Today, Marrakesh is the fourth largest major city in the Kingdom of Morocco, and it’s the capital city of the mid-southwestern region. Marrakesh is also a prime vacation destination for people from every corner of the world thanks to its easy access to both the Sahara Desert and the Atlas Mountains as well as an incredible assortment of activities, attractions and events that are available for the locals and visitors alike. Marrakesh’s history shaped it in many ways, and those visiting the city will see incredible examples of architecture and cultural trends that came straight out of the past.
Long before Marrakesh was officially founded, it was home to Berber farmers from Neolithic times. This was determined by the numerous stone farming implements that were discovered beneath the earth.
The Creation of a City
In 1062, Marrakesh was founded by a respected chieftain and close relative of the king of the Almoravid Empire. Construction of the city began with houses, many mosques and Koranic schools, and the city quickly became established as a trading center as well as a major cultural and religious center.
Many palaces were built and decorated by Andalusian craftsmen, and these can be recognized today by their carved domes and elaborate arches. The Ben Youssef Mosque was also built during this period. Marrakesh became so great that it was named the capital of the Almoravid Emirate, which stretched all the way from Senegal to Spain and from the Atlantic coast to Algiers.
Considered one of the great citadels of the Muslim world, Marrakesh was fortified in 1122 through 1123 with ramparts that are still in existence today. During this period, an underground water system was also designed, and this Islamic city enjoyed immense success and gained much wealth and commercial power. Unfortunately, things changed when Marrakesh was captured by the Almohads.
Under Rule of the Almohads
In 1147, the Almoravids who didn’t escape were summarily executed by these Masmouda tribesmen from the Atlas Mountains who were known as the Almohads. The tribe set to work destroying most of the city’s monuments before they began rebuilding on the ruins. More palaces were built along with several religious buildings, which included the Koutoubia Mosque with its incredible minaret, which stands as Marrakesh’s most outstanding landmark still today.
A better irrigation system was also put into place to care for the Menara Gardens, which may still be enjoyed today. Considered a cultural hub, many artists, writers and philosophers were attracted to the city during this time period, and an abundance of caravans traveled through the city as well. This all came together to make it a powerful commercial center.
However, the success of this city would not last due to the take over by the Merenids in the mid-1200s. The new leaders allowed the city to fall into a state of disrepair, and things began to look quite grim.
A Fresh Start
The Saadians took over the Marrakesh ruins in 1522 and got right to work restoring it to its former glory. Exceptional structures were built that included the Al Bedi Palace, and visitors today can see how royalty lived. Moroccan crafts became extraordinarily popular during this period, and the city was made beautiful with many forms of art. Right up until 1669, the city enjoyed the status of being the most important and influential city in Morocco. However, the city fell to the Alaouites at that time, and it once again fell into disrepair.
Under French Protection
While Mohammed III worked to restore most of Marrakesh in the 1700s, the French invaded Morocco in 1917 and took over Marrakesh. With the assistance of the French government, the Berber tribes managed several successful revolts against those who wanted to conquer the city and make it their own. During this time, a French-styled city was built outside of the medina walls, and visitors can still see the French influence today. French protection officially ended in the mid 20th century.
Independence at Last
Finally in 1956, Morocco fully gained its independence from France, and Marrakesh became one of the kingdom’s most successful cities. Mohammed V took the throne until Mohammed VI took over in 1999, and Marrakesh has been free to grow and thrive in peace and prosperity.