The Almorabid movement was founded by Berbers
clans belonging to the tribe of Sanhaja, who inhabited the western Sahara.
Nomadic goats and camel-breeders, the people of Sanhaja established, earlier, in
the Sahara. Lemtuna, a clan of this tribe, became dominant of this Zone of North
Africa, under the leadership of Bitloutan. Strong with army of 100,000 Lemtuna
camelry, Bitloutan imposed his authority over nearly all the Berber tribes of
the Western Sahara, then he began raiding southwards; harrying the vassals of
the king of Ghana, which were shoved far to the South, and laid hands over the
valuable salt mines of Taghaza. Salt was an essential element for the population
of Tropical Africa, “Mali, Niger, Ghana”, and Taghaza, which was buried deep in
the desert, was their chief source of supply. Some of the population of tropical
Africa had an insatiable need for salt, among them the gold diggers of the
mysterious Wangara tribe, who sometimes, would not part with their gold for
anything but salt.
The salt of Taghaza, therefore, was necessary for the gold trade by the merchants of Sijilmassa with the Wangara gold diggers, and it is around this activity that the Sanhaja's confederation formed later, when Lemtuna and Jedala clans united.
The capital of Sanhaja was Audoghast, a Saharan city laying fifteen days march westward of the Nigerian city of Kumbi. Audoghast was an important town of today’s Mauritania. Its fine buildings were surrounded by groves of date palms beyond which lay the desert. The city was inhabited by Berbers and by a community of Arab merchants, who owned important number of Negro slaves.
Water was abundant in Audoghast and made possible the growing of a wide variety of crops, millet, figs, vines, gourds, henna and wheat (a luxury reserved for the rich). The city was an important enrepôt of gold, which was imported from Sudan and re-exported to al-Maghreb, notably to Sijilmassa. The city imported wheat, dried fruits, brass and clothing from the North and ambergris from the coasts.
A number of the Sanhaja people embraced Islam, as a result of their intercourse with the Muslim merchants who settled with them. But their perception of Islam was too vague. It happened that, when their paramount chief, Yahiya Ibn Ibrahim sojourned in Kairawan, Tunisia, on his way back of a pilgrimage to Mecca, he fell under the influence of the scholar, Abou Amran Al-Fassi, whom he astonished by his Islamic doctrinal ignorance. Yahiya assured to the scholar that his Saharan subjects were more ignorant than their emir. Moved by shame, Yahiya solicited the help of Abou Amran in finding some theologian that would volunteer to accompany him to the Sahara to instruct him and his people in the precepts of Islam. Yahiya returned to his capital, Audoghast, in company of the scholar Abdullah Ibn Yassine, disciple of a certain Wajjaj of Sijilmassa. The consequences following this encounter were of great importance, and were to change the history of both North Africa and the South of Spain.
Ibn Yassine began his ministration among Yahiya’s own tribesmen, the Jedala, who found the austere doctrine of the ascetic of the North, and the restrictions he tried to place upon them so repugnant that they burnt his house and expelled him off their territory. Ibn Yassine sought seclusion, in company of two devoted Lemtuna disciples, in a site surrounded by water. This place was either an island in Senegal or a promontory on the coast, where he founded a ribat; a monastery, which later on he organized on a Templar’s military basis. This unusual arrangement aroused interest, and the monastery attracted hundreds of curious seeking learning from the holy man. Many found inspiration in the new teaching and became fervent disciples of the preacher. When his followers increased, he enjoined them go forth and preach the Sunni Islamic tradition to the world. The disciples of Ibn Yassine were known as Al-Mourabitoun, the people of the ribat (Templars)
In 1042 the Almorabids were led by Ibn Yassine, in a jihad (Holy War) against the heathen Jedala and Lemtuna tribes, who till then had rejected the Muslim Sunni doctrine. The alternative of death or conversion resulted in a triumph for the Almorabids, but victory was robbed of its sweetness. The austere leader denied them the pleasures of plunder and rape, dampening on them the enthusiasm with which they had embraced his cause. When he followed this up with even more tyrannical restrictions they turned on him, and he had to fly for the second time, making his way back to his old master, Wajjaj, in Sijilmassa. Here he found both sympathy and followers anxious to avenge the wrongs he had suffered in the Sahara. Wajjaj issued a religious opprobrium (fetwa) against whoever refused to obey Ibn Yassine, or tried to obstruct his mission, and sent his disciple back to the Sahara, in company of other adherents, with the instructions of using force against any opposition to the Islamic Sunni precepts.
Abdullah Ibn Yassine carried out his master’s instructions to such effect that before long, either through the fervor of his preaching or probably through the weight of support he had secured in the North, most of the tribes of the western desert had accepted the Sunna doctrine and were united under his banner.
