Why you should get a local tour guide to explore Marrakech palaces and monuments
What’s the first thing you do when visiting a new city? Read up on relevant blogs, speak to friends, or look through travel guides?
For me, it’s usually a mixture of all 3. However, during my recent travels to Morocco, I decided to do something a bit different, and use the help of a local guide to explore the palaces and monuments of Marrakech.
Having taken plenty of tours beforehand in Toronto and Porto, a local guide really helps to bridge the gap when visiting a new destination. They provide you with public, as well as plenty of insider, knowledge. With the help of Get your Guide, I found the perfect tour to suit my itinerary and budget too. There’s a ton of great activities and tours to choose from, but I had my heart set on seeing Marrakech’s palaces and monuments.
Seeing Marrakech’s best palaces and monuments with a local guide
Bang on 9.30am, our guide for the day arrived to collect us from our riad. Issam, a friendly and well-dressed local, introduced himself before taking us to the van. Admittedly, I was happy to see only one other couple waiting inside — there’s nothing worse than being on an overcrowded tour.
Our first stop was to the awesome Koutoubia Mosque in the heart of Marrakech. You’ll come across many mosques when in Marrakech, but this one particularly stands out. It’s the largest mosque in Marrakech, and right by the famous Jemaa El Fna souk. We met our main guide there — a wonderfully warm local called Fouad.
I immediately warmed to Fouad’s laidback yet informative style. He gave us some interesting background regarding Islam, and the colonial influence of the French in Morocco. Fouad has a very direct way of storytelling — something I really like in a tour guide. He was open to answering all our questions, and gave sufficient time for photo-taking.
“Every room is guaranteed to make your jaw drop, but the main attraction is the Chamber of the 12 Pillars.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
An extra walk to the tour
Given we’d started the tour early, the temperature was perfect to walk to our next attraction. Fouad gave us the scenic tour of Marrakech, plus commentary of course! It was a great opportunity to take in all the sights and sounds of a typical morning in Marrakech. Look out for the local sellers making traditional Moroccan pancakes for breakfast, and the men catching up over mint tea. It’s the type of scene that only comes to life on this kind of tour with a local.
The walk took us past another prominent mosque in Marrakech, Moulay El Yazid, also known as Kasbah Mosque. It’s one of the oldest mosques — built in 1190 — and well-known in the city. As with all mosques, it’s forbidden for non-Muslims to enter.
Our second stop was the Saadian Tombs. The mausoleum is home to 60 members of the Saadian Dynasty, including the tomb of sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. Every room is guaranteed to make your jaw drop, but the main attraction is the Chamber of the 12 Pillars. Prepare to be dazzled by Italian Carrara marble twinned with decorative plasterwork with pure gold on the pillars. There’s no actual entry to the chamber, so you have to form an orderly line.
Top tip: The line for the Chamber of the 12 Pillars gets busy very quickly. Fouad made a smart move in advising us to line up first, and see the rest of the tombs after.
We spent around 40 minutes here. It’s more than enough time to see each room, admire the symmetry of gardens and take photos. Having Fouad to inform us was really helpful, as I saw no descriptions in the tombs.
Upon leaving the Saadian Tombs, we walked through Marrakesh’s red city walls. It was another chance for us to learn more about the country’s history from Fouad, and of course to take more photos.
Top tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes. At this point in the tour, the walk from the Saadian Tombs to Bahia Palace was slightly longer. We also walked through a busy street market, with some uneven surfaces in the road.
Walking into Bahia Palace is a quiet retreat from the busy streets outside its gates. Meaning ‘brilliance’, the palace took the name of the grand vizier, Si Moussa’s, first wife. It was built in a Moroccan and Islamic style in the late 19th century, with the intention of being one of the greatest palaces of all time.
Given that the palace was built for personal use, you get a real in-depth look at life behind its walls. The many rooms in the palace face a courtyard and actually belonged to Moussa’s concubines (Thanks Fouad for the info!). What’s also interesting is that, concubines in this period typically came from rich families. Fouad explained that Moussa’s concubines were treated like royalty throughout their lifespan.
Immerse yourself in the calm and splendour of the palace’s garden. There’s 8,000m2 to explore, and though not easy with many tourists, it’s still possible to take some great photos.
“Walking into this 12-acre botanical garden, it’s hard not to be immediately captivated by the scene.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
After a welcome stop for lunch, we continued to the final place on the tour. By this point, Fouad had said his farewell, and Issam took the group to Majorelle Gardens.
Walking into this 12-acre botanical garden, it’s hard not to be immediately captivated by the scene. The designer, Jacques Majorelle, created this garden and landscape bursting with colour and foliage. The flora and fauna in the garden are species that don’t grow naturally in Morocco.
In the 1980s, French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge, bought and restored Majorelle Garden. Laurent is said to have loved the gardens, so much so, that his ashes were scattered here when he died in 2008. The monument to the designer is a feature in the gardens, and the tranquillity of the place is almost a fitting tribute.
I recommend spending 25 to 35 minutes here. Even with the number of tourists, I found it more than enough time to take everything in.
Issam and the team at Easy Transfers remind me why having a local guide can really make a difference. The Marrakech palaces and monuments tour’s an experience I highly recommend, and one, that if you’re lucky, may just be for you.
Disclaimer: Even though I was invited by Get your Guide, all views are my own and based on my own experience.
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