Marrakesh is a city like no other. Steeped in history, the North African tourist hotspot is a must experience on any serious traveler’s list of magical places to visit. The beautiful architecture, mosques, palaces, gardens, sacred ruins, charming souks, delicious food, tantalizing smells, and interesting people are what make Marrakesh such a captivating city.
Much has been written about Marrakesh and there are heaps of blogs and travel websites with information (including ours!) about what to do in this enchanting city, where to stay and lots of other useful information for when you are visiting.
So here are some of the less-reported facts about Marrakesh:
Facts about Marrakesh: The City
Marrakesh isn’t the capital of Morocco. Rabat is the capital. It’s also not the oldest city in Morocco. That honor belongs to Fez. Marrakesh is, however, one of only four imperial cities in Moroccan history.
The ancient city of Marrakesh was established in 1062 by the religious nomads called the Almoravids. The name Marrakesh has its origins in the Berber language ‘mur (n) akush’ which means Land of God.
The ancient Medina was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 because of the city’s impressive architecture and art.
Winston Churchill was captivated by Marrakesh and visited during the 1930s and the 1940s, even spending some time in the city with American President Franklin Roosevelt during the war.
Watching the sunset from the rooftop of the villa where they stayed in Marrakesh, Churchill proclaimed it to be “the most lovely spot in world.” It was here that Churchill painted his only painting during the war: “The Tower of Katoubia Mosque.”
Facts about Marrakesh: The Language
Although the majority of residents in Marrakesh are either Arabic or Berber, you’ll find many people in Marrakesh are multi-lingual. Many Moroccans can spot your nationality before you begin to speak!
The most common spoken language in Marrakesh is Moroccan Arabic, but many locals also use the Berber language, as well as French and English. You’ll be surprised how many languages the average Marrakesh resident has a grasp of.
Facts about Marrakesh: Peaceful Spots
Marrakesh has a reputation for being busy and noisy, especially in the evening in and around Djemaa El Fna (Marrakesh’s main square). As much as the city’s creative and evocative energy is intoxicatingly good for the soul, you will probably feel the need to escape if you are staying in the city for more than a couple of days.
This doesn’t mean you have to get out of the city altogether. There are in fact a few surprisingly peaceful spots within the old red city itself.
Firstly, when staying in Marrakesh the only way to get an authentic Moroccan experience is to stay in a riad. Many within the medina are tucked away on quiet streets and provide a refuge from the noise outside.
When out and about wandering the old city, factor in some sightseeing stops offering a peaceful oasis and respite from the hustle and bustle of this extraordinary city. Take a breather at the two-and-a-half-acre garden, Jardin Majorelle, or in the North-West of the city you’ll find the exotic and peaceful gardens at Le Jardin Secret.
Facts about Marrakesh: Modern Marrakesh
Think of Marrakesh, and images of the ancient red-walled medina come to mind. Marrakesh does, however, also have a modern side to it. The Guéliz area houses the commercial quarter and a residential area.
Guéliz is where you will find broad avenues with European-style buildings, modern high street shops, luxury boutiques, and upmarket cafés and restaurants. There’s an interesting fusion of French and Moroccan architecture in the Guéliz district and a completely different vibe here.
The neighborhood is also home to one of the most famous galleries in Marrakesh, the MACMA Museum ofArt and Culture of Marrakesh.
The Nearby Atlas Mountains and Berber Villages
Marrakesh lies just 50 miles north of North Africa’s highest peak in the High Atlas Mountains, Mount Toubkal. The snow-topped mountains can be seen from many of the rooftops in the city. Just 90 minutes’ drive from Marrakesh, the Atlas Mountains are easy to visit and explore on foot on moderate or multi-day treks.
There is also the opportunity to visit a traditional Berber village on trips to the Atlas Mountains. Many of the organized day trips to the mountains incorporate a stop at a Berber village. The Atlas Mountain day trips are popular and provide a welcome break from the all too often overwhelming buzz of Marrakesh.
The most popular base for trekkers looking for multi-day adventures or to summit Mount Toubkal is Imlil.
Marrakesh in the Movies
Marrakesh is an epic city so it is no surprise that it has been a popular location for many film producers. Films shot in the city include scenes for:
The Man Who Knew Too Much – starring James Stewart and the recently deceased Doris Day. This classic by Alfred Hitchcock makes good use of the storied Mamounia Hotel.
The Mummy – starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. In the first (and best!) installment of The Mummy franchise, Marrakesh stood in for Cairo while the desert scenes were all shot in the Moroccan Sahara.
Hideous Kinky – starring Kate Winslet. This film really uses Marrakesh, from the souks to behind the scenes in local homes, as a character instead of just a fancy-looking backdrop.
Sex and the City 2 – starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis as your favorite New Yorker foursome. Though the film claims to be set in Abu Dhabi, the Marrakesh souks and a few high-end hotels are all-too obvious.
Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation – starring Tom Cruise. They actually closed the autoroute between Agadir and Marrakesh for two weeks for filming a high-speed chase scene. They also filmed in Rabat and Casablanca.
About the Author
Annie Button is a UK based writer and recent graduate. Annie likes to share her experiences and knowledge through her blog posts and has written for various online and print publications. When she’s not writing Annie likes exploring inspiring new places and relaxing with a good book. You can follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/anniebutton1994/