A capable, perhaps brilliant organizer, and undoubtedly an inspiring leader, Ibn Yassine, founded an army of 30,000 men made doubly formidable by the fanatical fervor with which their leader had inspired them. Many were mounting camels, others horses or were on foot. They were armed with pikes and spears, which they used to deadly effect, fighting with fanatical fury and cheerfully courting death. Though they had never before known any form of restrain, the Almorabids, now obeyed a discipline as rigid as that of a modern army. Their ranks, as they were to prove it in Spain, never broke, nor did they ever pursue a beaten enemy.
Abdullah Ibn Yassine made of Lemtuna clan an important spiritual and military power, and soon, he became master of the Sahara. Having secured the South, Ibn Yassine, strong with his redoubtable army, was now ready to go further and diffuse the Sunni orthodox Islamic doctrine among the heretical tribes of the North.
First he harried North-East, in rescue of the population of the Darea valley, tyrannized by the emirs of Sijilmassa. Ibn Yassine captured the important trading center of Sijilmassa, and made an end to the tyranny of its emirs.
Now, while in the North, Ibn Yassine was tempted by the idea of marching against the rich plains located on the north-west of the High Atlas. He made a decision worthy of a grand strategist; and before the people of the North had time to suspect his bold a project, the Almorabid army came pouring over the Glaoua and Goundafa passes and stormed into the plains of the High Atlas.
At the beginning of the 11th century, when the people of Lemtuna were still wandering in the Sahara, Morocco formed a real socio-political mosaic. The Idrissid power, having declined, was reduced to the province of Fes, where the last of the Idrissid princes rivaled for a lost kingdom. Two isolated provinces; Tangier and Sebta fell under the authority of the Andaloucian house of the Hammoudid. The rest of the country fell under a total anarchy of the strong Berber tribes who tailored independent political States for them. Maghraoua tribe spread its authority over a territory, which extended from Sijilmassa to Taza. The Zenata clan controlled the Middle Atlas, the north and the north-west of Morocco. Banu Khazroun dominated the largest and the wealthiest state, which extended from the northeast of the Moulouya valley to the south of the Darea valley. This province was the first to suffer the assault of the Almorabid troops. Another strong Berber organized State was that of Berghouata, which extended along the western plains of the Atlantic, and had for capital the former Roman city of Sala Colonia. Berghouata was a heretic Berber tribe and its people practiced a doctrine developed from Christian and Islamic precepts. This doctrine was preached by a certain Salih Ibn Abdullah, an eminent scholar and astronomer who had proclaimed himself apostle of the Berbers.
In 1053, the Almorabid army, commanded by Abou Bakr Ibn Amer, and assisted by his nephew, Youssef Ibn Tachfin, marched for the second time against Sijilmassa. The Almorabids proceeded, afterwards, southwest, reducing the provinces of Taroudant and Massa, then Nfiss, Aghmat, Tadla and the northern foothills of the High Atlas. When Aghmat was reduced, Zainab Ishaq Nefzaouia, the wife of the emir of this city, Lacqout Leghmari, fell captive. After the death of Lacqout Leghmari, Zainab became the wife of the emir Abou Bakre, and later that of Youssef Ibn Tachfin. With Tadla and Banou Ifran subdued, the Almorabids proceeded westward against Berghouata’s State. Reducing this tribe was not an easy task for the Almorabids. Berghouata Berbers manifested a strong resistance to their offensives. The clash between the two forces was fatal, and the Almorabids suffered heavy losses before a final victory. Abdullah Ibn Yassine, the Almorabids’ spiritual leader and reformer perished in battle in 1058, and was buried in Krifla, near Ben Slimane. With the death of Abdullah Ibn Yassine, one of the most remarkable characters in North African history passed away. The great movement, which he had founded, had, by the time of his death, united into one kingdom practically the whole of the Western Sahara as well as the fertile northern districts of Souss, Aghmat, Sijilmassa and its dependencies. The foundations, too, had been laid for a yet greater empire, extending even beyond the shores of Africa. Only a man of heroic qualities could have achieved so much. The Almorabids leadership passed into the hands of the emir, Abou Bakr.
The Almorabid’s new headquarters were established in
Aghmat, near the land where the city of Marrakech was shortly to rise, and from
where Abdullah Ibn Yassine dispatched his northern military campaigns, till his
death. Abou Bakre succeeded in the leadership of the Almorabids confederation,
and commanded their military expeditions in Morocco. While in the North, the
Almorabids suffered a check from the rear, from the Saharan
The chief weakness of the Almorabids was their inability to control their vassals. They had no state but an empire consisting of a loosely knit confederation of nomadic tribes, held tenuously together by a common creed, but also a common fear; the consequences of secession. Though having accepted the Sunni reformed doctrine, the nomadic tribes were not deeply inspired, and fear of Ibn Yassine diminished in proportion to his distance from them. Their inherent love for independence was not weakened and the old inter-tribal rivalry was unabated. The Jedala tribe was the cause of distress in the extreme south-western quarter of the desert, and when Ibn Yassine departed from Sijilmassa, he left behind a garrison to watch them. However, they rebelled soon and had never been subdued.
