Planning to discover the “Red City”? To help you prepare for your trip to Morocco, discover our guide to visiting the Medina of Marrakech!
The historic heart of Marrakech, the Medina is the largest in the Maghreb! In this almost millenary Old Arab City, tourists, and modest Marrakchi rub shoulders. Some stroll through the winding alleys, along with the orange gardens and fountains, others are busy, joining the souks of the Medina.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this old district is obviously home to several monuments and magnificent remains such as the Koutoubia mosque, the Ben Youssef Medersa, and the Saadian tombs. There are also many museums. But above all, it is in the Medina that we find the famous souk of Marrakech and the Jemaa el-Fna square, the populous heart and «court of miracles» of the city.
During your stay in Marrakech, you can not miss discovering this fantastic Moroccan Old Town. But what must you absolutely visit? From its monuments to practical information, including its history and the possibility of guided tours, we reveal everything you need to know to visit the Medina of Marrakech in the best conditions!
History of the Medina of Marrakech
Old Town and historic heart of Marrakech, the Medina was born at the same time as the city.
Founded by the Almoravids in 1070-72, the Red City was for a long time one of the major political, cultural, and economic centers of the Muslim West. The city quickly became the capital of the Almoravid Emirate. This Eurafrican empire stretched from the banks of the Senegal River to the center of the Iberian Peninsula, via the Moroccan Atlantic coast in the east to Algiers in the west. Under the leadership of Almoravid rulers, mosques and palaces were built, with the help of Andalusian artisans from Seville and Cordoba. This Andalusian influence merged with the Saharan and West African stylistic elements.
You can still admire this unique and original architecture in the Medina of Marrakech. Ali Ben Youssef fortified the city as well. The ramparts dating from 1122 to 1123 are still visible today!
In 1147 the Almohads seized the city. They destroy many of the Almoravid monuments. The new rulers nevertheless built many palaces and religious buildings, such as the famous Koutoubia mosque or the Casbah. At the beginning of the 16th century, Marrakech became the capital of the Saadian Empire and returned to greatness. The city is embellished, the ruined monuments restored, and sumptuous palaces are built. The El Badi palace dates from this period. Most of the monuments of the Medina date from these different grandiose periods: the monumental gates, the gardens, the palaces, the Ben Youssef Medersa, the Saadian tombs, and the Jamaâ El Fna square.
The latter, a veritable open-air theatre, still amazes its visitors, both travelers, and locals!
What to see and do in the Medina of Marrakech?
The most interesting monuments as well as the majority of the museums of Marrakech are located in the Medina. You'll most likely spend most of your time there. As a result, the Medina is the city's most charming and touristy area.
At first glance, the Medina will seem like an anarchic whole of a confusing disorder. After all, it is a maze of alleys, squares, souks, and riads, surrounded by palaces, mosques, and Koranic schools. But it is this «bazaar» that makes the charm of the Medina. As far as it is from Arabia or Persia, it inevitably evokes the tales of the thousand and one nights, Aladdin or Sindbad.
The starting point: Jemaa el-Fna square
The heart of Marrakech's Medina is this enormous square. Open and airy, this traditional, popular, and lively place is a must! During the day, fairs, camelots, and street artists ensure the daily spectacle. They are relayed by the food booths at night. It is an excellent starting place for exploring Marrakech's Medina and its many attractions.
The West: the Koutoubia Mosque
To the west of the square, you can start your visit to the Medina of Marrakech with the Koutoubia mosque. Built-in the 12th century, it reflects the art of the Almohads through its architecture and ascetic decoration. It is known for its 77-meter-high minaret. It also houses one of the largest prayer rooms in the Muslim West, which can accommodate up to twenty thousand faithful!
The North of the Medina
The South of the Medina
After visiting the north of the Medina, do not miss to descend to the opposite of the beach Jemaa el-Fna to the south. The Kasbah and the Mellah, two historic neighborhoods near the Royal Palace, will be explored. You can visit several must-see places, such as the magnificent Bahia Palace or the exciting Bert Flint Museum of Crafts and Ethnology. We also recommend you discover the ruins of the El Badi Palace, very interesting remains. But above all, don’t miss the Saadian Tombs, a hidden 18th-century royal necropolis. Richly decorated, these tombs are surrounded by green gardens!
In the south of Medina, you can also visit the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter of Marrakech. You will discover the pleasant souk of the neighborhood. The atmosphere is also quieter and less touristic south of the Medina. Enjoy this moment of calm before returning to the meanders of the Old Town. Visiting the Medina of Marrakech also means getting lost in its souks and winding streets. Be careful with fake guides!.
How to get to the Medina of Marrakech?
Marrakech's Medina is located in the heart of the city. you land at the city airport. From here you can easily reach La Medina. After all, your accommodation is likely to be in this historic and charming area. You can take the L11, L12, and L19 bus lines from the airport to reach Koutoubia or Jamaa El-Fna. The large square is the perfect starting point to visit the Mé-dina of Marrakech or to reach your accommodation. For your city trips, you can also take lines L2, L3, L4, L5, L6, L10, L14, L15, L16, L19, L66 at the Jamaa El-Fna stop and L11, L12 at Koutoubia.
If you plan to rent a car on your arrival in Marrakech, know that there are many paid car parks all around Medina. For example, you can opt for the secure parking of the Koutoubia. It is a stone’s throw from Jemaa El-Fna Square. Your hotel can also have a guarded car park. Do not hesitate to ask them before your arrival. It should be noted that it is better to prefer public transport or walking for your trips in and around the Medina of Marrakech. A vehicle can be very useful to discover the surroundings of Marrakech and make excursions outside the city.
Guided tours of the Medina of Marrakech
To not miss anything during your visit to the Medina of Marrakech, you can opt for a guided tour. It is the perfect activity to discover the Old Town in its finest detail and to learn more about the history of the «Red City».
These visits of 3 to 4 hours will lead you through the winding streets of the Medina. Your guide will tell you everything you need to know about the palaces, gardens, and monuments you'll see. There are many types of visits. Some will make you discover the local souks, others monuments and vestiges dating from glorious times. In each case, you will learn more about the history of Marrakech, its sultans, and its inhabitants.