Ali Ben Youssef Medersa
If you want a little breath taken out of you, don’t pass up the chance to see this extraordinarily well-preserved 16th century Koranic school, North Africa’s largest such institution. The delicate intricacy of the gibs (stucco plasterwork), carved cedar, and zellij ( mosaic) on display in the central courtyard makes the building seem to loom taller than it really does. As many as 900 students from Muslim countries all over the world once studied here, and arranged around the courtyard are their former sleeping quarters_ a network of tiny upper-level rooms that resemble monk’s cells. Sultan Abdullah el Ghalib rebuilt it almost completely, adding the Andalusian details. The large main courtyard, framed by two columned arcades, opens into a prayer hall elaborately decorated with rare palm motifs as well as the more-customary Islamic calligraphy. The medersa also contains a small mosque.
Dar Si Saïd
This 19th-century palace is now a museum with an excellent with an excellent collection of antique Moroccan crafts including pottery from Safi and Tamegroute, jewelry, daggers, kaftans, and leatherwork. The palace’s courtyard is filled with flowers and cypress trees, and furnished with a gazebo and fountain. The most extraordinary salon is upstairs; it’s a somber room decorated with gibs cornices, zellij walls, and an amazing carved-cedar ceiling painted in the zouak style ( bright colors in indicating its 10th-century Cordoban origin. The basin , which is sometimes on loan to other museums, was once given pride of place in the Ali ben Youssef Mosque in the north of the souk. It was brought to Morocco by the Almoravid sultan in spite of its decorative eagles and griffins, which defy the Koran’s prohibition of artistic representations of living things. Guides are available on-site.
Djemâa el fna
The carnivalesque open square right at the center of the medina is Marrakesh’s heartbeat and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This centuries-old square was once a meeting point for regional farmers and tradesmen, storytellers and healers, today it’s surrounded by bazaars, mosques, and terraced cafés with perfect balcony views over the action. Transvestite dancers bat their eyelashes; cobras sway to the tones of snake charmers; henna women make their swirling marks on your hands.