Following the death of Ibn Yassine came news of trouble from the Sahara between Lemtuna and Mesufa. Both were loyal adherents of the Almorabids, but the quarrel might have led to the defection of any of them. With the Jedala still in open rebellion, there was a serious danger of a complete breakdown of the Almorabid’s authority in the Sahara. Abou Bakre, therefore, decided to move South to restore order in this zone, and before setting out, he handed over the command of the northern army to his cousin, Youssef Ibn Tachfin.
The personal intervention of Abou Bakre had, quickly, restored order in the Sahara, but he saw that unless an outlet could be found for the turbulent spirit of the desert’s nomads, they would soon be at each other’s throats again. So he led them against the pagan Soninky peoples of the kingdom of Ghana.
The Almorabids strengthened their positions in the
North. Youssef Ibn Tachfin, abounding in energy and enterprise, had led his
victorious army into the heart of al-Maghreb al-Aqsa. This character was
committed, apparently, to a career of conquest with almost limitless
possibilities. When Abou Bakre returned unexpectedly from the South he found
that his lieutenant had no intention of handing him back the command of the
army. With no alternative but to acquiesce, Abou Bakre formally relinquished the
North to his cousin and discreetly withdrew into the desert. Legend says that it
was Zainab, the astute former repudiated wife of Abou Bakre, who advised Youssef
to hang on power, once she became his wife.
Youssef, with none to dispute his authority, settled down to a career of conquest, which was destined to bring him power and fame transcending his most ambitious dreams. As he moved northwards, districts were submitted one after the other. Whenever he went he proclaimed himself the champion of the masses, the liberator of the oppressed from the cruel tyranny of corrupt princes. The peasantry rallied to him eagerly joining in the overthrow of the local tyrants and swelling the ranks of his army. After a long siege, Fes, the Idrissid's capital was captured in 1069. The capital was found to be divided into two districts, separated by two walls. Youssef made demolish the walls separating the Andaloucian from the Qaraouyine quarters, ordered the building of a Kasbah, of baths and mills, and surrounded Fes with ramparts. Youssef progressively occupied Taza, Oujda, Oran and Tangier, which like the neighboring port of Sebta, was strongly held by Andaloucian troops. By 1082, and after twenty years of campaigns, Youssef Ibn Tachfin became the Master of Morocco, Algeria and the Niger.
The Umayyad dynasty established in Spain by Abdurrahman I, styled al-Dakhil (the new comer) by Arab chroniclers, was to last for two and three-quarter centuries (756-1031). It reached its zenith under the eighth emir, Abdurrahman III (912-61), the magnificent in the line of the Andaloucian Emirs, and the first to assume the title of khalif (929). His reign marked the zenith of the Arab epoch in the peninsula. Throughout the Umayyad period Cordoba continued to be the capital of Arab Spain, and enjoyed a period of incomparable splendor as the Western rival of Baghdad.
The Umayyad khalifat began to decline after the death in Cordoba, in 1002, of the emir Mohammed Ibn Abu Amer, the famous al-Hajib al–Manssour, the talented regent, the “Bismarck of the tenth century”, and possibly the greatest statesman and strategist of Arab Spain. On its ruins arose sundry petty emirates, many of which were always at daggers drawn with one another and all of which finally succumbed to the growing power of the Christians, particularly those of the North.
The glorious Islamic Omeyade’s Kingdom of al-Andalous was turned asunder by Berbers, Arabs, Slavs (Saqalibah) and Spaniards. By 1057 it disintegrated into thirty-two petty States or “Tawaïf”.
In Cordoba the Jawharids headed a sort of republic, which was in 1068 absorbed by the Banu-Abbad of Seville. Granada was the seat of a Zirid régime. Malaga and its districts were ruled by the Hammoudid’s. Toledo was ruled by the Banou Dhu-al-Noun, a Berber family. In Saragossa the Banou-Houd held the sovereignty from 1039 until overpowered by the Christians in 1141. Among these party kings the cultured house of the Abbadids of Seville was undoubtedly the most powerful.
The Christians, under Alfonso VI, king of Leon, Castile, Galicia, and Navarre, began to menace the Islamic foundations of al-Andalous. The new Muslim emirs of the Andaloucian petty states, separated by a reciprocal jealousy, courted Alphonse’s help in their disputes. The Christian raids of the north became regular and reached as far south as Cadiz. This epoch saw the emergence of the knight, Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the Cid Campeador (My Sir the Challenger) who settled with his Castilian followers in Valencia, from where he menaced the Abbadides' emirate of Seville.
