Monday 18 March 2013

Come to the kasbah: ruins and palaces

This way to the kasbah ...

Bab Agnaou is one of the nineteen ancient gates of Marrakech. It leads to the royal kasbah, where you will find El Badi Palace.

Translating as "the incomparable palace", El Badi was just that when it was built in the 16th century by a Sultan of Morocco, Ahmad al-Mansur. Today it's a vast and atmospheric ruin.

Walking around, you're struck first by the massive scale of it, and then your mind boggles as you try to imagine its original richness and opulence …

360 rooms decorated in Italian marble, Sudanese gold, ivory, onyx, semi-precious stones and intricately-carved cedar wood ...

... a central hall flanked by fifty huge columns, a 90 metre long pool and four smaller pools surrounded by sunken orange gardens and fountains

Its scale and opulence was so overwhelming that it took 25 years to construct … and only a century later, a full 12 years to destroy: not by enemies, but by a later sultan, who systematically stripped El Badi of all its precious materials, to create his own palace elsewhere ...

leaving behind a great ochre ruin of centuries old sandstone walls ... a palace where storks have taken up home ...

and stand guard on the ramparts

They say that El Badi was built with the already long-existing Alhambra (in Granada, Spain) in mind, though you have to imagine this. But at Bahia Palace, a short distance away, the comparison with the Alhambra (see here for an earlier post) becomes obvious ...

The Bahia is a newer and better preserved 19th century palace and gardens in the medina along the edge of Mellah, the Jewish Quarter ...

Built as a home for the Sultan's personal harem ...

... it has a series of walled gardens and courtyards with fountains, planted with orange, cypress, jasmine and banana trees.

A central tiled courtyard here is surrounded by a series of rooms, the size of each said to have depended on the importance or favour of each concubine

Craftsmen were brought from Fez to work on the details … arches, carved and painted ceilings, intricate stucco plasterwork and patterned tile mosaics. A seamless interplay of gardens, light and water make up the balance of this fabulous Arab-Andalusian architecture.

Elizabeth Wix, who is lucky enough to have lived in Marrakech once, pointed us in the direction of these amazing palaces and much more besides - thank you, Elizabeth! - and reminded me that the Bahia was the setting in the remake of Brideshead Revisited where Charles Ryder goes to find a sick Sebastian Flyte. Do see her blog The House in Marrakesh and her wonderful posts on the Bahia here.


  1. It's hard to find knowledgeable people in this particular topic, however, you seem like you know what you'ге talking about!

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  2. Dear Karen, Your photographs are superb. We recently visited the Bahia Palace. The beauty of the architecture is overwhelming. And capturing this beauty is not easy. I know, I have tried. You have succeeded brilliantly. ox, Gina

  3. Karen, my eyes have been feasting on your photographs. The palace ruins ruled by storks present a historic contrast to the glories of color and patterns embracing each other in the Bahia. What an amazing place. Just yesterday I met up with Elizabeth to hear more about her recent journey to Morocco, so being able to see your brilliant photographs this morning is a splendid coincidence.


  4. Breath-taking photographs!
    Drooling here.
    When are you coming to Paris? I want to go shooting with you!!

  5. These Morocco posts are amazing. Better than any travel-guide. Thanks so much!





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  7. Unbelievable photos.
    Your description of the contents of the palace reminded me of John Masefield's Quinquereme of Nineveh, from distant Ophir --
    The power of just your listing is amazing. It is a privilege to "accompany" you on your visit ---


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