Marrakech, The Kasbah and the Saadian Tombs

Next on our random itinerary was the Kasbah which was an area of the city close to our hotel so we walked back along the Rue Sidi Mamoun which although busy seemed quiet and relaxing compared with the traffic in the centre and crossing the road here presented no real difficulties whatsoever.  Passing through the Bab Agnaou, the best preserved gate of the entire city we entered the Kasbah, one of the oldest parts of the old city.

We were looking for the Saadian Tombs which the guidebook said shouldn’t be missed but could be difficult to find.  First of all we discovered that it was completely right on the second point and after we had walked around the outside of the Kasbah Mosque we missed the entrance and took an unnecessary detour into some back streets and lanes which took us nowhere in particular.

After all the walking we were feeling hungry now so while we consulted the guide book maps we found a café with pavement tables and had a bottle of water (a bottle of water!) and a chicken kebab snack that was cooked on a grill on the pavement which tasted good even though it was complimented by exhaust fumes and the smell of horse manure from a carriage parked up close by.  The helpful waiter showed us on the map where we would find the tombs so after we had finished eating we paid up, left a tip and moved on.

The reason that we missed the site was that the entrance is squeezed in between the back of the Mosque and a narrow row of kiosks and having found it we paid our 10 dirham entrance fee and walked through a very narrow alley in between two tall buildings where there was barely room to pass the visitors that were coming out.

The Saadian Tombs were sealed up in the sixteenth century by a jealous ruler, Moulay Ismail, who resented the wealth of his predecessor, Ahmed al Mansour, and who set about dismantling anything he had built or acquired.  So successfully was it hidden away that it wasn’t rediscovered until the 1920’s when an inquisitive French administrator overcome with curiosity opened up the entrance and found this treasure hidden away from public view half in ruins and completely forgotten.  It would be nice to think that there may still be treasures like this just hidden away somewhere but I suppose with modern mapping techniques like Google Earth this is most unlikely.

There has been a lot of restoration at the site and the two main mausoleums have been returned to their original state when they were built five hundred years ago to contain Mansour’s own tomb.  The graves of over a hundred Saadian princes and royal household members are scattered around the garden and the courtyard most with gravestones brilliantly tiled and elaborately inscribed. It was only a small site and it didn’t take long to complete the visit even though we had to compete with several large tour groups to see everything there was to see.

We had been walking now almost continuously for six hours so it was time to return to the Riad for a rest before going out again in the evening.  This had been a long six hours without a glass of beer but one of the best things about the Nafis was that it had a bar of sorts so Mike and I were able to enjoy a local brew called Spéciale Flag on the terrace.  The alcohol conundrum perplexed us but we had no answer to the apparent contradiction inherent in a country brewing beer and making wine but not being able to sell it or drink it.

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