The petty emirates began to fell one after the other, under the sway of Alphons. The emirs paid for his costly protection with tributes, which they squeezed out of their own starving peasantry. The more abject their abasement the greater grew the arrogance of Alphonse, who now proclaimed himself “Lord of the two faiths”. The constant advance of his army was scarcely interrupted by the feeble efforts of the Muslims. In their desperation they began to look for succor beyond the Straits, where lay Youssef and his victorious host, masters of al-Maghreb.
When in a very dark hour, someone suggested seeking Almorabids help against the Christian aggressors; the proposal was rejected as too desperate measure. Such formidable and uncouth barbarians might well prove awkward guests, if once admitted to so fair a land as al-Andalous. What if they refused to leave? Or, worse still, what if Youssef preferred the role of master to that of ally? Might it not be wiser to submit to Alphonse, the measure of whose tyranny was more easily gauged than that of Youssef Ibn Tachfin? But the proposal had the support of the theologians, who heard good reports of the simplicity and piety of the Almorabids, and was favored by the masses who could not imagine any tyranny worse than they were already enduring at the hands of their own emirs. Al-Motamid, who had succeeded his father, Al-Motadid as emir of Seville, resolved their doubts. “I have no desire”, he declared “to be branded by my descendants as the man who delivered al-Andalous a prey to the infidels; I am loath to have my name cursed in every pulpit; and for my part, I would rather be a camel-driver in Africa than a swineherd in Castille”.
Though Youssef had hesitated to challenge the power of al-Andalous, he had in fact nothing to fear from that quarter. The triumph of the Almorabids was in marked contrast with the sorry plight of their co-religionists of the other side of the Straits. Negotiations were accordingly opened with Youssef. He was invited to come to the help of the Spanish Muslims, but certain safeguards were required of him. He sent the envoys back with an evasive and ambiguous reply. While the emirs were debating the next step, their perplexity was turned to consternation by the news that Youssef had already crossed the Straits with his army and seized Algeciras, which he fortified and provisioned, evidently as a headquarters for further operations. This first crossing was in 1086. Advancing inland, Youssef was hailed as a liberator by the people and with obsequious gifts by the emirs.
Youssef joined forces with Al-Motamid and marched against the Christians. Alphonse faced Youssef with an overwhelming army, but by superior strategy, Ibn Tachfin defeated the Christian army in a spot called Zellaka, near Badajos, in October the 23, 1086. The Almorabids army inflicted an humiliating defeat to the Castilian army of Alphonse VI which was crushed completely, while this monarch, and barely three hundred of his horses escaped with their lives, leaving thousands of dead behind. His champion the Cid Campeador was among those who perished in battle.
This victory of the Almorabids against the Castilian army, restored security in the Islamic borders of al-Andalous, and made an end, for a while, to the Castilian's menaces. Youssef and his army returned victorious to the Capital Marrakech, leaving behind 3,000 men he had generously left at Al-Motamid’s disposal.
After the departure of Youssef, the Castilians took fresh heart and resumed their aggression against the Muslim provinces. The greed of the despotic emirs, accentuated to the limits of deserting the Islamic precepts, turned their arms against each other, spending themselves in fratricidal quarrels. Some went further and allied to the Castilians against their Muslim kinsmen. Once more, Al-Motamid, the Emir of Seville, called for the Almorabids’ help.
After a religious consultation (fatwa), Youssef Ibn Tachfin returned back to al Andalous, but this time with the firm decision of incorporating the Hispano-Muslim provinces to his Empire of al-Maghreb, and rescue the Andaloucian Islamic State from the Christian hegemony.
It was not a difficult task for Youssef. The population of al Andalous realized that their only hope of relief from the cruel exaction of their emirs laid in one, who, they well knew, had in Africa abolished all taxes not sanctioned by the Quran, and established justice. Youssef was equally welcome to the theologians of al Andalous who likened the frugal lives of the Almorabids to the simplicity of the early followers of the Prophet. Only the emirs and their minion and privileged classes regarded Youssef as an uncouth barbarian seeking to usurp their power. But none was capable of resistance.
Youssef entered Granada in November 1090. The following year he captured Seville, Cordoba and other leading towns. Soon, the whole Muslim Spain was conquered and annexed by Youssef to the Moroccan Empire, with the exception of Toledo, which remained in Christian hands, and Zaragoza, where the Banou Houd were allowed to subsist.
