Mosque and minaret. Both it and the medina are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

One of Marrakech’s claims to fame is that it never sleeps, probably due to the intense summer heat. In addition, every Morocco Holiday has the largest and most well-known traditional market square in Morocco, Djemaa el-Fna.

Filled with storytellers, snake charmers, henna artists, dentists, apothecaries, dancers and musicians at night, the square turns into a huge outdoor restaurant and outdoor extravaganza. It was named the first UNESCO World Heritage Site for Oral Tradition in 2006.

Behind the market there are numerous souks, small shopping plazas within the many alleyways. Each souk has its own special crafts. You can watch the different artisans create their art. One of the best times to visit is early morning or late afternoon when the merchandise is auctioned off to the public.

Besides the archaic medina, Marrakech has more to explore. The Kasbah or royal quarter with the ruins of the Palais el-Badi is a good place to start.

Built in the late 1500s and early 1600s, it was reputed to be one of the most beautiful palaces in the world. Today, little remains of the original palace, looted by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismail. Today, the imposing walls provide the storks with a good place to call home and reflect the grandeur this palace once held. After entering the palace, you will find a central courtyard with a pool. The surrounding orange groves and sunken gardens emit scents of candied flowers.

The royal palace is not open to visitors. The mellah or Jewish quarter is the home of the remaining Jews in Marrakech. Because the Saadian Sultan Abdullah el-Ghalib appreciated the work done by the Jewish people, he had his quarter of the city built next to the palace. The mellah looks different from the rest of the city. An eerie site to see is the miaara, or graveyard, with its glowing white tombs stretching into the distance.

Located next to the Kasbah Mosque, this burial place of lost princes was originally for the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Later ornate tombs were built for Saadian princes, the most famous being Ahmed al-Mansour. Unlike the fate of the Palais el-Badi, Sultan Moulay Ismail sealed the entrance. The tombs were not rediscovered until the 20th century. As a result, some of the best examples of the richness and luxury of art from an ancient era have survived.

Of course, you’ll also want to see the Koutoubia Mosque and minaret, one of Islam’s most famous monuments. Erected at the end of the 10th century, it is the oldest and best preserved of the minarets built by the Almohads. The name comes from the Arabic word for booksellers. Once the area around the mosque was a large book market. Today the minaret dominates the southwestern sky. With a height of 70 meters, it can be seen for miles in all directions. While the mosque is not open to visitors, the area around it is. You are free to wander around the gardens and the square.

Another mosque of some importance is the Ali ben Youssef Mosque and medersa. Originally built in the 12th century, it was remodeled in the 19th century. While non-Muslims are not allowed in the mosque, you can visit the medersa (theological college) next to it. A restoration project has turned this medersa into one of the most beautiful and meditative places in Morocco.

With so much to see and do in Marrakech, make sure your Morocco tour operator gives you an inside look into the antiquated past that makes Morocco a world heritage not to be missed.

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