Marrakesh, also known by the French spelling Marrakech (/məˈrækɛʃ/ or /ˌmærəˈkɛʃ/; Arabic: مراكش, Murrākuš; Berber: Meṛṛakec, ⴰⵎⵓⵔⴰⴽⵓⵛ), is a major city of the Kingdom of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fes and Tangier. It is the capital city of the mid-southwestern region of Marrakesh-Safi. Located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh is located 580 km (360 mi) southwest of Tangier, 327 km (203 mi) southwest of the Moroccan capital of Rabat, 239 km (149 mi) south of Casablanca, and 246 km (153 mi) northeast of Agadir.
Marrakesh is possibly the most important of Morocco’s four former imperial cities (cities that were built by Moroccan Berber empires). The region has been inhabited by Berberfarmers since Neolithic times, but the actual city was founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin. In the 12th century, the Almoravids built many madrasas (Koranic schools) and mosques in Marrakesh that bear Andalusian influences. The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in red sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the “Red City” or “Ochre City”. Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading centre for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa; Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest square in Africa.
After a period of decline, the city was surpassed by Fes, but in the early 16th century, Marrakesh again became the capital of the kingdom. The city regained its preeminence under wealthy Saadian sultans Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur, who embellished the city with sumptuous palaces such as the El Badi Palace (1578) and restored many ruined monuments. Beginning in the 17th century, the city became popular among Sufi pilgrims for Morocco’s seven patron saints, who are entombed here. In 1912 the French Protectorate in Morocco was established and T’hami El Glaoui became Pasha of Marrakesh and held this position nearly throughout the duration of the protectorate until the role was dissolved upon independence of Morocco and the reestablishment of the monarchy in 1956. In 2009, Marrakesh mayor Fatima Zahra Mansouri became the second woman to be elected mayor in Morocco.
Like many Moroccan cities, Marrakesh comprises an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls (the medina), bordered by modern neighborhoods, the most prominent of which is Gueliz. Today it is one of the busiest cities in Africa and serves as a major economic centre and tourist destination. Tourism is strongly advocated by the reigning Moroccan monarch, Mohammed VI, with the goal of doubling the number of tourists visiting Morocco to 20 million by 2020. Despite the economic recession, real estate and hotel development in Marrakesh has grown dramatically in the 21st century. Marrakesh is particularly popular with the French, and numerous French celebrities own property in the city. Marrakesh has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco, with some 18 souks selling wares ranging from traditional Berber carpets to modern consumer electronics. Crafts employ a significant percentage of the population, who primarily sell their products to tourists. Marrakesh is one of North Africa’s largest centres of wildlife trade, despite the illegality of much of this trade. Much of this trade can be found in the medina and adjacent squares. Tortoises are particularly popular for sale as pets but Barbary macaques and snakes can also be seen.
Marrakesh is served by Ménara International Airport and the Marrakesh railway station, which connects the city to Casablanca and northern Morocco. Marrakesh has several universities and schools, including Cadi Ayyad University. A number of Moroccan football clubs are located here, including Najm de Marrakech, KAC Marrakech, Mouloudia de Marrakech and Chez Ali Club de Marrakech. The Marrakesh Street Circuit hosts the World Touring Car Championship, Auto GP and FIA Formula Two Championship races.
The exact meaning of the name is debated. The probable origin of the name Marrakesh is from the Berber (Amazigh) words amur (n) akush (ⴰⵎⵓⵔ ⵏ ⴰⴽⵓⵛ), which means “Land of God”. According to historian Susan Searight, however, the town’s name was first documented in an 11th-century manuscript in the Qarawiyyin library in Fez, where its meaning was given as “country of the sons of Kush”. The word mur  is used now in Berber mostly in the feminine form tamurt. The same word “mur” appears in Mauretania, the North African kingdom from antiquity, although the link remains controversial as this name possibly originates from μαύρος mavros, the ancient Greek word for black. The common English spelling is “Marrakesh”, although “Marrakech” (the French spelling) is also widely used. The name is spelled Mṛṛakc in the Berber Latin alphabet, Marraquexe in Portuguese, Marraquech inSpanish, and “Mer-reksh” in Moroccan Arabic.
