Morocco's exotic city of Marrakesh offers something wonderful for everyone, and that includes those who want to delve deep into the country's history, culture and architecture. If that sounds like you, then you'll definitely want to add a visit to the impressive Bahia Palace to your must-do list. It's just one of Marrakesh's many excellent monuments that you're sure to enjoy during your stay.
A Bit of History
A former slave of Sultan Hassan I of Morocco, Si Moussa commissioned the renowned Moroccan architect El Mekki and the most talented craftsmen from Fez to construct the Bahia Palace (a name which means brilliance) in the later part of the 19th century. He had it built in Marrakesh's medina, and it was his intention to create a palace along with a set of gardens that would be considered the greatest of its time. Si Moussa had risen from a mere slave to the grand vizier for the sultan, and he was given permission to build the palace for his own personal use.
However, a new grand vizier, Ahmed Ben Moussa, son of Si Moussa, was appointed after the death of his father, and he had the palace enhanced on an even grander scale between 1894 and 1900. Sadly, the magnificence of the palace caught the attention of a rather greedy warlord, Pasha Glaoui, and he came right in and took the palace for himself. He used it to entertain his French guests, and it was eventually taken over by the French government and made the official residence of the French general. During this time, the palace was updated with the addition of electricity, a heating system and many grand fireplaces.
About Bahia Palace
Considered an important symbol of the country's cultural heritage and a great masterpiece of Moroccan architecture, Bahia Palace is one of Marrakesh's most visited monuments today. Guests are welcome to explore at their own pace, and there are always guides available if you'd prefer a tour from a knowledgeable local who is happy to explain the history of everything that there is to see in the palace. Those lodging with us here at Exceptional Stays may also count on our dedicated concierge team to make arrangements for a palace tour.
Some 150 elaborate rooms make up the palace, and this includes a large harem section next to the Court of Honor. The harem was once used to house Ahmed Ben Moussa's 24 concubines, while he lived inside the palace with his four official wives. The palace also houses a mosque, a Koranic school and large stables.
The beauty of the palace's interior is famous, and you'll see cedar ceilings, hand-carved wooden wall coverings, stained glass windows at every turn, marble features, original paintings on cedar and beach wood and massive zellig-tiled fireplaces throughout. Depending upon when you visit, you may expect to see an art exhibition in the palace or even enjoy a wonderful concert of Arab-Andalusian music. There are also sections of the palace that are not open to the public as they are set aside for visits from the Moroccan royal family of King Mohammed VI.
These are just a few points of interest that you'll want to be on the lookout for during your visit to the palace.
- The Courtyard: Beyond grand, this huge courtyard boasts a stunning white Carrara marble floor and beautiful water features. Though this courtyard attracts many visitors to its beauty and tranquility, it hides a rather dark past. It was once regularly filled with locals who had broken the law, and they were required to beg Ahmed Ben Moussa for mercy in order to keep their heads.
- The Gardens: Let the delicious smell of orange blossoms lead you from the courtyard to the wondrous gardens, and feel free to spend as long as you like in this beautifully landscaped area. As you walk along the well-marked paths, you'll discover an extensive vegetable garden and an orchard that boasts lemon, banana, olive, jasmine, hibiscus, cypress and date palms in addition to the great many orange trees.
- The Architecture: The palace showcases an incredibly harmonious blend of both Andalusian and Moorish architecture. You'll see it in the many arabesques, artistic mosaics, delicate stucco work and impressive cedar-wood carvings.
- Pasha Glaoui, the warlord that was so smitten by Bahia Palace that he stole it for himself, was reportedly pretty good buddies with Sir Winston Churchill.
- Bahia Palace has served as the backdrop for many of Hollywood's blockbuster movies over the years, and these include Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.
- Ahmed Ben Moussa chose to substantially enlarge Bahia Palace for the comfort and happiness of his favorite mistress and their many children.
- Bahia Palace is recognized as an important UNESCO World Heritage Site.