In the second part of this blog about the Garden City of Marrakech we now turn our attention to some of the many beautiful palace gardens of the city which are open to the public when visiting the palace buildings. Then we head out of the city to gardens located beyond the old city walls. It’s lovely to visit these gardens - such a difference to the arid nature of the desert and Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp!
Bahia Palace (meaning ‘the beautiful/brilliant’) is a nineteenth century palace which showcases some of the finest craftwork in Marrakech. It is adorned with hand painted cedarwood ceilings, marble pillars, zeilij tilework and moucharabieh window screens, to name just some of the features you can admire here. Only part of this vast palace is open to the public as some areas are used to host royal guests but there is plenty to see nonetheless. As is common with Moroccan palaces, the buildings are located around courtyards. The three courtyard gardens of the Bahia Palace are particularly verdant boasting huge date palms, ancient olive trees and fruit trees alongside traditional ornamental fountains. A wonderful oasis to explore particularly when the weather is hot and the shade of the trees is just so cool and refreshing.
Nearby lies El Badi Palace, formerly the most magnificent palace in the city (indeed its name roughly translates to ‘the incomparable’) which now sadly lies in ruins. In its heyday it boasted more than 360 rooms, having taken more than 25 years to build using only the finest materials. Now all that remains are its four sunken orange orchards and an empty central pool around which lie its ruins. However, this palace is still worth a visit to imagine how it might have appeared before its destruction and to soak up the ancient atmosphere of the gardens as you stroll through. Great photographic opportunities abound too – not only of the gardens and ruins but also of the large number of storks that have now built their nests in the once grand turrets that surround the gardens. You can get a closer look at them by climbing up onto the ramparts from which there is also a lovely view of the city and the Atlas Mountains. In June/July each year the gardens play host to the National Festival of Popular Arts when the grounds are brought alive once more with singers, musicians and acrobats as a reminder of Morocco’s rich oral heritage – and the pool is filled with water in celebration of life.
El Badi Palace
Maybe the most important gardens in Marrakech, although not gardens as we would know them, are the 850 year old Agdal Gardens, spreading over 400 hectares. They comprise essentially a huge ancient water basin filled by the use of a clever irrigation system diverting water from the Atlas Mountains, a real feat of engineering. This water serves to feed the row upon row of ancient olive trees that form a large plantation surrounding the basin. Pomegranate, fig, lemon and orange trees are also to be found here. Huge carp now inhabit the basin. In 1985 these gardens were named by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. On a clear winter’s day, the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains can be seen from the gardens.
Agdal Gardens © medomed.org
Captured on many postcards are arguably the most famous gardens in Marrakech – the Menara Gardens, established in the 12th century. Built on a smaller scale than the Agdal, these also comprise a large water basin containing fish, with accompanying olive groves surrounding it. Again, a sophisticated network of underground water channels provide the water for the basin which in turn feeds the trees. Many visitors like to stroll around the water basin, picnic in the shade of the olive trees and take the classic shot of the pavilion with the beautiful High Atlas Mountains beyond.
And now for something totally different. About 30 kms from Marrakech lie the Nectarome Gardens, the first specifically organic gardens to be created in Morocco. Open since 1998, visitors to these gardens can enjoy learning about the fifty or so aromatic, medicinal and ornamental plants that are cultivated here - their history, properties, how they are used and how to identify them. The owners are specialists in this field. There are options to take a guided tour, to wander by yourself, to take part in a range of workshops or you can even sample a footbath. On site there is a Nectarome shop which sells beauty products as well as oils used in cooking made from the plants and herbs in the gardens. A pleasant way to spend an afternoon and to come away feeling you have learnt something new.
Nectarome Gardens © Nectarome
Using the free shuttle bus from Marrakech medina, other gardens well-worth visiting are the Anima Gardens. Designed and opened in recent years by the renowned Austrian multimedia artist, André Heller, these botanical gardens lie 27kms from Marrakech in the beautiful Ourika Valley. Quirky, imaginative, creative, these gardens are full of new revelations of colourful artwork as you follow the footpaths guiding you through them. Sculptures mingle with cacti, carvings of characterful faces emerge from trees, mirrors appear where least expected – a feast for the senses. With a small café and rotating artistic exhibitions, this is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. And did I mention that this garden is located near the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains? On a clear day, the garden’s backdrop is stunning. Suffice to say, don’t forget your camera.
Anima Gardens © KD
The gardens I’ve described in these two blogs are by no means the only gardens in Marrakech – just ones that are particularly striking for the visitor to the city. In addition to these, one can also visit the well-manicured Parc el Harti in Gueliz with its beautiful cactus garden, the amazing vast palm groves on the outskirts of the city, and of course not forgetting the numerous riads which often have their own private lush courtyards. Several hotels also offer their own gardens as places of tranquillity and refreshment. The renowned La Mamounia, for example, boasts an 8 hectare garden with rose bushes, ancient olives, fruit trees and its own vegetable garden. Although prices are a little steep, if you buy an ice cream or a drink here, you can enjoy the gardens at your leisure.