Al-Motamid was deported to Marrakech and later to the adjacent town of Aghmat, where he shared his exile with his wife I'timad Ar'roumaïkiya and his two daughters who spent their time spinning wool to make a living. In 1095 Al-Motamid, the Emir and Poet of Seville and the last of the Abbadids family died in Aghmat.
With the Almorabids, began the time of the Berber domination in Spain and North Africa, and for the first time a Berber people was playing a leading role on the world’s stage.
Youssef appointed his son Ali emir of al-Andalous. Youssef Ibn Tachfin did not survive long to this final triumph. He died in 1106 at the age of 100 and was buried in a simple tomb in Marrakech, a city that was to become a worthy monument to its founder, and the southern capital of al-Maghreb to the Almorabids. Despite his immense conquests and the boundless power placed in his hands, throughout his career, Youssef remained true to the lofty ideals preached by Ibn Yassine in that obscure ribat in the island of Senegal. Few conquerors can have so fully justified the confidence reposed in them by the people conquered as Youssef Ibn Tachfin did. He gave them, both in Africa and Spain, the blessings of tranquility and peace, and prosperity in a more modest measure. But these blessings ended with his death.
Youssef Ibn Tachfin was succeeded by his son Ali Ibn Youssef, a young man of twenty-three, who had grown to manhood in the enervating surroundings of the Andaloucian court and had never known the austere life of the desert. He was noted for his intrepidity and for his piety, but religious zeal did not make up for his inexperience.
The Lemtuna nomads, whose men wore veils covering their
faces below the eyes, were rough Berbers. Raised on the privations of desert
life, they were suddenly projected to the prosperous regions of Morocco and
al-Andalous were they, soon, succumbed to the vices of civilization and became
enervated, even effeminate. They penetrated Spain at a time when intellectual
pleasures among the Arabs had long since replaced the love of adventure and
conquest. This gave the Lemtunian conquerors the opportunity of enjoying of a
placid life, in palaces and houses, which, at the same time, were to prove their
undoing. Now they got in touch with a refined civilization for the assimilation
of which they were nowise prepared.
Poets and learned came to the court of Marrakech, which was compared to that of the Abbasids. The Andaloucian influence went further, and the Almorabids adapted the use of a Christian militia, which was composed either of Christian captives or of volunteers, and was commanded by a "Reverter". The Sovereign himself protected this militia, which was used only for maintaining order and collecting taxes. The Christian troops had their own chapel and were free to practice their faith.
The moral and religious downgrading of the Almorabid’s society (outbreak of vice, wine drinking, men wearing the veil, contrary to women) offered enough propaganda for the Almowahids to condemn the Lemtuna’s rare practices of debauch.
The Almorabids introduced the Malekit Sunni doctrine to Morocco and to al-Andalous, a doctrine which the Almowahids failed to suppress to the advantage of their Tawhid "Unity" doctrine.
1060, the Almorabid Emir, Abou Bakr Ibn Amer, leading a powerful army of
Sanhaja, camped in the heart of the Haouze plains, below the foothills of the
High Atlas Mountains. His camps were posted near the river Tensift, not far from
the rocky hills of Guiliz, which was to provide the stone for the construction
of his future town. For Abou Bark, this was a strategic setting from where the
Sahara could be easily reached, while having at the same time a close watch on
the Massmouda Berber tribe of the High Atlas. Abou Bakre transformed the camp of
his army into a walled town, building his palace of Dar el H'jar, over whose
ruins; the Almowahids were to build, one century later, the Koutoubia
The small town became known as “Marre’kouch" or the land of the Sons of Kouch”, black African warriors of Nubia, as referred in an 11th century manuscript, preserved in the Qaraouyine’ library of Fes". Youssef Ibn Tachfin transformed Marrakech into an important capital of the south and adobe buildings soon replaced Saharan tents. Youssef built a Kasbah and a mosque, and dug ghettaras; a system of subterranean galleries which conveyed water from the river Tensift to Marrakech. The city grew rich in the gold and ivory trade brought by caravans, and became the chief center of an Empire, which extended from Algeria to the river Ebro in Spain, and from the Mediterranean coast to Senegal. Youssef Ibn Tachfin died in 1106 in Marrakech, and his mausoleum, built by the Sultan, Mohammed V, is located to the south of the Koutoubia Mosque.
Ali Ibn Tachfin became one of the greatest rulers of his epoch. He called for the skill of Andaloucian craftsmen to execute important works in Marrakech. He made build a new palace and a mosque, and encircled the city with ramparts. He called for the genius of the architect, Abdullah Ben Youness Al Mouhandiz, to build the bridge over the river Tensift. This very bridge is still afoot as an eloquent evidence of the Almorabid’s talent. Ali made dig more ghettaras, which numbered thousands and conveyed water to Marrakech and to its Haouze farming plains from the River Tensift.
