History and Culture in the Museums of Marrakech

Housed in the Dar M’Nebhi Palace in the historic center of the city, the Museum of Marrakech offers visitors a window into the history and culture of Morocco. Built in the late 1800s by Mehdi Menebhi, the palace is a superb example of classical Andalusian architecture which was restored by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation* and opened to the public as a museum in 1997. Traditional seating areas, a central courtyard with fountains, exquisite tiling, mosaics and wood carvings, as well as a traditional hammam are all features of the palace. The atrium of the museum is covered in fabric and glass with an unusual chandelier-style decoration hanging in the center, catching and reflecting the light. Exhibits at the museum include collections of traditional and contemporary Moroccan art, along with historic books, pottery and coins representing Moroccan Jewish, Arab and Berber cultures.

Located alongside the Museum of Marrakech is the city’s only remaining example of Almoravid architecture – the Almoravid Koubba. Originally built in 1117, this small building was restyled in the 16th century, and again in the 19th century, before being renovated in 1952 and preserved as a historic monument. The interior is embellished with cedar wood featuring skillfully carved floral patterns and calligraphy, and contains North Africa’s oldest known example of cursive Maghrebi script.

The Ben Youssef Madrasa, situated just forty meters or so from the Museum of Marrakech, was an Islamic college founded in the 14th century by Abu al-Hassan, a Sultan of the Marinid dynasty. It was renovated in the mid-16th century by the Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib and includes a courtyard surrounded by 130 student dormitory cells. The courtyard is decorated with inscriptions and geometric patterns carved in cedar, stucco and marble. The Madrasa was closed as a learning center in 1960 and, after being renovated, it was opened to the public in 1982.

(*Born in Oujda in 1936, Omar Benjelloun was an engineer, journalist, lawyer and General Secretary of the USFP (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires), a social-democratic political party in Morocco. He was murdered in front of his home in Casablanca in December 1975.)