Hands on the cold brown wall, I am following the tiled hallway all the way to the courtyard. A fountain in the middle, four paths leading away from it in geometrical precision. Orange trees providing shade during hot summer days.
One of the things Morocco is famous for are its palaces. Once the homes of sultans, dignitaries and members of high society, these buildings, like Catholic churches, boast the best handiwork that money could offer at the time they were built. It takes a quick Internet search to see why people are flocking in mass numbers to take selfies in tile covered courtyards. This couple was not much better.
Drawn in by the colourful tiles and intricate patterns carved in wood and stone, we have visited two palaces in the Red City of Marrakech: Bahia Palace and Dar el Bacha – Museum of Confluences. Another place we planned to visit was the Koranic school Ben Youssef Madrasa, also high on the “must visit” list but, unfortunately, it was closed for refurb (February 2020).
One thing to note – unlike European castles, Moroccan palaces don’t have any furniture inside (at least there was none in the ones we visited).
Built in 19th century, Bahia palace is well maintained and does not show signs of age. For 70MAD per person, you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the hallways, courtyards and its gardens. The empty rooms hide small nooks covered in distinctive Moroccan tile designs and some have big mirrors tarnished with age.
But the main and most famous part of the palace, the one where all tourists flock to for photos, is the vast, bright court with a basin in the middle – the harem where the sultan kept his concubines (featured photo). It looks quite impressive, especially during clear weather as the sunlight bounces of all the tiles making the court shine brighter.
The gardens are right next to the big court. The ironwork on the windows that separate them make for excellent photos details. The palace is very popular with tourists and Instagram influencers. I had “Vogue” from Madonna playing in my head for most of the visit; there was some heavy posing going on. Joking aside, it is worth the money as it is really big and offers some iconic Morocco photos.
Dar el Bacha – Museum of Confluences
A palace not mentioned in the guide books. Built in 1910 it was renovated and converted into a museum later in the century. It is mentioned as one of the finest examples of riad architecture, with colourful tilework and carved cedar wood lintels. While we were there, it was hosting the Exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent’s Caftan Collection. If that is your sort of thing, don’t forget to visit the Yves Saint Laurent museum at Jardin Majorelle.
Many of the permanent exhibits at Dar El Bacha, like African masks and Etruscan figures, belonged to an American philanthropist Patti Birch who donated her collection to the museum. She is barely mentioned online when searching for this place and the only reason I know a woman is connected to the Museum of Confluences is because I remember the plaques. It took me a while to track down her name online. Hopefully this post will help with any further search 🙂
Even if you are not interested in the museum (not many exhibits, they can easily be done in 40 mins) I would still say go for it! It is bit cheaper than the rest of the places in Marrakech (60MAD per person) and a lot quieter as not many tourists know about it. Just look at how empty my photos are! You’d think we had the place all to ourselves.
If pretty tiles, intricate carvings and Yves San Laurent have not convinced you to visit, maybe mentioning the coffee house with a possibility to try coffees from all over the world will do the trick. The entrance is from the courtyard so you will have to buy a museum ticket to go and enjoy some of the best coffee we ever tried. Most of them are 40MAD, but for some specific, famous beans like the Jamaican Blue Mountain you will have to cash out a bit more. I believe that one was about 200 MAD (or more) for a golden pot like the one in the photo.
After visiting two palaces, we decided not to bother with the ones in Fes. Yes, the architecture and design are interesting and the palaces are definitely impressive, especially if you keep in mind that the carvings were all done by hand. But if you look at the photos, you have to admit that both palaces are quite similar.
If you are short on time, your best bet is pick what you want to visit. Ask yourself what is more important to you – seeing what the hubbub is about with places loved by Instagrammers? Or would you rather do something different and find a quieter, less known place where you feel like it was opened just for you?