When the Almowahids captured Marrakech in 1147, the Emir Abdelmoumen decreed the demolishing of all the Almorabids religious and public buildings. Abdelmoumen resolved to wash out the country of every Lemtuna's memorials, and accomplished important urban works, including the building of the Koutoubia Mosque, which was erected over the very foundations of the Almorabid palace of Dar el H'jar. Yaâcoub Al-Manssour encircled the city with magnificent gardens as Agdal or "J'nan Es'Salha", whose magnificence was exalted by the children of all Morocco. The Almowahids built an important hospital in Marrakech. Known then by the "Be-Maristan", the hospital was built during the reigning of the Sultan, Yaâcoub Al-Manssour, and as described by the scholar "Al-Marrakouchi" it was magnificent in its architectonic form and utility. The structure, included not only the hospital proper with annexes, but it also comprised special wards for segregating various diseases, such as fevers, ophthalmia and dysentery. The hospital was equipped with laboratories, pharmacies, a dispensary, baths, kitchens and storage rooms. Al-Manssour granted the hospital with a daily endowment of 30 dinars for its expenses.
The Be-Maristan hospital was fit with large gardens, planted with flowers and with a variety of aromatic, decorative and domestic trees. The interiors were embellished with polychrome mosaic and carved stucco, and the ceilings were made of colorful ornamented cedar-wood frames. The rooms had sanitary installations and a water-piping system, which supplied running water. The courtyard was befit with four marble fountains, which refreshed the surrounding space with their sprinkling water. The furniture of rooms, such as beds, tables, mattresses, sheets and curtains, were made of the finest stuff, such as cedar-wood, silk and wool. The hospital dispensed a sort of clothing for the sick, suited for summer and for winter seasons. The kitchen cooked elaborate meals for the ill, and drugs were drawn to the hospital from every corner of the known world.
The elevation of Marrakech is of 560 meters (1680 feet) over sea level. The province extends over an area of 14,755 Km2. Its relief varies and the step extends all over. Not far from Marrakech the High Atlas Mountains rise with its high picks covered most of the year with snow. The Hause of Marrakech is crossed from east to west by Oued Tensift and from north to south by Oued N'fiss. Large palm groves of about 150,000 palm trees surround the city and extend over an area of some 1,214 hectares.
According to legend, the palm groves grew unexpectedly in the area where the Lemtuna troops fixed their camps on the 11th century. The people of the camp consumed a lot of dates, which they had carried with them from the oases of the desert, throwing the stones in the soil. The dates’ stones took root, afterwards, to blossom years later in a huge palm-tree forest where hundreds of ghettaras wells, an underground water conduits dug by Ali Ibn Tachfin to irrigate the plantation, are still visible.
The province of Marrakech is populated by about 1,355,000 inhabitants, 844,000 urban and 511,000 rural. The ethnic diversity of the province of Marrakech was due to its former flourishing economic activities. The zone of el-Haouse is populated by the Arab Hilaliens. Its southern vicinity is populated by an Arab pastoral people of the tribes of M'touga, Mejjata, Sektana and Messouifa. The Chlouh's (Berbers) territory begins, on the foothills of the High Atlas, with Guedmioua, which occupies the dock of Assif el Mehl and Anougal. Goundafa's settlement extends along the valley of Oued N'fiss. Ourika inhabits the Oued Ourika valley. Glaoua occupies the dock of R'bat, on the south of the H. Atlas, and Seksaoua on the northeast of Imi-n-Tanoute.
Since its foundation on the mid of the 11th century, the
aspect of Marrakech was transformed by princes and kings of the succeeding
dynasties, and by the rich aristocracy. The Red City was a favorite residence
for many princes and Sultans, who preferred its palaces and its climate for
those of Fes, embellishing a little further the city with the finest
architecture of their epoch. Since its foundation, Marrakech became an important
clearinghouse for caravans of dromedaries which carried loads of every kind of
merchandise from the confines of the Sahara and the neighboring oases to its
markets. Its strategic position made of it the largest trade center, not only
for the Haouz, but also for the entire Atlas and the Sahara districts.
Merchandise was drawn to its markets from Sudan, the Middle East and from
Europe. The city was also the largest slave market of
Today, the city’s economic activity is dominated by the agro pastoral sector. Dry farming of wheat and barley is dominant in the Haouse. Almond and fig trees share the orchards of the low foothills, while the walnut trees grow in the high elevations of the area. Farming involves about 62.3% of the province’s population, and the cultivated area is that of el Haouse; with an extension of about 90,000 hectares, of which 45,000 hectares are artificially irrigated through the waters of Lalla Takerkoust's dam (Oued N'fiss). Industry is that of food transformation and handicraft. Its olive oil presses produce around 28% of Morocco's oil. Another economic resource of the province of Marrakech is mining. The soil of the province conceals minerals of lead, zinc, copper, silver and barium. But the real gold mine of the city is, without any doubt, the sector of tourism.
