Hidden from the world for roughly 200 years, the Saadian Tombs were found a short distance from the bustling city center of Marrakesh, and are a truly rich architectural gem. Housing two lavish mausoleums with approximately 60 tombs and over 100 more in the beautiful gardens, the Saadian Tombs are one of the most elaborate and best preserved resting places in Morocco today.
On your next visit to Marrakesh, escape the busy square of Jamaa el-Fnaa and head south on Rue Bab Agnaou until you reach a small square flanked by two gates. Take the one on your left and discover the quaint Kasbah Mosque from where you will be well guided to the narrow passageway that leads to the exquisite Saadian tombs.
A Forgotten Treasure
It was the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, of the Saadi dynasty, who ordered the tombs to be constructed at the end of the 16th century. Although the site is thought to have been used as a burial ground prior to this, all the main buildings including the two extraordinary mausoleums were built under the Saadian sultan for himself and his descendants. Today, over 200 tombs of members of the Saadian dynasty can be found throughout the site.
When the Saadian dynasty fell and Moulay Ismail (1672-1727) took over in Morocco, he set out to build his own legacy and had the adjacent Badi Palace destroyed. Fortunately, superstition kept him from destroying the tombs as well and he decided to simply seal off all entries to the burial site save for one hidden passageway from the Kasbah Mosque. Years passed, and slowly the beautiful tombs started to slip from memory.
They had been completely forgotten until a French aerial photography survey exposed them in 1917. The foreign General who rediscovered the beauty of these tombs recognized their historical value and began a restoration project to bring the Saadian tombs back to their former glory. Today, anyone who visits this magnificent burial ground can witness its splendor.
A Lavish Resting Place
Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur ordered the construction of this burial site for himself and his descendants. This means that today, you will be able to find over 200 tombs of members of the Saadian dynasty here. The tombs are essentially divided into two sections: the mausoleums and the gardens.
Once you enter the magnificent enclosure, look to your left to enter the finer of the two mausoleums. Built during Mansur’s lifetime, the structure is completed with vaulted roof, fine carvings, Italian marble and beautiful zellij tiles. It is here, in the Chamber of Twelve Columns, that sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and his family have found their final resting place in impressive marble tombs.
The second of the mausoleums holds the tomb of the founder of the Saadian dynasty, Mohammed ech Sheikh, found in the inner chamber. The sultan’s mother is also buried here, in a lavish tomb carved with poetic blessings and dutifully protected by stray cats.
Once you have finished exploring the rich interiors of the splendid mausoleums, head to the gardens to discover a collection of endless tombs of prominent Moroccan princes and members of the royal household. The breathtaking cemetery garden comes alive with fresh fragrances of rosemary and roses, and large palm trees provide a much needed shade. Scattered between the various flowers and trees are stunning gravestones covered in colored tiles and most feature lovely inscriptions with epitaphs and quotes from the Qur’an.
One can only wonder just how much this lavish burial ground would have cost to construct today. With its enormous mausoleums decorated with the most luxurious details, it is no wonder that the exquisite Saadian tombs attract numerous visitors to their gates every year.
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This article was co-authored with Maria Inês Pinto, a young Portuguese freelancer born with a passion for writing and travel.She has spent her life hopping around different countries, having lived in Canada, the US, India and Ireland. Now residing in Portugal, she is planning to move to Mozambique soon to pursue her third passion: humanitarian work. In her free time, she travels and writes about her adventures on her blog, Pretty Little Things.