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Monday, 5 June 2017 12:00 AM

Medina Gardens in Morocco

Holiday Attractions in Morocco - Majorelle, Menara and Agdal Gardens

Morocco is a country overflowing with culture and life, a place to spend time exploring a historic medina but Marrakech also has a number of interesting sites to visit.

In our previous articles we have written about the Saadian Tombs and El Badi Palace, both in the Kasbah region of Marrakech medina a short walk to the south of the main square, the Ben Youssef Madrasa and the Museum of Marrakech, 2 interesting sites in just to the north of the main souk of Marrakech medina, and we have written before on the Roman ruins of the Chellah (in Rabat) and Volubilis (north of Meknes).

Here we cover more the gardens around Marrakech - the Majorelle, Menara and Agdal gardens.

The Majorelle Gardens (and Museum of Islamic Art)

The Majorelle Gardens are located in the Gueliz area of Marrakech (around 2km north east of the main square), a short drive/medium walk from the medina. It is open daily – 8am – 5.30pm (6pm from May – Sept), or 9am – 5pm during Ramadan. It costs (free for under 9 year olds) 50 MHD to enter the gardens and 30 MHD to enter the Museum of Islamic Art.

The Majorelle Gardens (previously named the Jardin Bou Saf) are botanical gardens covering a 12 acre site designed by Jacques Majorelle, a French expatriate. In 1922 (during the time of the French Protectorate) he purchased a palm grove and in the 1920s and 1930s developed the gardens and villa (designed by Paul Sinoir).

Jacques, the son of an art nouveau cabinet maker, studied art in Nancy before moving to Morocco in 1919 to recover from heart problems. After years of almost continual development (he is reported to have worked on the garden for almost 40 years), Majorelle opened the gardens to the public in 1947; however, in 1962 Majorelle had a major car accident and returned to France before dying later that year from complications from his injuries and the gardens fell into disrepair.

In 1980 Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the gardens to save them from development and set about reinstating and reinvigorating them and, in 1997, Yves featured the garden in the Chelsea Flower Show. As a result of those works the gardens became well-known and a significant local attraction and were subsequently given by Pierre on Yves death to a foundation for the benefit of the city of Marrakech – Yves’ ashes were scattered in the gardens following his death in 2008.

The gardens are home to around 15 species of North African birds, including turtle doves and house buntings, has a number of fountains and ornamental pools with lilies, bamboo plants, various trees (including date, coconut and banana) and a notable collection of cacti. The manicured gardens contrast against the sharp blue washed villa and garden walls – the blue colour is a variant of cobalt blue developed in 1937, which is now named Majorelle Blue.

The art deco villa is Majorelle’s former art studio (ground floor, with Majorelle’s living space on the first floor) that now houses Vyes’ collection of Islamic art and antiques. The collection includes regional textiles, traditional carpets, pottery and ceramics, jewellery, furniture and paintings, including a number of Majorelle’s watercolours.

Menara Garden

Located in the west of Marrakech on the Avenue de la Menara, a short drive from the medina (a 45 minute walk from the main square). It is open between 8am and 6pm daily and admission is free.

The gardens were created as a working farm in the mid 12th century during the Almohad dynasty at the same time as the Agdal Gardens were created nearby. It has a pavilion built in the 16th century during the Saadi dynasty and renovated in 1869 with a green pyramid roof from which it derives its name, which stands by an artificial lake – the end point for the irrigation channels running for around 30km from the High Atlas.

They are very accessible gardens with around 30,000 olive trees and are extensively used for picnics by local families. It is a scenic place to wander in with a backdrop of the High Atlas mountains, best visited in the late afternoon after the tourist crowds have left.

In 1985 the Menara Gardens, together with the Agdal Gardens and medina or Marrakech were listed by UNSCO as a World Heritage Site.

Agdal Gardens

Located on the southern edge of the medina, near to the Saadian Tombs and the Mellah region, the Agdal Gardens are open on Fridays and Sundays (sometimes closed if the King is in Marrakech) from 8am – 5pm and admission is free.

The Agdal Gardens (“walled meadow” in Berber) cover around 400 hectares and comprise rectangular or square plots of pomegranate, fig, orange, lemon and apricot, linked by olive tree lined avenues. The gardens are a less popular attraction than the Majorelle gardens they notable for the underground irrigation channels (khettera) bringing water from the Ourika valley of the High Atlas mountains.

They were created as an orchard in the mid 12th century during the Almohad dynasty at the same time as the Menara Gardens were created nearby, renovated during the Saadi dynasty and enlarged and walled in the 19th century to enhance the orchards and provide a private garden for the rulers.

The largest pool is the Sahraj el-Hana (Tank of Health) in which the Sultan Mohammed IV died in 1873 when his steam launch capsized. In the north west part of the gardens is the Dar el-Beida, a modestly sized but richly decorated palace built in the mid 19th century for the harem of Sultan Moulay Hassan that remains reserved as a royal residence to this day.

In 1985 the Agdal Gardens, together with the Menara Gardens and medina or Marrakech were listed by UNSCO as a World Heritage Site. The garden is much less popular than the Majorelle Garden and receives mixed reviews by visitors, but can be a pleasant place to stroll when they are open.