Marrakech had the honor of holding the Ministerial International Convention for the signing of the General Agreement for Tax and Trade (GATT). Hundred and seventeen countries participated in this meeting and signed the agreement charter on Friday May 15, 1994. This date saw the foundation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
original Koutoubia Mosque was built in 1147, after the conquest of Marrakech by
the Almowahid’s Emir, Abdelmoumen. The Mosque was demolished later because it
was discovered to be incorrectly aligned with relation to Mecca. The first
foundations are still visible to the right of the actual mosque. The building of
the second well-proportioned Koutoubia began on the eves of the Emir,
Abdelmoumen, and was finished, with the Giralda of Seville and Hassan Mosque,
during the ruling of Yaâcoub Al-Manssour. The three mosques were designed by the
architect, Ahmed Ben Hassan Al Koudaï.
Because the zone of Marrakech lacked of hard stone, bricks were used for the building of the Koutoubia. The mosque measures 90 meters by 60 meters. The minaret, whose pink stone walls are decorated with festooned arches, mosaic painted floral motives, and carved tracery, rises 75 meters to the sky. Three proportionally sized balls surmount the lantern of the minaret, and, according to a legend, one of the balls was re-made of gold, offered by Lalla Messaouda, mother of the Sultan, Ahmed Al- Manssour Essaâdi, as a redeeming for her having broken the fast of one day of Ramadan. The mosque, with its oratory of 17 naves was built over the ruins of the Almorabid's palace of "Dar el H'jar". The mosque was built according to the Almowahid’s architectonic style, adapted from that of the Tinmal's mosque, which was used as a model for the building of all the Almowahid’s mosques. The mosque was named al Koutoubia after the book-selling activity, which manifested in the area.
Mosque Al Manssour: (1160)
Founded by the Khalif, Abdelmoumen in 1160 (adjacent to the Saadian tombs), the khalif made build an amazing Maqsoura, (Royal Pavilion) inside the Mosque. The architect el-Hadj Yaïche Al-Malaqi shaped a vaulted passage, which joined the Mosque with the khaliff’s palace. The Maqsura was assembled over a moving network, which made it emerge with the entrance of the khalif to the mosque, and vanish with his retreat. In 1574, the mosque was mined by a group of Portuguese captives during a Friday mid-day praying. The mosque was restored in 1582 by the Saâdien Sultan, Ahmed Al-Manssour Eddahbi.
The Bahiya Palace: (1882)
This palace was the official residence of Ba Ahmed Ben
Moussa, Chamberlain of the Alaouite Sultan, Moulay El Hassan Ibn Mohammed, and
Grand Vizier and regent to his son the Sultan, Moulay Abdulaziz Ibn El Hassan.
Offspring of the black Boikhra, Ba Ahmed died in 1900 after a long ailment. In
1894, when, early in his regency, Ba Ahmed moved the Court to Marrakech, so that
the young Sultan, Moulay Abdulaziz might be recognized as the legitimate sultan
by the population of this province. He settled in the southern capital, where he
began immediately to build for himself, at public expense, the gigantic palace,
in the construction of which every skilled craftsman in the city was engaged for
six years. The residence was built by the architect, El-Hadj Mohammed Al-Malki,
and bears the Almowahid name of Kassr Al-Bahja, or the Merriment’s Palace.
The palace’s luxurious apartments, which open to inner courtyards, wear the traces of the Arabo-Moorish art. Plaster sculptured kufiq and cursive epigraphs of Quranic verses stand out in profile along the walls of the palace. The terraced and vaulted cedar wood ceilings of its many rooms are doubled with a finely decoration of a painted tracery which combines a rigid geometric design to a delicate floral motifs.
When Moulay H'fid was invested Sultan in Fes, his ally, the Grand Vizier, Madani Glaoui installed himself at the Bahiya Palace, where, for a few months, he lived in pomp as great as any Sultan had achieved. During the protectorate period, the palace became in 1912 the official residence of the French General Lyautey. In 1953, the French Resident, Granval, installed his Residency in the Bahiya Palace
The Menara: (1180)
The Menara Park measures 1200 meters of length by 800 meters of width. The basin, which was built by Yaâcoub Al-Manssour in 1180, measures 200 meters by 160 meters and 3 meters of depth, and is fed in water by a network of channels. The pavilion at one side of the basin was erected by the Sultan, Ahmed Al-Manssour Eddahbi around 1598. The olive groves were planted in 1752 by the then Alaouite prince, Moulay Mohammed Ben Abdullah, when he was governor of Marrakech.
