Classic Marrakesh

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All roads in Marrakesh lead to the Jemaa El Fna square, an irregular open space with its origins shrouded in mystery. On the edge of the Jemaa is the Koutoubia Mosque, where the tour starts. The apogee and template for Islamic architecture in Morocco, the minaret, topped with its three distinctive gold balls, is visible from anywhere in the medina and often from much further afield. You move on to the Bab Agnaou (Gate of the Slaves), entrance to the Kasbah quarter, where tucked away and for years a hidden secret (until discovered in an aerial survey in 1917) are the Saadien Tombs, a necropolis from the 16th Century where humble tombs are cosseted in mausoleums of incredibly delicate and intricate tile work. A short walk through the Kasbah souq, an everyday souq selling meat, fish, vegetables and spices, brings you to the El Badi Palace. Although only the outer walls remain, the scale of this 16th Century palace is incredible, and the sunken gardens in the courtyard give some hint of the opulence of the original building.

Continuing on foot, you come to the similarly named Bahia Palace, a more modest 19th Century affair: more modest in size, but much more impressive in decoration, with tile work, carved wood and stunning plaster friezes to admire. The Bahia is on the fringe of the mellah, the Jewish quarter. Although many of the houses are now empty as the Jewish community has shrunk, there is a working synagogue, which, if open, you can wander round. As more houses are converted to boutique hotels, so shops are opening up and you can see the quarter coming back to life.


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