From medieval times until around the beginning of the 20th century, the entire country of Morocco was known as the “Kingdom of Marrakesh”, as the kingdom’s historic capital city was often Marrakesh. The name for Morocco is still “Marrakesh” to this day in Persian and Urdu (مراكش) as well as many other South Asian languages. Various European names for Morocco (Marruecos, Marrocos, Maroc, Marokko, etc.) are directly derived from the Berber wordMurakush. Conversely, the city itself was in earlier times simply called Marocco City (or similar) by travelers from abroad. The name of the city and the country diverged after the Treaty of Fez made Morocco a French and Spanish protectorate, but the old interchangeable usage lasted widely until about the interregnum of Mohammed Ben Aarafa (1953–1955). The latter episode set in motion the country’s return to independence, when Morocco officially becameal-Mamlaka al-Maġribiyya (المملكة المغربية) (“The Maghreb Kingdom”), its name no longer referring to the city of Marrakesh. Marrakesh is known by a variety of nicknames, including the “Red City”, the “Ochre City” and “the Daughter of the Desert”, and has been the focus of poetic analogies such as one comparing the city to “a drum that beats an African identity into the complex soul of Morocco.”
The Marrakesh area was inhabited by Berber farmers from Neolithic times, and numerous stone implements have been unearthed in the area. Marrakesh was founded in 1062 (454 in the Hijri calendar) by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and second cousin of the Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin (c. 1061–1106). Under the Almoravids, pious and learned warriors from the desert, numerous mosques and madrasas (Koranic schools) were built, developing the community into a trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural and religious center, supplanting Aghmat, which had long been the capital ofHaouz. Andalusian craftsmen from Cordoba and Seville built and decorated numerous palaces in the city, developing the Umayyad style characterized by carved domes and cusped arches. This Andalusian influence merged with designs from the Sahara and West Africa, creating a unique style of architecture which was fully adapted to the Marrakesh environment. Yusuf ibn Tashfin completed the city’s first mosque (the Ben Youssef mosque, named after his son), built houses, minted coins, and brought gold and silver to the city in caravans. The city became the capital of the Almoravid Emirate, stretching from the shores of Senegal to the center of Spain and from the Atlantic coast toAlgiers.
Marrakesh is one of the great citadels of the Muslim world. The city was fortified by Tashfin’s son, Ali ibn Yusuf, who in 1122–1123 built the ramparts which remain to this day, completed further mosques and palaces, and developed an underground water system in the city known as the rhettara to irrigate his new garden. In 1125, the preacher Ibn Tumert settled in Tin Mal in the mountains to the south of Marrakesh. He preached against the Almoravids and influenced a revolt which succeeded in bringing about the fall of nearby Aghmat, but stopped short of bringing down Marrakesh following an unsuccessful siege in 1130. The Almohads, Masmouda tribesmen from the High Atlas mountains who practiced orthodox Islam, took the city in 1147 under leader Abd al-Mu’min. After a long siege and the killing of some 7,000 people, the last of the Almoravids were exterminated apart from those who sought exile in the Balearic Islands. As a result, almost all the city’s monuments were destroyed. The Almohads constructed a range of palaces and religious buildings, including the famous Koutoubia Mosque (1184–1199), and built upon the ruins of an Almoravid palace. It was a twin of the Giralda in Seville and the unfinished Hassan Tower in Rabat, all built by the same designer. The Kasbah housed the residence of the caliph, a title borne by the Almohad rulers from the reign of Abd al-Mu’min, rivaling the far eastern Abbasid Caliphate. The Kasbah was named after the caliph Yaqub al-Mansur. The irrigation system was perfected to provide water for new palm groves and parks, including the Menara Garden. As a result of its cultural reputation, Marrakesh attracted many writers and artists, especially from Andalusia, including the famous philosopher Averroes of Cordoba.
