Nicknamed the “ochre city”, a mecca for Moroccan tourism, Marrakech was hit by a powerful earthquake on the night of Friday to Saturday which left at least 1,037 dead, mainly in its mountainous and difficult to access rural hinterland. Here are five things to know about this imperial city that is still nicknamed the “pearl of the south”.
Located in the south center of the country, Marrakech ranks among the top five cities in the kingdom in terms of population, behind Casablanca and Tangier, with around one million inhabitants (figure from a 2020 census). But above all it is the leading tourist destination in Morocco: it welcomes more than two million tourists each year, who come to visit the city and its surroundings, but also explore the neighboring Atlas Mountains.
Its medina, or old town, is one of the largest in North Africa: it extends over 700 hectares. It conceals architectural treasures such as the Koutoubia mosque and its 77 meter high minaret. This medina has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1985.
With its monkey trainers, merchants and fruit juice sellers, Jemaa el-Fna square is the beating heart of Marrakech: normally, thousands of tourists pass there every day. This place, which was hit in 2011 by an attack, is famous for welcoming street storytellers, dancers, Arab or Berber singers all day and part of the night.
Dating from the 11th century, Jemaa el-Fna, located at the entrance to Marrakech, was listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2001. Hundreds of people flocked to this square to spend the night there. from Friday to Saturday, for fear of aftershocks of the earthquake, according to an AFP correspondent.
The palm grove of Marrakech, one of the oldest in the country (11th century), is another important tourist attraction. Located in the north of the city, it is made up of more than 100,000 palm trees, extends over 16,000 hectares and is irrigated by a complex system of wells and canals.
The Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakech recalls the French stylist's attachment to the ocher city where he bought in 1980, with Pierre Bergé, the villa Oasis, whose gardens belonged to the French orientalist painter Jacques Majorelle. This museum with modern architecture was inaugurated in 2017, near the Majorelle Garden which was the place of life of Saint Laurent in Morocco.
Inspired by Yves Saint Laurent and by other celebrities who came to vacation in the city, many Europeans, the French in the lead, invested from the beginning of the 2000s in the riads, these traditional houses with central patio or interior garden, the old town of Marrakech.