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Wednesday, 10 May 2017 12:00 AM

Holiday Attractions in Morocco - Saadian Tombs and El Badi Palace

Morocco is a country overflowing with culture and life, a place to spend time exploring a medina or souk and relaxing in a local cafe with a cup of mint tea watching the world go by. But Morocco also a number of interesting sites to visit.

We have written before on the Roman ruins of the Chellah (in Rabat) and Volubilis (north of Meknes), and we cover here a number of interesting sites around Marrakech - the Saadian Tombs and El Badi Palace.

The Saadian Tombs

The Tombs are located in the Kasbah region of Marrakech next to the Kasbah Mosque and near the Badii Palace. Open daily from 8.30-11.45am and 2.30-5.45pm (same times as for the Badii Palace), the entrance fee is approximately 10 MHD (less than £1).

The Saadian Tombs are the resting place for around sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty that ruled the region in the 16th and 17th centuries. The earliest tomb is thought to date from 1557 and all are well preserved having been sealed off by Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismail – they were discovered by the French by accident in 1917 and then re-opened to visitors.

The tombs consist of three chambers/pavilions with beautiful decoration including finely worked cedar wood and stucco work and monuments made of Italian Carrara marble – one room contains the graves of an 18th century Alouite princesses, one room contains an Andalucian style portal, and finally the Hall of the Twelve Columns, possibly the most interesting room, houses the tomb of Ahmed al-Mansur (son of a sultan whose family is buried here). The tombs are enclosed in a walled garden, containing the graves of soldiers and servants.

A guide can greatly enhance your visit, but the site is relatively small and so may not take long; additionally, the site can become busy so it is advisable to time your visit to avoid the mid-session periods.

El Badi (Badii) Palace

Just round the corner from the Saadian Tombs is the El Badi Palace. Open daily from 8.30-11.45am and 2.30-5.45pm (same times as for the Saadian Tombs), the entrance fee is approximately 10 MHD (less than £1).

El Badi Palace (“the incomparable palace”) are the ruins of the palace created under the rule of sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (Mansour) – the Saadian Dynasty sultan that also created the Saadian Tombs nearby. Work on the palace started in around 1578, reported to have been financed by ransoms received by the sultan from the Portuguese following the Battle of the Three Kings near Tangier, and it took around 25 years to complete with designs influenced by the Alhambra in Granada.

The final palace had a total of around 360 rooms that were richly decorated in Italian marble, Sudanese gold and cedar wood, and a central large courtyard (around 135m by 110m) pools, fountains and sunken gardens. Unfortunately the palace was almost completely destroyed by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismail in 1683 – he destroyed most of the buildings associated with the Saadian Dynasty other than the Saadian Tombs – who used the valuable raw materials salvaged for his own palace in Meknes, which became the new capital.

Although it is effectively a shell nowadays, there have recently been restoration works undertaken on several pavilions and walls. Stairs lead up the battlements to give good views of the area (best near sunset) and others down to dungeons underground. It is a haven of peace, disturbed by the storks sitting overhead and other visitors, with huge sunken gardens and the minbar (equivalent to a pulpit or lectern in a church) in one pavilion is very ornate (with over 1,000 intricate carvings and recently restored) and worth seeing although there is an extra charge to see it.