The Saadian Tombs: (1582-1792)
1579, Ahmed Al Manssour Eddahbi built a Kouba or mausoleum, to house the rests
of his brother the Sultan, Abou Marwan Abdelmalik Al-Moatassim. Thirteen Saadian
monarchs were buried in this Koubba or room. Other mausoleums were built in the
spot to house the tombs of other eminent persons. The tombs were discovered in
1916 by a French pilot who was flying his plane over the city. The Necropolis
was walled in 1677 by the Sultan, Moulay Ismaïl, to protect the tombs, and was
left without access, except through a door inside the adjacent Mosque of Al
The first mausoleum of the four columns house Alaouite tombs, among them that of the Sultan, Moulay el-Yazid Ibn Mohammed Ibn Abdullah, buried in 1792. His tomb lays to the right of the entrance, and is the only wood-hedged tomb.
The Royal Mausoleum, located next, is delicately decorated with a sculptured plaster, which covers the surface of its walls, forming cornices and vaults with regular lines of stylized flowers and geometrical designs. Large friezes run over the polychrome mosaic panels. A beautiful plastered-niche of a pending stalactite form joins ingeniously to the cedar wood copula, covered with a multicolored shift of geometrical lines and floral motives and supported by twelve white Carara marble columns. This relaxing chamber houses the tombs of the Saadian Sultans, Abdelmalik Al Moatassim, Ahmed Ibn Abdullah Ashaïkh Al-Manssour, and his sons Zaïdan, Al-Mâamoun, Abou Fares, and the last Saadian Sultan, Moulay Al-Abbass. Facing this Mausoleum is that of Lalla Messaouda Al-Wazgity, mother of Ahmed Al-Manssour, which was buried there in 1591. This mausoleum withholds the tombs of the Saadian daughters and ladies. The other tombs aligned in the courtyard, are those of the dynasty's loyal army officers and domestics, among them that of Judar, the Spanish reconverted officer, who led the Sudan's expedition and conquered the sources of gold in 1791.
The Mamounia: (1746)
Among the different works executed in Marrakech by the prince, Moulay Mohammed Ben Abdullah, when he was governor of Marrakech, were the restoration of the mausoleums of Sidi Abou El Abbas Sebti and Sidi El Ghzaoui Moul Lakssour. The prince created the gardens and the pavilion of Al Mamounia, which was named in honor of his son the prince Al-Ma'amoun. Its 12 hectares gardens are planted with olive and orange trees, and other variety of exotic plants. Winston Churchill, Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Ronal Reagan, Nelson Mandela and Nancy Clinton are but few of the many famous guests of the today hotel la Mamounia, considered among the most luxurious palaces in the world. The Mamounia was a private residence of Driss Menou, Pasha of Marrakech till 1912, and it was confiscated from him by the French that very year. The residence was transformed into a hotel in 1923.
capital of an old civilization prior to that of Fes, was founded in the rich
valley of Ourika by Massmouda people. Earlier, this region teemed with wild
life, and antelopes, ostriches and other animals used to roam on its steppe.
Rich in vegetation, its soil grew all kind of fruits, which abounded on its
large gardens. The fertility of the land and the abundance of water made the
region grow into a rich farming community. Its population grew rich, trading
their goods with the people of the black kingdoms of Sudan (Ghana), and build up
Legend says that the inhabitants of Aghmat boasted of their wealth by engraving distinctive marks in the doors of their houses to advertise the importance of their fortune. Their caravans transited through Sijilmassa for Ghana with loads of every kind of merchandise, which included weaving, salt, arms, copper and glassware. The merchandise was bartered with the Akan people of Ghana for gold, slaves and spices. Aghmat was ruled by the Emir, Lacqout Leghmari, when it was invested in 1054 by the Almorabid army. Lacqout fled leaving behind his young wife, Zainab Is'haq Ennafzawiya, which became the wife of the Almorabid's Emir, Abou Bakr Ibn Amer, after the death of her husband Lacqout. Aghmat became lieu of exile to the former Emir and poet of Seville, El Qassim Mohammed Al Motamid Ibn Abbad, who was deported from Seville in 1091 by the Almorabid Emir, Youssef Ibn Tachfin. Al Motamid spent the last years of his life in Aghmat, in company of his wife I'timad Arroumaïkiyah, his daughters and his domestic Abdurrahman. One day the fallen monarch noticed a procession going to the mosque of Aghmat to accomplish a rain rogatory prayer, and the old poet in him, still alive, improvised these pathetic verses:
forth they went imploring God for
"My tears," I said, "could serve you for a flood."
"In truth," they cried, "your tears might well contain
Sufficiently; but they are dyed with blood."
Al-Motamid died in 1095 and was buried in Aghmat, where a Mausoleum was built to house his tomb and that of his beloved and devoted wife I'timad.