Saadian Tombs - Marrakesh

This is the secluded burial place of a dynasty noted by novelist Edith Wharton for its “barbarous customs but sensuous refinements”. The 66 royal tombs that are housed here date from the late-16th and early-17th centuries, but were unknown to the outside world until the 1920s, when they were revealed by the curiosity of a French official. The complex may be modest in size but it is beautifully decorated in the Alhambran style with plenty of carved cedar, stucco and polychromic tiling. The tombs have three main burial chambers that are ranged around a small garden.

Saadian Dynasty

Setting out from their powerbase in Taroudant, to the south of the Atlas Mountains, the Saadians defeated the ruling Merenids of Fès. Having established their court at Marrakech, they revitalized the city, endowing it with grand monuments. They were in power for less than 120 years.

Prayer Hall

The first chamber, intended as a place of prayer, now contains tombs. Most of them are not from the Saadian era, but date back to the Alouite rulers’ era.

Entranceway

Reached via the narrowest of twisting passageways (above), the tombs remained a closelyguarded secret for centuries. Even today, visiting retains an element of discovery for tourists.

Hall of Twelve Columns

HallThis chamber holds the tombs of the Sultan Ahmed El Mansour, along with his entire family (right). The stele is in finely-worked cedar wood and stuccowork. The graves are beautifully designed and made from the striking Carrara marble that is particular to Italy.

Main Chamber

A grand pavilion at the garden’s centre is the only real bit of architecture in the complex. A tall, greentiled, roofed structure in the Andalusian style, it has three soaring portals with beautiful carved wood and a stucco frieze of eight-pointed stars. Housed within are more mosaic-covered tombs.

The Garden

The serene garden has countless headstones dotted among the bushes and scrubby plants. These mark the tombs of several children, plus guards and servants. The garden is hugely popular with the local community of stray cats.

Kasbah Mosque

Kasbah MosqueePredating the tombs by around 400 years, this mosque was originally built in the year 1190. Since then it has undergone a number of renovations. The cut-brick on green-tile background that decorates the minaret, however, dates back to its original construction.

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