Marrakech is an astonishing place to visit on your holidays to Morocco. You can lose yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of bustling medinas, get your haggling head on in a bazaar, or even take a trip into the Sahara Desert. Morocco’s architecture is a spectacular sight, combing North African magic with a splash of Spanish sparkle. One of the best examples of the sheer expertise of the city’s craftsmen is the Bahia Palace. Attracting over 60,000 visitors each year and set in 14 acres of stunning gardens, this is an ideal day out if you want to immerse yourself in the region’s rich history and vibrant culture.
History of the palace
The palace was built in the 19th Century by the then-Sultan’s Grand Vizier, Si Moussa. Moussa was originally a slave who schemed and plotted his way up the ladder until he took complete control of the state in the late 1800s. With his son, Bou Ahmed, Moussa decided to create a palace to rival any other on the planet. The word ‘Bahia’ means ‘brilliance’ in Arabic and set the tone for its design and construction.
On Moussa’s death in 1900, Ahmed took over the position of Grand Vizier and oversaw the finishing touches to the palace. Under his watchful eye, each of the rooms were decorated up to the ceilings in traditional North African style, using materials such as stucco plaster to create ornate and elegant designs and rare cedar wood to add extra bling. He also commissioned the stunning courtyard, housing private gardens and a citrus grove, along with the expansive and beautiful grounds, which act as home to a huge variety of plants. Mosaic tiles were set into the floors and fireplaces, and the whole look was finished off with colourful stained-glass windows.
After Ahmed died, the palace was ransacked by peasants, before being seized by Pasha El Glaoui, a feared Moroccan warlord. For him, it was little more than a place in which to court French high ranking officers, who had their eye on ruling the country. Unfortunately for El Glaoui, the French liked the palace so much that they ousted him and handed it over to their Protector General.
What to expect
Bahia Palace is extravagant, luxurious, and genuinely beautiful. There are 150 rooms to explore, each decorated in traditional materials. The oldest part is the Grand Riad; a spacious courtyard garden that overlooks two large rooms and two hidden recesses. While the garden might be stunning and lined with orange and lemon trees, it was once where Bou Ahmed would force lawbreakers to wait in the scorching heat of the sun until he was ready to see them. If you make a visit to the palace on your Morocco holidays, you’ll see how the riad acts as a sun-trap and understand why waiting in the courtyard was feared by wrong-doers and nobles alike.
Even the vastness of the Grand Riad is dwarfed by the Grand Courtyard. Covering over 1,500 square metres, it was originally built to house Si Moussa’s horses. It was later converted to provide a lavish home for his son’s wives and mistresses; it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the palace. Decorated in marble and mosaics, it has a beautiful blend of blue, white and gold interior. From there, you can go and explore the extraordinary Council Room.
The Small Courtyard isn’t as decorative, but has its own unique charm. The cedar wood ceilings and mosaic designs are still intact and there’s a small fountain in the centre of the courtyard. This area was originally built for Bou Ahmed as his private residence, while his father was still alive. It was last used as living quarters for the French officers who took power in the early 1900s.
How to get there
You’ll find that the palace is a 15-minute walk from the city centre, close to the Bab Ghamat cemetery. It’s open from 9am until 5pm and only closes during religious holidays. While you’re free to wander around by yourself, it’s recommended that you hire a guide to make the most of your visit.
If you’re walking to the Bahia Palace, start at the city’s main square and follow the Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid, which will lead you straight to the entrance. Once you’ve finished, the 16th Century El Badi Palace is only a 10-minute walk away.