A Minute History Of Marrakech

Marrakech. A rising metropolis steeped in history and culture; fabulous and exciting; a mixture of old and new with a charm of exotic.


Back in the days, Marrakech was inhabited by Berber farmers before the city was actually founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin.


marrakech camels

Marrakech served as a major starting and ending point of several camel caravans. Because of this, Marrakech rapidly developed and many craftsmen came from Arab Andalusia to build their palaces and buildings (what a dream!).

Marrakech’s history is rich compared to other cities in the Moroccan Kingdom. A visit to this amazing city is somehow akin to traveling back to the past where you can explore its amazing palaces, old market streets and ancient caravanserai’s.

Marrakech was twice the historical capital of the Arab Empire. The first time was between 1121 and 1269, and the second time between 1554 and 1659.

Throughout its history, Marrakech was destroyed and rebuild multiple times, mainly under the rules of the Alnoravids and the Almohads.

They were both very successful rulers and in 1140 they started building the Koutoubia Mosque which is still the biggest mosque in the city.  They also created a way to water all the flower gardens in the entire city through the canals. This system is still used today – such smart guys!

During the 12th century Marrakech had the name ‘Red City’. This name was given to the city because of the enormous defensive wall that was built around it. The wall varied between red and pink and this gave an amazing glow to the region.

At the same time, Marrakech developed itself to become the cultural and religious trading center of Maghreb and sub-Sahara Africa. The Jemaa el-Fna is still the busiest square in the whole of Africa.

In the 13th century, during the period of the Merenids, Marrakech was largely neglected. Nearly 300 years later, the Saadians took control of Morocco in 1522.

By this time, Marrakesh was completely destroyed, but Sultan Moulay Abdullah established it as a new capital for the Saadian kingdom in 1551. A rich sugar trade funded new construction, and Mohammed Al Mahdi restored the greatness of Marrakech.


Morocco gained independence from France and the protocol was signed on March 2, 1956 between the French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau and M’Barek Ben Bakkai.

Since the independence of Morocco, Marrakech has bloomed as a tourist destination. In the 1960s and early 1970s the city became a trendy “hippie mecca”. It attracted western rock stars and musicians, artists, film directors and actors, models, and fashion divas.

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jean-Paul Getty all spent significant time in the city. Yves Saint Laurent even bought a property there and renovated the Majorelle Gardens which are now called YSL Majorelle Gardens (which I definitely recommend visiting BTW).

Expatriates from France, have invested in Marrakech since the 1960s, and developed many of the riads (Moroccan hotels) and palaces. Old buildings were renovated in the Old Medina (the coolest place EVER), new residences and traveler villages were built in the suburbs.


marrakech market

We finally arrived in the modern era of Marrakech!

The United Nations agencies became active in Marrakech from the 1970s and due to this, Morocco’s political voice has increased internationally.

In 1982, UNESCO declared the old town area of Marrakech a UNESCO World Heritage Site, raising international awareness of the cultural heritage of the city. On April 15, 1994, the Marrakech Agreement was signed, which established the World Trade Organization.

The 21st century was a booming for the city in which it developed real estate and there was a major increase of new hotels and shopping centers, fueled by the policies of the Moroccan King Mohamed VI who has the goal of increasing the number of tourists visiting Morocco to 20 million a year by 2020.

On November 2016 the city hosted the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference!


Unfortunately, not everything has worked out perfectly for Marrakech, so here are some negative but important to mention facts about the modern times in this exotic and culturally rich city.

In 2010 a major gas explosion occurred in the city. In April of 2011, sadly enough a bomb attack took place in the Djemaa el-Fna square of the old city, killing 15 people of which the most where tourists. The blast destroyed the nearby stores and buildings.

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Nadia Karathanasis

Nadia Karathanasis, 25 year old, Dutch/Greek living in Holland trying to find a balance between travelling and studying

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