Marrakech History Facts and Timeline

(Marrakech, Morocco)

As one of Morocco's imperial cities, Marrakech has a history that ranks amongst the North African nation's most fascinating. Morocco's third-biggest city also boasts the country's largest souk, or traditional outdoor marketplace.

Bustling Djemaa el Fna square is always filled with street performers during the day, as well as stalls selling tasty street food at night. Marrakech is also surrounded by breathtaking scenery, including the Atlantic Ocean coastline to its west, the Sahara Desert to its south, and the High Atlas mountain chain as its backdrop.

Berbers and Romans

Not far from the modern-day city lie dozens of Berber villages. These have changed very little during the history of Marrakech and are known to date all the way back to the ancient Roman era.

The Berbers lived in the area literally thousands of years before present-day Morocco became the Roman Empire's south-western-most territory. After the Roman Empire declined, the small village that would eventually become Marrakech converted to Islam and its people fought against the Spanish to defend their religion.

The Almoravides and Almohades

Many of the city's beautiful tiles and architectural structures date from the city's Almoravides era. The next group to rule present-day Marrakech, the Almohades, constructed the city's beautiful Koutoubia Mosque, whose twin was built in Seville, Spain. During the 7th and 8th centuries, this region was home to one of the world's most advanced and sophisticated societies.

The Founding of the City

In the year of 1062, a sultan named Youssef ben Tachfine officially founded Marrakech as an imperial city, complete with encircling defensive walls. These pinkish red coloured walls, with their nine majestic gateways and roughly 200 individual towers, still surround the city nearly a millennium later, extending for some 20 km / 12 miles. At its peak, Marrakech eventually became capital of an empire which extended as far south as Senegal, and as far east as Algiers.

Saadiens and Alouites

The Arab chapter in the history of Marrakech began in the middle of the 16th century, when the wealthy Saadiens governed the city and unified Morocco during their reign, which lasted between 1554 and 1603. Many Saadiens are buried here within a stunning mausoleum, with intricate Islamic art markings and spectacular cedar ceilings in Marrakech's Kasbah. Morocco's current ruling family, the Alaouites, first assumed their position of power in 1659.

French Colonisation

After Morocco became an official French protectorate under the 1912 Treaty of Fez, growing numbers of European-style hotels popped up throughout Marrakech, the most famous of which is the imposing Hotel Mamounia. The city's banking and transportation systems also enjoyed attention under French rule, being greatly modernised and streamlined. Ben Brahim was Marrakech's official poet during the early 20th century and many local residents can still recite a number of his most memorable poems.

Modern Attractions in the City

The city's modern Guéliz district, now filled with numerous stores and restaurant chains, came into being shortly before Morocco became fully independent from France in 1956.

Most of the history of Marrakech still lies within the unique shops and narrow passageways of the city's ancient Medina Quarter, home to the enormous souk and one of Africa's busiest public squares.