A Brief History
In its early years, Marrakesh was a military outpost, for which it was ideally suited due to its location between the massive High Atlas peaks. Despite the lack of water and thus of any significant agricultural potential, Marrakech has developed into one of the most cosmopolitan and world-renowned cities in Morocco, a true oasis.
Until the French Protectorate in 1912, Marrakesh had always been under Muslim control. The founder was Youssef Ibn Tachfine, an officer in the Almoravid army that swept through most of Morocco during the eleventh century. He chose this particular location for strategic reasons. Soon, however, Tachfine laid the foundations of the city by ordering the construction of water canals and the planting of a Palmery that still exists today.
The city was successively destroyed and rebuilt under the Almohads, Merinids and Saadiens. The Almohad reign, which began in the early 1140’s, was one of significant achievement. These rulers oversaw the construction of the Koutoubia mosque and the Agdal orchard. They used the canals, so efficiently designed by Tachfine, to water the flower gardens scattered throughout their capital. As immigration and commerce increased, so did the population. Marrakech soon became the largest city in Morocco.
The Marinids invaded in 1269, interrupting economic expansion and architectural innovation. The time turned troublesome as schisms and dissenting groups plagued the ex-capital. Misery persisted until the Saadiens reunited Morocco in the 16th century, and Marrakech enjoyed prosperity as magnificent universities and palaces were built (the Ksar el Badi, the Medersa Ben Youssef). Gold acquired in Sudan was hammered into jewelry and this literal ‘Golden’ Age was marked by celebration. Now a true cosmopolitan city (the population included Arabs from Spain, Jewish Moroccans, Sudanese emigrants, Turkish officers and Christian renegades), Marrakech welcomed philosophers and artists from around the Arab world. Their presence encouraged education and the development of arts such as calligraphy and architecture.
The Saadiens were followed by the Alaouites, who reorganized more than they innovated. Despite Moulay Ismail’s great attempts (and successes) at improving the city (he renovated the famed Seven Saint’s tombs), he also demolished the Ksar El Badi and transferred its marble and precious materials to his palace in Meknes. In 1912, Morocco became a French Protectorate, and the architect Henri Prost was assigned the task of urbanizing it. He designed Gueliz, the modern part of the city. In 1924, the painter Jacques Majorelle chose a location in Gueliz which would become his studio and later the charming Jardin Majorelle. After Moroccan Independence, efforts specifically targeting the development of tourism increased. In 2001, the vibrant Jamaa el Fna square was added to the UNESCO list of international oral heritage sites, the first of its category.
Today the city prolongs its tradition of welcoming people from all nations and cultures. Marrakesh’s international community is extremely diverse and is steadily increasing.