Marrakech in Morocco is famous for the big Berber souk, iconic Koutoubia Mosque and the bustling Djemaa el Fna square, but beneath the delicious food smells, muezzins and musicians is something older and verging on the divine.
The Saadian tombs are near the Kasbah Mosque in a beautiful walled garden that was sealed for centuries until it was broken open and restored by the Beaux-arts service in 1917. Consisting of decorated tombs covered in Arabic script and carvings, the graves date from the Saadian era (16th and 17th centuries) and were built by Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour for himself and his family, although there are some graves in the garden that are said to predate the Dynasty.
These early mosaic graves, which are dotted among the garden’s shrubbery, are precursors to the main cedar and stucco mausoleums that include the ornate Hall of Twelve Columns, which is made of Italian Carrara marble and bathed in a mystical green light. These buildings house 66 tombs, including several Saadian princes, as well as al-Mansour’s tomb, which is flanked by the tombs of his sons and successors.
In addition to the impressive Saadian architecture, these tombs are beautifully decorated with coloured mosaics, stalactite plaster work and intricate carvings, while their domed ceilings and marble pillars make for a numinous atmosphere. Although it’s fun to tour the markets, museums and department stores of Morocco, the Saadian tombs are truly one of the city’s hidden treasures.
It’s believed that nearly 200 Saadians, who ruled Morocco for a century, are buried here, and that their tombs were left intact due to the successor’s superstitions about destroying the resting places of the dead. Instead, he sealed up the tombs and there they lay for 250 years!
The Kasbah district itself is an inviting area of Marrakech, built as an imperial citadel and occupied by the Sultans of Morocco since the 12th century. You will be entranced by the city gate, a fine example of Islamic art as you begin your exploration. Kasbah Mosque is one of the biggest mosques within the city where fine examples of Almohad architecture stand. However, this is a peaceful space for local Muslims who come for prayer and non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque.
The Kasbah boasts many bazaars, food stalls, restaurants and hotels and offers a relaxed pace of life for travellers. Art lovers can visit the contemporary space the ‘Light Gallery’, which opened its doors in 2007 with a photography exhibition and showcases changing displays.
If you’ve booked a flight to Morocco for a holiday or if you’re just passing through, don’t miss the opportunity to tour the Kasbah district and visit the beautiful Saadian tombs, which are near the Kasbah Mosque in the vicinity of Morocco’s Djemaa el Fna.