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A visit to the Saadian tombs should be on everyone’s must visit list for Marrakech. We had originally wanted to visit the tombs the day before but we ran out of time, after spending the morning exploring the souk and a trip to El Badia palace.
The Saadian tombs date back to 1603, but lay forgotten and hidden behind walls next to the Moulay El Yazid Mosque. They were only rediscovered by accident in 1917 when they were exposed by an aerial photograph. They have since been restored and are accessed only through a very narrow passage way as the original entrance through the Mosque is blocked and not accessible to tourists. When we got there, just after opening time, we could already see a queue in front of the king’s chamber. Chris and Jerome joined the queue while I walked around the courtyard to look at the other graves and tombs.
Next to his tomb, right to the entrance passage way we could see the princes graves, in a room adjacent to the king’s tomb. His wives, advisors and daughters were buried in the many garden plots. These graves were very minimal and basic, covered in the signature Moroccan tiles or plain plaster, in comparison to the luxurious grave the king and his princes received. One woman got lucky though, his mother! She received a mausoleum of her own, in the middle of the courtyard, which overshadows the other tombs and graves. Beautifully carved wooden beams and ceilings make up the mother’s mausoleum, not as glorious in decoration as the king’s tomb, but comparable in size. We could see cats sitting or lying on the graves in the morning sun and the rose bushes were in full bloom.
I re-joined Chris and Jerome at the front of the queue, which had doubled in size by then, due to tour groups that had arrived. The guard next to the Sultan’s tomb was very strict and only gave each person/group a few seconds to look at the tomb and take photos of it. The Saadian Sultan had spared no expenses for his tomb. Italian marble and gilded honeycomb muqarnas (decorative plasterwork that can be seen in many historical buildings throughout Marrakech) with real gold made up his mausoleum, which is also called the Chamber of 12 Pillars. I cannot describe the sheer beauty of the tomb, you have to see it for yourself, but it truly is a work of splendour and luxury. Some people might say what a waste of money, but then again he was a king and will be remembered for a long time to come, thanks to his grave, probably exactly the purpose he wanted to achieve. A hint of advice for visiting the tombs, go early at opening or perhaps better later in the day, as most tour groups visit the sights in the mid-morning.
After our visit to the Saadian tombs we strolled on to Dar Si Said, another noteworthy building and museum in Marrakech. When we got there we discovered that it was closed on Tuesdays, therefore we then made our way through the alleys to the Palais de Bahiaa, not to be mixed up with El Badia palace. We wanted to visit this palace after lunch to avoid most of the groups, but had to change to our plans.
The Palais de Bahiaa is a complex of 19th century pavilions, riads and courtyards. Chris and I could remember visiting the palace on our first visit twelve years ago but we were surprised to find out that it was much larger than the building we had seen on our previous visit. We assume that this was because they only recently finished the restoration and renovation of the huge complex. A wealthy father and then later on his son truly built one of the greatest palaces of its time. It took over 19 years to finish all the buildings and gardens that make up the brilliant (translation for bahiaa) palace.
We stepped into the first courtyard which, was quite simple, but the further we moved into the heart of the palace the more complex and beautiful it turned out to be. The rooms had intricately carved cedar wood ceilings, some of them were colourful and exquisitely painted; the window shutters and doors were painted with flowers. The courtyards contained fountains as a centrepiece, surrounded by orange trees. One part of the palace served as a harem and the rooms surrounding its courtyard were intended for the concubines.
Once we had left the main rooms of the palace behind, we entered a large marble courtyard, surrounded by covered walkways. The floor, under the walkway was made up of tiny coloured tiles with thin marble borders, which were inlayed with stars. More beautiful than the floor and surprisingly colourful was the ceiling of the walkway. To one side it was painted with multi-coloured stripes, the opposite side of the courtyard with flowers instead. I felt this was quite an unusual touch and had expected it to be the same on all sides.
Next to the vast marble courtyard we entered a lush green walled garden with banana palms, jasmine, cypress and orange trees. This garden is one of the oldest parts of the palace and at both ends we found two rooms covered with ceramic tiles and colourful windows over the entrance doors and windows.
The garden made a relaxing and calm break from the madness of Marrakech’s alleys and streets. We would never think that we were inside one of the biggest towns of Morocco. Jerome really enjoyed an exhibition in one of the rooms at the back of the palace about cities throughout the world.
Unfortunately we had more on our list of places to see for this day so did not rest there for long. So we wandered back through the maze of beautiful rooms to the entrance heading for some food. We wanted to grab lunch before heading over to the north end of the Medina to explore the Koran school of Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, but more on this in my next post.