The death of Yusuf II in 1224 began a period of instability. Marrakesh became the stronghold of the Almohad tribal sheikhs and the ahl ad-dar (descendants of Ibn Tumart), who sought to claw power back from the ruling Almohad family. Marrakesh was taken, lost and retaken by force multiple times by a stream of caliphs and pretenders, such as during the brutal seizure of Marrakesh by the Sevillan caliph Abd al-Wahid II al-Ma’mun in 1226, which was followed by a massacre of the Almohad tribal sheikhs and their families and a public denunciation of Ibn Tumart’s doctrines by the caliph from the pulpit of the Kasbah mosque. After al-Ma’mun’s death in 1232, his widow attempted to forcibly install her son, acquiring the support of the Almohad army chiefs and Spanish mercenaries with the promise to hand Marrakesh over to them for the sack. Hearing of the terms, the people of Marrakesh sought to make an agreement with the military captains and saved the city from destruction with a sizable payoff of 500,000 dinars. In 1269, Marrakesh was conquered by nomadic Zenata tribes who overran the last of the Almohads. The city then fell into a state of decline, which soon led to the loss of its status as capital to rival city Fes.
In the early 16th century, Marrakesh again became the capital of the kingdom, after a period when it was the seat of the Hintata emirs. It quickly reestablished its status, especially during the reigns of the Saadian sultans Abu Abdallah al-Qaim and Ahmad al-Mansur. Thanks to the wealth amassed by the Sultans, Marrakesh was embellished with sumptuous palaces while its ruined monuments were restored. El Badi Palace, built by Ahmad al-Mansur in 1578, was a replica of the Alhambra Palace, made with costly and rare materials including marble from Italy, gold dust from Sudan, porphyry from India and jade from China. The palace was intended primarily for hosting lavish receptions for ambassadors from Spain, England and the Ottoman Empire, showcasing Saadian Morocco as a nation whose power and influence reached as far as the borders of Niger and Mali. Under the Saadian dynasty, Marrakesh regained its former position as a point of contact for caravan routes from the Maghreb, the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan African.
For centuries Marrakesh has been known as the location of the tombs of Morocco’s seven patron saints (sebaatou rizjel). When sufism was at the height of its popularity during the late 17th century reign of Moulay Ismail, the festival of these saints was founded by Abu Ali al-Hassan al-Yusi at the request of the sultan. The tombs of several renowned figures were moved to Marrakesh to attract pilgrims, and the pilgrimage associated with the seven saints is now a firmly established institution. Pilgrims visit the tombs of the saints in a specific order, as follows:Sidi Yusuf Ali Sangadji (1196–97), a leper; Kadi Iyad or Kadi of Cueta (1083–1149), a theologian and author of Ash-Shifa (treatises on the virtues of Muhammad); Sidi Bel Abbas (1130–1204), known as the patron saint of the city and most revered in the region; Sidi Muhammad al-Jazuli (1465), a well known Sufi who founded the Djazuli brotherhood; Abdelaziz al-Tebaa (1508), a student of Djazuli; Abdallah al-Ghazwani (1528), known as Mawla; and Sidi Abu al-Qasim Al-Suhayli, (1185), also known as Imam Al Suhyani. Until 1867, European Christians were not authorized to enter the city unless they acquired special permission from the sultan; east European Jews were permitted.
During the early 20th century, Marrakesh underwent several years of unrest. After the premature death in 1900 of the grand vizier Ba Ahmed, who had been designated regent until the designated sultan Abd al-Aziz became of age, the country was plagued by anarchy, tribal revolts, the plotting of feudal lords, and European intrigues. In 1907, Marrakesh caliph Moulay Abd al-Hafid was proclaimed sultan by the powerful tribes of the High Atlas and by Ulama scholars who denied the legitimacy of his brother, Abd al-Aziz. It was also in 1907 that Dr. Mauchamp, a French doctor, was murdered in Marrakesh, suspected of spying for his country. France used the event as a pretext for sending its troops from the eastern Moroccan town of Oujda to the major metropolitan center of Casablanca in the west. The French colonial army encountered strong resistance from Ahmed al-Hiba, a son of Sheikh Ma al-‘Aynayn, who arrived from the Sahara accompanied by his nomadic Reguibat tribal warriors. On 30 March 1912, the French Protectorate in Morocco was established. After the Battle of Sidi Bou Othman, which saw the victory of the French Mangin column over the al-Hiba forces in September 1912, the French seized Marrakesh. The conquest was facilitated by the rallying of the Imzwarn tribes and their leaders from the powerful Glaoui family, leading to a massacre of Marrakesh citizens in the resulting turmoil.