Marrakech, Morocco - March 2009
Marrakech or Marrakesh (Amazigh: Murakush, Arabic مراكش Murrākush), known as the "Red City", is an important and former imperial city in Morocco. It has a population of 1,070,838 (as of 2004), and is the capital of the mid-southwestern economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Like many North African and Middle Eastern cities, Marrakech comprises both an old fortified city (the médina) and an adjacent modern city (called Gueliz). It is served by Ménara International Airport (RAK is the code for the airport) and a rail link to Casablanca and the north. Marrakech is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat.
Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna. The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers, and musicians. By night, the square turns into food stalls, becoming a huge open-air restaurant with busy life.
The probable origin of its name is from the Amazigh (Berber) words mur (n) akush, which means "Land of God". (The root "mur" is used now in the Berber languages mostly in the feminine form "tamurt"). The same word "mur" appears in the country Mauritania, but this interpretation is still unproven to this day.
Until a few decades ago, Morocco was known as Kingdom of Marrakech by Arabs, Persians and Europeans. The European names of Morocco, Marruecos, Maroc, Marokko are directly derived from the Berber word Murakush. The city is spelled "Marrakech" in French, "Marrakech" or "Marrakesh" in English, "Marrakesch" in German and "Marakeş" in Turkish.
Prior to the advent of the Almoravids in the 11th century, the area was ruled from the city of Aghmat. The Almoravid leader, Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar decided Aghmat was becoming overcrowded and chose to build a new capital. He decided to build it in the plains near the Tansift river. He chose the site of Marrakech, because it was in neutral territory between two tribes who were vying for the honor of hosting the new capital. Work started in May 1070, but Abu-Bakr was recalled to the Sahara to put down a rebellion in January 1071 and the city was completed by his deputy and eventual successor Yusuf ibn Tashfin. The city experienced its greatest period under the leadership of Yacoub el Mansour, the third Almohad sultan. A number of poets and scholars entered the city during his reign and he began the construction of the Koutoubia Mosque and a new kasbah.
Prior to the reign of Moulay Ismail, Marrakech was the capital of Morocco. After his reign, his grandson moved the capital back to Marrakech from Meknès.
For centuries Marrakech has been known for its 'seven saints.' When sufism was at the height of its popularity, during the reign of Moulay Ismail, the festival of the 'seven saints' was founded by Abu Ali al-Hassan al-Yusi at the request of the sultan. The tombs of several renowned figures were moved to Marrakech to attract pilgrims in the same way Essaouira did at that time with its Regrega festivals. The 'seven saints' (sebaatou rizjel) is now a firmly established institution, attracting visitors from everywhere. The seven saints include Sidi Bel Abbas (the patron saint of the city), Sidi Muhammad al-Jazuli, Sidi Abu al-Qasim Al-Suhayli, Cadi Ayyad ben Moussa, Abdelaziz al-Tebaa and Abdallah al-Ghazwani.
Marrakech was dominated in the first half of the 20th century by T'hami El Glaoui, Lord of the Atlas and Pasha of Marrakech. The poet of the city was Mohammed Ben Brahim, his favorite place was café Al-Masraf. The poems and songs of Ben Brahim are still known by heart by many Marrakshi.
Marrakech had an official number of population of 1,070,838 in 2004. There is a very large international community consisting mainly of Europeans estimated at 10,700 people, mostly retired.
Many tourists take a trip from Marrakech to visit the valley of the Ourika River in the Atlas Mountains or the valley of the Draa River in the south near the Sahara desert, but also to Middle Atlas Mountains: Waterfalls of Beni Mellal, and to Essaouira on the Atlantic ocean.
Menara International Airport serves as the main airport for the city and receives flights from Europe and neighboring Arab countries.
A toll-paying motorway connects Marrakech with Casablanca.
CTM coaches (intercity buses) and various private lines run services to most notable Moroccan towns as well as a number of European cities, from the Gare Routière on Rue Bab Doukkala in downtown Marrakech.
Marrakech is the southern terminus of the ONCF, the Moroccan railway network, and Marrakech is well served by trains heading to Tangier, Rabat, Casablanca, and Fes. The train station is located on Avenue Hassan II.
The ONCF owned "Supratours" bus company serves towns not served by the train. The bus timetable coordinates with the train timetable and the bus terminal is right beside the station.