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Marrakech - Key Attractions

Jemaa el Fna (Place of the Dead)
Jemaa el Fna square is the centre of medina life both day and night as a gathering place and unofficial stage for street theatre. For more than a millennium, the Jemaa el Fna's daily bill has featured acrobats, henna tattoo artists, storytellers, belly dancers, musicians, snake charmers and potion sellers. Mint sellers and carts selling dried fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice make way at dusk for 100 makeshift barbecue restaurants and troupes of entertainers vying for attention. Visitors should take plenty of loose change, as the performers do expect a couple of Dirhams worth of appreciation and some of the more colourful characters will pose for a photo for a small charge. That said, this is not a spectacle just for tourists; the crowd is mostly Moroccan. Jemaa el Fna is surrounded by cafs and restaurants, perfect places to escape the hustle and observe the proceedings with a mint tea, coffee or light meal. Caf Argana, Caf de France and Caf Glacier all have roof terraces with wonderful views, although they are slightly more expensive than other local cafs.

Intersection and end point of Triq el Koutoubia, Rue Mouassine, Souk Smarine and Rue Riad Zitoun el Kedim
UNESCO site: Y.

Saadian Tombs
One of the most visited sites in Marrakech and in Morocco, the Saadian Tombs were discovered and opened to the public in 1917. The entrance is signposted inside the main gate to the Kasbah, a short walk from Jemaa el Fna. The principal structures of the tombs were built by Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour and date from the late 16th century. An enclosed garden is overlooked by two separate mausoleums, with over 100 mosaic-decorated graves scattered inside lavishly decorated chambers and outside in the courtyard (where most of the royal wives and concubines ended up). The mausoleum reserved for the sultan and his favourite sons boasts magnificent domed ceilings, gilded stalactite plasterwork, intricate carving and marble pillars. There are 66 members of the Saadian royal family buried here, alongside chancellors and royal advisors and some much older graves whose identity has been lost. Visitors should expect long queues unless they visit early to avoid the rush.

Rue de la Kasbah
Opening hours: Daily 0830-1145 and 1430-1745.
Admission charge: Y.
Disabled access: Y.

Majorelle Garden and Museum of Islamic Art

Given by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent as a gift to the city of Marrakech, this botanical garden was created in the 1920s by French artists Jacques and Louis Majorelle. Perfectly manicured gardens, with pools, giant cacti, bamboo, coconut and banana trees, stand out against the bright-blue wash that covers the villa and garden walls, with splashes of lemon yellow and emerald green on planters, doors and furnishings. A must-see, both for the garden and a peek inside the Majorelles' old studio, which now houses Yves Saint Laurent's collection of local arts and antiques in the Museum of Islamic Art.

Entrance in side street off avenue Yacoub el Mansour
Tel: (0524) 301 852.
Website: www.jardinmajorelle.com
Opening hours: Daily 0800-1800 (May-Sep); daily 0800-1730 (Oct-Apr).
Admission charge: Y.
Disabled access: Y.

El Badi Palace

This once magnificent palace, whose name means the 'incomparable', was built in 1578 by the Midas of Marrakech, Saadian sultan Ahmed el-Mansour. Its 360 rooms were once sumptuously decorated in marble, gold, onyx, ivory, cedar wood and semi-precious stones, surrounding a vast central courtyard of pools, fountains and sunken gardens. This was the venue for parties of extreme extravagance until the sultan died, the capital was moved to Mekns and the palace was stripped of anything valuable. Little remains of its glory days and the ruins of the battlements surround a vast empty space where sumptuous gardens and palace rooms once stood. Today the main attractions are the nesting storks that have made their home here and (for an additional entrance fee) the original 12th-century marquetry minbar (pulpit) inlaid with silver and gold and painstakingly restored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Every summer it comes to life as the main venue for the National Festival of Popular Arts, and recently it has served as a venue for lounge and electronica music festivals.

Bab Berrima, off Place des Ferblantiers
Opening hours: Daily 0830-1145 and 1430-1745.
Admission charge: Y.
Disabled access: Y.

Koutoubia Mosque

From any approach, the first sight of Marrakech is of the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, which dominates the skyline and is a handy reference point for lost travellers. Marrakech's tallest building dates from the 12th century and is the prototype for Moroccan design, with each facade and archway on the square minaret carved with a different architectural flourish. Originally, it was covered in plaster with each tier decoratively painted, but a 1990s restoration opted to leave the stonework exposed. The architecture can be admired at close quarters from the recently renovated gardens, where you can glimpse the foundations of an 11th-century Almoravid mosque demolished because it was not correctly aligned with Mecca.

Avenue Mohammed V
Opening hours: Mosque and minaret closed to non-Muslims; gardens open sunrise-sunset.
Admission charge: N (gardens).
Disabled access: Y.

Marrakech souks

Marrakech appeals to all five senses and the sixth besides - you'll need to trust your intuition to find your way through the labyrinth of souks (market streets) with carpet dealers lying in wait around every corner. The main souks are found through an arch to the north of the Jemaa el Fna. Each section has its own speciality - slippers, spices, lamps and jewellery. The medicinal lotions and potions are particularly interesting, especially those to ward off Jinn (souls without bodies) held responsible for a whole range of ills. Avoid any 'unofficial guides' who offer their services: the whole point of the souks is getting lost, catching glimpses of handicrafts in progress, and finding bargains to boot. Touts may offer to guide you to the tanneries to the northeast of the souks, but this 'attraction' is better avoided. The local leather-tanning setup involves toxic chemical dyes and an unholy stench, and is a favourite haunt of local glue-sniffers - hardly picturesque. The dense central souks offer far more appealing sights to fill an afternoon, and even if you've no intention of buying anything, they're worth a visit for the ambience.

Off Jemaa el Fna
Opening hours: Daily approximately 0900-1900.

Bahia Palace
The 19th-century Bahia Palace still functions as a royal residence where the king entertains, but dozens of rooms are open to the public to see how the royals lived, including the former residence of the Grand Vizier's four wives and his royal harem of 24 concubines. These rooms are decked out floor to ceiling with an eye-popping combination of stuccowork, mosaics and intricately carved and painted woodwork.

Rue Riad Zitoun el-Jedid, near Place des Ferblantiers
Tel: (0524) 389 564.
Opening hours: Mon-Thurs and Sat-Sun 0830-1145 and 1430-1745, Fri 0830-1130 and 1500-1745.
Admission charge: Y.
Disabled access: Y.

Menara Gardens
With its backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, it is no surprise that the Menara Gardens are one of the most photographed places in Morocco. It is also a popular place among locals for picnics. The best time to come is late afternoon when most of the tourists have left. More a working farm than a garden, the Menara was laid out in the 12th century by the Almohads. Around 30,000 olive trees are set around a magnificent reflecting pool, filled with fish that leap above the surface to the surprise of passing walkers. The well-kept picnic pavilion, the menzeh, was built much later in 1869. The first-floor open balcony offers a wonderful view over the pool and the mountains beyond.

Avenue de la Menara, 2km (1 mile) east of the medina
Opening hours: 0530-1830.
Admission charge: N (Y for the picnic pavilion).
Disabled access: Y.
UNESCO site: Y.

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