Marrakech Medina: a fascinating and typical Moroccan Old Town

visiter medina marrakech

Are you planning to discover the « Red City »? To help you plan your trip to Morocco, check out our guide to the Medina of Marrakech!

The historic heart of Marrakech, the Medina is the largest in the Maghreb! In this almost thousand-year-old Arab Old Town, tourists and modest Marrakchis rub shoulders. The former stroll through the winding streets, past orange groves and fountains, the latter bustle about the souks of the Medina.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient quarter is home to a number of magnificent monuments and remains, including the Koutoubia mosque, the Ben Youssef medersa and the Saadian tombs. You’ll also find a number of museums. But above all, the Medina is home to Marrakech’s famous souk and Jemaa el-Fna square, the city’s populous heart and « Court of Miracles ».

During your stay in Marrakech, you can’t fail to discover this fantastic, typically Moroccan Old Town. But what absolutely must you visit? From its monuments to practical information, its history and possible guided tours, we reveal everything you need to know to visit the Medina of Marrakech in the best conditions!

History of the Medina of Marrakech

vue globale ville de marrakech

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Old Town and the historic heart of Marrakech, the Medina was born at the same time as the city.

Founded by the Almoravids in 1070-1072, the red city was for a long time one of the major political, cultural and economic centers of the Muslim West. The city soon became the capital of the Almoravid Emirate. This Euro-African empire stretched from the banks of the Senegal River to the center of the Iberian Peninsula, from the Moroccan Atlantic coast in the east to Algiers in the west. At the instigation of the Almoravid rulers, mosques and palaces were built with the help of Andalusian craftsmen from Seville and Cordoba. This Andalusian influence fused with Saharan and West African stylistic elements.

This unique and original architecture can still be admired in Marrakech’s Medina. The city was also fortified by Ali Ben Youssef. The ramparts dating from 1122-1123 are still visible today!

In 1147, the Almohads took over the town. They destroyed most of the Almoravid monuments. The new rulers nevertheless built numerous palaces and religious edifices, including the famous Koutoubia mosque and the Kasbah. At the beginning of the 16th century, Marrakech became the capital of the Saadian Empire and returned to greatness. The city was embellished, ruined monuments restored and sumptuous palaces built. The El Badi Palace in particular dates from this period. Most of the Medina’s monuments date from these grandiose eras: the monumental gates, gardens, palaces, Ben Youssef medersa, Saadian tombs and Jamaâ El Fna square.

The latter, a veritable open-air theater, still amazes its visitors, both travellers and locals!

What to see and do in Marrakech’s Medina?

Marrakech’s most interesting monuments and most of its museums are to be found in the Medina. A must-see, you’ll probably spend most of your time here. The Medina is thus the most charming and touristic part of the city.

At first glance, the Medina may seem a confusing, anarchic mess. After all, it’s a veritable labyrinth of alleyways, squares, souks and riads, amidst which stand palaces, mosques and Koranic schools. But it’s this « bazaar » that makes the Medina so charming. However far it may be from Arabia or Persia, it inevitably evokes tales of the Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin or Sindbad.

The starting point: Jemaa el-Fna Square

place jemaa el-fna marrakech

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This large square is the heart of Marrakech’s Medina. Open and airy, this traditional, popular and lively place is a must! During the day, fairground vendors, hawkers and street performers provide the daily spectacle. At night, they are joined by food stalls. It’s the ideal starting point for visiting Marrakech’s Medina and discovering all its wonders.

West: the Koutoubia mosque

marrakech medina visiter la mosquee de koutoubia

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To the west of the square, you can begin your visit to Marrakech’s Medina with the Koutoubia Mosque. Built in the 12th century, its architecture and ascetic decor reflect the art of the Almohads. It is renowned for its 77 m-high minaret. It also houses one of the largest prayer halls in the Muslim West, seating up to twenty thousand worshippers!

North of the Medina

jardin secret oasis au coeur de marrakech

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North of the square, you can discover some of Marrakech’s major monuments: the Mouassine mosque and its museum, the Maison de la photo or the fantastic Secret Garden. Your visit is sure to include the Ben Youssef medersa, as well as magnificent riads, fountains and hammams. The souk district also begins in the north of Marrakech’s Medina.

South of the Medina

Tombeaux Saadiens, Marrakech

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After visiting the northern part of the Medina, don’t miss the opportunity to walk down to the opposite side of Jemaa el-Fna beach in the south. Here you’ll discover the Kasbah and the Mellah, two old quarters near the Royal Palace. Here you can visit a number of must-see sites, such as the magnificent Bahia Palace and the fascinating Bert Flint Museum of Crafts and Ethnology. We also recommend a visit to the ruins of the El Badi Palace. But above all, don’t miss a visit to the Saadian Tombs, a hidden royal necropolis dating back to the 18th century. Richly ornamented, these tombs are surrounded by verdant gardens!

In the south of the Medina, you can also visit the Mellah, Marrakech’s former Jewish quarter. Here you’ll discover the district’s pleasant souk. The atmosphere is also calmer and less touristy south of the Medina. Take advantage of this lull before returning to the meanders of the Old Town. Visiting Marrakech’s Medina also means getting lost in its souks and winding alleys. But beware of false guides!

How do I get to Marrakech’s Medina?

Marrakech’s Medina lies at the heart of the city. After your flight booked with Ulysses, you’ll land at the city’s airport. From here, you can easily reach the Medina. After all, your accommodation will probably be in this charming, historic district. From the airport, you can take the L11, L12 and L19 bus lines to Koutoubia or Jamaa El-Fna. The main square is the perfect starting point for a visit to Marrakech’s Mé-dina, or for getting back to your accommodation. To get around town, you can also take the L2, L3, L4, L5, L6, L10, L14, L15, L16, L19, L66 to Jamaa El-Fna and L11, L12 to Koutoubia.

If you’re planning to rent a car when you arrive in Marrakech, you’ll be pleased to know that there are a number of guarded pay parking lots all around the Medina. For example, you can opt for the secure Koutoubia parking lot. It’s just a stone’s throw from Place Jemaa El-Fna. Your hotel may also have a supervised parking lot. So don’t hesitate to ask before you arrive. It’s best to use public transport or walk in and around Marrakech’s Medina. However, a car can be very useful for exploring Marrakech’s surroundings and making excursions outside the city.

Guided tours of Marrakech Medina

visites guidees de la medina de marrakech

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To make sure you don’t miss a thing during your visit to Marrakech’s Medina, you can opt for a guided tour. It’s the perfect way to discover the Old Town in all its detail, and to learn more about the history of the « Red City ».

These 3- to 4-hour tours take you through the winding streets of the Medina. Your local guide will explain everything there is to know about the palaces, gardens and monuments you’ll discover. There are many different types of tour. Some take you through the local souks, others through monuments and relics from glorious eras. In each case, you’ll learn more about the history of Marrakech, its sultans and inhabitants.