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MARRAKECH: The Saadian Tombs

Walking along the bustling, dusty and sun-baked Rue Bab Agnaou it is easy to miss the small passageway that leads off to the Saadian tombs. However, once you get to the kasbah mosque - which is likely to be on your left if you are coming from the Djemaa el Fna - the signs are clearly displayed if you keep your eyes peeled.

The Saadian tombs are definitely worth a look at - even if you are only going to be in Marrakesh for a couple of days.

Unfortunately, this means they can be full of tourists and may take a while to get round.

Therefore, take some water with you - maybe a snack if you are American, and keep your belongings out of reach of pick pockets.

The Saadian tombs are clearly a  popular and an important part of Moroccan heritage.  

Even so, there is not much in the way of tourist information here, so it is worth finding out a little about what is here before you go, in order to make the most of your visit.

History of the Saadian tombs

This site may have been a burial ground before the Saadian period, but the earliest known burials dates from 1557. All the main buildings represented here were constructed under Sultan Ahmed el Mansour (1578-1603).

When Moulay Ismail (1672-1727) - the second ruler of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty, took over in Marrakesh, he systematically destroyed the adjacent Badi Palace. 

However, superstition kept him from destroying the burial ground. Instead, he sealed up all the entrances to the Saadian Tombs except for an obscure one found at the Kasbah Mosque.

Nevertheless, a few prominent Marrakeech citizens were buried here after it was sealed up -  the last being the 'mad sultan' Moulay Yazid in 1792, who ruled for 22 violent months.

Immediately after his brutal suppression of a rebellion based in Marrakesh, he was shot in the head during a counter-attack.

From this point on, the Saadian Tombs lay hidden and mostly forgotten until 1917, when they were discovered during a French aerial survey and a passageway was built from the side of the Kasbah Mosque. 

The tombs' long neglect has ensured their preservation and they have since been fully restored to their original glory.

What is here?

The Mad Moulay Yazid
The enclosure consists of two main mausoleums, with 66 tombs laid out within them and over 100 more outside in the gardens. The first mausoleum, on the left as you enter, is the finest of the two. 

Built to house Sultan Ahmed el Mansour's tomb and completed during his lifetime, its vaulted roof, fine carvings and stunning zellij tiles are reminiscent of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain that was built 200 years earlier.

The first hall is an oratory and was probably not intended for burial purposes. Nevertheless, it contains the thin marble stones of several Saadian princes. The tomb of the infamous 'Mad Moulay Yazid' is also here, and whose presence conflicts with the black-and-white script in the hall that reads:
'...and the works of peace they have accomplished will make them enter the holy gardens...'
In the back of the mausoleum is a very fine mihrab, supported by a delicate group of columns. Sultan Ahmed el Mansour's tomb is in the domed central chamber, flanked by the tombs of his sons and successors.

The second mausoleum is older but less impressive. It was built by Ahmed el Mansour in place of an existing pavilion over the tombs of his mother and of the founder of the Saadian dynasty - Mohammed ech Sheikh. 

The former is below the dome in the outer chamber, while most of the latter is buried in the inner chamber.  Mohammed ech Sheikh was murdered in the Atlas mountains by Turkish mercenaries and his head was put on public display in Istanbul.

Scattered around the gardens are the tombs of over 100 more Saadian princes and members of the royal household.

Surprisingly, there are even a few Jewish graves. The gravestones are covered in brilliantly coloured tiles and most have inscriptions with epitaphs and quotes from the Qur'an.

Most simply read:

'...there is no God but God. Muhammad is God's messenger. Praise be to God. The occupant of this tomb died on...'

Carved on the walls is the following poem:

'...o mausoleum, built out of mercy, thou whose walls are the shadow of heaven. The breath of asceticism is wafted from thy tombs like a fragrance. Through thy death the light of faith has been dimmed, the seven spheres are fraught with darkness and the columns of glory broken with pain...'

Click here for related articles:
MARRAKECH: Marjorelle Gardens
MARRAKECH: The Saadian Tombs
MOROCCO: The Jemaa el-Fnaa
Based on an article from and
Images care of and and and and

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