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Marrakesh

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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture

Marrakesh

[Arab. Marrākush; Fr. Marrakech].

Moroccan city in the province of the same name. Until c.1890 the town was known as Morocco or Morocco City. Situated in the arid Haouz plain north of the High Atlas Mountains, it is the southernmost of the four imperial cities of Morocco. Its walls of red clay and its low houses give the city a more African aspect than Fez, Meknès or Rabat. The urban development of the city was determined by its location amid palm and olive groves, planted when the city was founded. The city comprises two distinct parts: the medina in the east, itself subdivided into the old town center in the north and the royal quarter in the south; and the modern city in the west. One of the most important administrative, economic and touristic centers in Morocco, it is known for its ancient ramparts, mosques, tombs and picturesque souks.

Marrakesh was founded c.1062 by the Almoravid ruler Yusuf ibn Tashufin (r. 1061–1106) as a military encampment for the expansion of his Saharan Berber dynasty north toward the Atlantic plains. The town became important first as a regional commercial center, then as an administrative center and finally as the capital city of an empire. The city received its water supply via subterranean channels (Arab. khattāra, Pers. qanāt) that originate in the Atlas Mountains. Part of the first rammed-earth wall (c.1120) surrounding the city still stands, and most of the gates date from the Almoravid period, although they have been modified so many times that their original appearance has changed beyond recognition. The radial concentric plan of the medina also dates from this time. The site of the Almoravid palace, Qasr al-Hajar, has been identified, but the only surviving building is the Qubbat Barudiyyin (or Ba῾diyyin; 7.3×5.4 m; see Architecture, fig. 28), once the centerpiece of the ablution complex for the Almoravid congregational mosque. It is an elegant pavilion that documents the impact of such Andalusian decorative motifs as ribbed domes and intersecting horseshoe arches on local architectural styles.

The Almohads (r. 1130–1269) took the city in 1147 and turned it into a political, intellectual and artistic center. Their kasba, a royal city in the south of the medina, was later used by the Sa῾dian dynasty (r. 1511–1659), and the only remains from the Almohad period are the mosque of the kasba, which has a plan similar to that of the Hasan Mosque at Rabat, and a monumental stone gate, Bab Agnaw, which is beautifully decorated with interlaced designs and inscriptions. The most prestigious monument in the medina of Marrakesh is the Kutubiyya (“Booksellers”) Mosque (1147–58), which has an elegant stone minaret (h. 67.5 m; see Minaret, color pl.) decorated at the top with multicolored ceramic tiles. The mosque, with its T-shaped plan, lambrequin arches and stucco decoration, is a masterpiece of Almohad architecture (see Architecture, §V, D). Gardens with reservoirs situated west and south of the city also date from this period.

In 1269 Marrakesh was taken by the Marinid dynasty (r. 1196–1465), which neglected it in favor of Fez. Some mosques, such as those of Sidi Muhammad ibn Salih (1331) and Harat al-Sura, as well as the rather insignificant ruins of the madrasa of Abu῾l-Hasan (r. 1331–48), date from this period, but Marrakesh was not one of the Marinids’ creative centers. Under the Sa῾di dynasty the city once more became a capital and was enriched by the addition of many sumptuous buildings. The magnificent Ben Yusuf Madrasa (1564–5), once thought to be a restoration of a Marinid foundation, is one of the finest examples of Sa῾dian religious architecture. Mosques in the medina include the mosque of Bab Dukkala (1557) and the mosque of al-Muwassin (Mwasin; 1562–72) with its fountain, bath and madrasa. Other important Sa῾dian foundations are the Shrub wa Shuf (“Drink and gaze”) Fountain and the funeral complexes of Sidi Bel ῾Abbas (1605 and later) and Sidi Ben Sulayman (Sliman) al-Jazuli (c.1554; rest. 18th century). On the site of the Almohad kasba, the Sa῾dian sovereigns erected a royal town with palaces, gardens, a customs house, prisons, an assembly area (Arab. mashwar) and a dynastic necropolis, which remains one of the most elegant monuments in all Morocco (see Architecture, fig. 58). The ruined al-Badi῾ Palace, intended for official receptions, is an inordinately enlarged version of the Court of the Lions at the Alhambra in Granada (see Granada, §III, A and Palace).

Marrakesh did not remain the capital under the ῾Alawi dynasty (r. 1631–), but Muhammad III ibn ῾Abdallah (r. 1757–90) actively restored the ancient religious monuments and erected a palace complex in the south of the city. A district was developed forming a triangular projection north of Bab Taghzut, thereby incorporating the mosque of Sidi Bel ῾Abbas. Al-Hasan (r. 1873–95) was proclaimed sovereign there before being recognized at Fez; his son and successor ῾Abd al-῾Aziz (r. 1895–1907) frequently stayed there. Many mosques were built, such as those of Sidi Ishaq, Darb al-Badi῾, Darb al-Shtuka, Dar al-Makhzan and ῾Ali al-Sharif. Other notable buildings include the mausoleum of Sidi ῾Abd al-῾Aziz and the madrasa of Ibn Salih. High-ranking officials maintained magnificent palaces, such as the Dar Si Sa῾id (late 19th century; transformed into a museum of Moroccan art) and the Dar al-Glawi (early 20th century). The al-Ma῾muniyya Palace, built in an 18th-century palm grove, has been transformed into the Mamounia Hotel; the Bahiya Palace (late 19th century) was designed by al-Hajj Muhammad ibn Mekhi al-Mifioui. These ῾Alawi buildings tend to be somewhat monotonous, but they do not deserve the disdain with which they have been treated by archaeologists. The French took the city in 1912, and a modern town was added. A private museum of Islamic art has been created by Yves Saint Laurent (1936–2008) and Pierre Bergé (b. 1930) in the home of Louis Majorelle (1859–1926). The city continues to be a luxury winter resort for Europeans, and notable residences have been built in a neo-traditional style (see Morocco).

Bibliography

  • Enc. Islam/2: “Marrākush”
  • J.-P. Gabriel-Rousseau: Le Mausolée des princes saadiens à Marrakech, 2 vols. (Paris, 1925)
  • J. Meunié and H. Terrasse: Recherches archéologiques à Marrakech (Paris, 1952)
  • J. Meunié and H. Terrasse: Nouvelles Recherches archéologiques à Marrakech (Paris, 1957)
  • G. Deverdun: Marrakech, des origines à 1912, 2 vols. (Rabat, 1959–66)
  • L. Dennis: Living in Morocco: Design from Casablanca to Marrakesh (New York, 1992/R 2001)
  • K. Mourad and A. Gérard: Marrakesh and la Lamounia (Courbevoie, 1994), Eng. trans. of Marraketch et La Mamounia
  • J. M. Bloom and others: The Minbar from the Kutubiyya Mosque (New York, 1998)
  • M. Matalsi, C. Tréal and J.-M. Ruiz: The Imperial Cities of Morocco (Paris, 2001), Eng. trans. of Villes imperials du Maroc
  • M. Korolnik: “The Plains of Marrakesh: Weavings,” The Fabric of Moroccan Life, ed. N. I. Paydar and I. Gramme (Indianapolis, 2002), pp. 210–19
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