Marrakech is divided into two clearly different areas: the modern city and the medina which is surrounded by magnificent red sandstone walls. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, the old fortified city contains the most important monuments and places of historic interest.
An ideal place to start visiting Marrakech is the bustling Jemaa el-Fnaa square, declared Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2001. There you will witness a human collage that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. Snake charmers, dancers, singers, acrobats, fortune-tellers, and toothpicks all fight for space among the myriad of food stalls and peddlers of traditional medicines.
From there head to the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a Koranic school that owes its name to the Almoravid soldier Ali ibn Yussuf who came to reign in the 12th century and helped expand Marrakech and to increase its power and influence.
Another religious building worth visiting is the Koutoubia Mosque, whose 69-metre-high minaret towers above Marrakech. Its appearance is very similar to the Hassan tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville, which attracts the attention of many visitors.
Marrakech also stands out for its palatial architecture. One of the best examples of which is the El Badi Palace. It was built at the end of the 16th century by the Samad soldier Ahmad al-Mansur to celebrate the victory over the Portuguese in 1578, in what is known as the battle of the Three Kings.
Another example is the spectacular Bahia Palace, built at the end of the 19th century by Si Ahmed ben Musa, grand vizier of the Sultan, who established a harem there. The palace acquired a reputation as one of the finest in Morocco and took over seven years to build. From there you can then access the Dar Menebhi Palace, an Andalusian building from the late nineteenth century that now houses the Museum of Marrakech.
Although less known, it is worth visiting the site of the Saadian Tombs, from the late sixteenth century it was used as a mausoleum to bury numerous Saadian sultans. It was lost for many years until it was rediscovered it in 1917 using aerial photographs.
The city walls contain 19 gates and one of the best known is Bab Agnaou, built in the 12th century in the time of the Almohad dynasty. Close by is the Koubba Ba'Adiyn, a small building from the early 12th century, that was recently restored. It is the only example of Almoravid architecture that has been preserved in Marrakech.
To the west of the city and at the gates of the Atlas Mountains, the beautiful Menara gardens await you. Built in the 12th century by the Almohad caliph Abd Al-Mumin, its most striking element is a simple pavilion topped with a green roof. Don't forget to visit the Majorelle garden, a botanical garden by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, created in 1931 and later restored by the designer Yves Saint Laurent.