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Marrakech is full of curiosities and some great sights can be found in this city. Wander off the beaten track and you can discover some of its wonderfully unusual aspects. Any visitor will be charmed by the attractions and experiences that this energetic city can offer. The Central Medina is the heart of Marrakech and covers a compact area including Jemaa El Fna square and its immediate surroundings, as far as the Koutoubia Mosque. Despite its size, this part of Marrakech is packed full of enough sights, sounds and experiences to keep anyone occupied for days. Southern Medina is known as the royal quarter; site of two magnificent ancient palaces and some striking royal tombs. The Agdal Gardens are still used by the royal family but only sporadically and the historic Mellah and the shopping mecca of Centre Artisanal are worth a visit. Northern Medina features an important cluster of historic sights. It is dotted with mosques, historic fountains and burgeoning cultural centres. Here are a dense maze of alleyways and the highest concentration of riads in the city - in a quarter known as Mouassine. The New City offers European-style entertainment and relaxation with a Moroccan twist, and is just a stone's throw away from the medieval medina. Marrakech's two most notable gardens are here, along with a lovely little collection of chic boutiques and restaurants that wouldn't be out of place in Paris or Rome.
Read more on this destination in the AA City Pack guide to Marrakech.
Must-see attractions in Marrakech
Koutoubia Mosque : The Koutoubia mosque is the landmark of Marrakech. It was named for the market stallholders who sold their religious manuscripts nearby, as early as the 7th century. The foundations of the first building, built around 1150 by the Almohad dynasty, can be seen through the railings next to the current mosque. Directly in front of the mosque are two glass enclosures covering the original washing areas.
Souks (market stalls): Rue Souk Essemarine forms a spine running down the middle, lined with stall-holders hawking babouches (traditional slippers), painted tea glasses and brightly coloured leather pouffs aimed at tourists. Traditionally each souk had its own speciality. In the northern reaches are aromatic spice stalls and carpenters' and black-smiths' workshops. Souk des Teinturiers is the dyers' souk, full of photogenic brightly coloured wool while Criee Berbere, once the slave market, now sells carpets. The stalls around Jemaa El Fna offer over-priced, poorer quality goods.
Palais de la Bahia (Palace): This palace was built by Grand Vizier (chief advisor to the sultan) for the intention of housing his two-dozen concubines and four wives. A long courtyard entrance leads to reception halls with vaulted ceilings and female quarters opening on to banana tree and palm filled courtyards. The rooms on view are unfurnished but the architecture detail is impressive: intricately carved stucco panels, finest zellij (Moorish mosaic tiling) and honeycombs of gilded cedar.
Palais El Badii (palace): This extravagant palace was built in 1578 and was once decorated with gold, onyx and marble. Only the tower on the north eastern side retains its internal staircase; it leads to a terrace where storks and sparrows have a birds-eye view as they stand sentinel. A plan in English shows the original layout, including the Crystal Pavilion for the King, with its own pools and lounge, but only the foundations remain.
Tombeaux Saadiens (royal burial place): These fascinating tombs were only re-discovered in 1917, and contain the great rulers of the Saadien dynasty, buried among children and princesses. Ahmed El Mansour (known as Ahmed, 'the golden') ordered the construction of the tombs, along with the Badii Palace. Perhaps it is ironic that the Sultan was the first to be buried here in 1603 - along with more than 60 of his entourage.
Musee d'Art Islamique (art museum): This wonderful museum of Islamic Art is well worth a visit. This is an example of a highly personal collection belonging to Yves Saint-Laurent, in a very special building (Jacques Majorelle's old painting studio). With little or no pretension, it shows heartfelt appreciation of the local culture. Just four small rooms contain exhibits such as antique Berber jewellery, carved wooden doors, delicate embroidery, textiles and medieval manuscripts, as well as lithographs and pieces of art by Majorelle that relate to the area.
Night Market: Dine beneath a thousand stars, and beside a thousand other customers, surrounded by fortune tellers and snake charmers in one of the largest open air restaurants in the world. Every night at dusk, as the sun begins to set behind the Koutoubia Mosque, gas lanterns are lit and smoke from more than 100 barbeques begins to fill the air of Jemaa El Fna. The food is fresh, usually boiled or fried, and reports of illness are extremely rare. This is Moroccan fast food at its best: Just look and point and a delicious meal will be on your table in minutes.
Medersa Ben Youssef (Koranic school): This Koranic boarding school is one of the few religious sites non-Muslims can enter. There is a real serenity in the architecture, so-more than anywhere else in Marrakech - time your visit to avoid tour groups. One of the largest centres for religious education in North Africa, Ben Youssef was founded in the 14th century. Re-built by the Saadiens around 1570, it has not been used as a school since 1960.
Jardin Majorelle (Garden): French artist Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) produced restrained, obscure watercolours, while his father Louis made furniture. Yet their most impressive work was this joint effort outside both their specialist fields. This cool blue oasis in the pink desert city is both a finely designed botanic garden and relaxing retreat, with soaring palms and painterly detail. Opened in 1947, the gardens were coloured with the revolutionary bright hue that became known as Majorelle bleu.
City Walls and Gates: If you blot out the traffic chaos and look up to the high fringe of palm trees, it is almost possible to imagine life in the gardens, houses and palaces behind these walls nearly a thousand years ago. The distinctive pink ramparts encircling the medina separate the old town from the new. In 1126, the Almoravid Sultan Ali Ben Youssef began constructing the 10m (33ft) high fortifications to keep out his tribal enemy, the Almohads.