Not to be confused with the small fridge found in hotel rooms, a minbar is roughly the Islamic equivalent to a pulpit, the steps an Imam ascends during midday Friday prayers. It follows the form of the stairs used by the Prophet Mohammed to address the faithful in Mecca, and still remains an essential part of mosque architecture today.
The minbar de la Koutoubia is considered a masterpiece of Islamic art. Indeed, it is undoubtedly one of the finest works of art in wood known to mankind. Built in 1139 in Cordoba during the Almoravid dynasty for Ali Ben Youssef mosque the minbar is decorated with over 1000 intricate carvings in the style of 12th century Moorish art including carved floral motifs, Kufic calligraphy and Quranic scripture. In 1147, however, the Almohad Puritans entered Marrakech and ordered the total destruction of the Ben Youssef mosque – the mihrab was, it seemed, not facing Mecca. But the minbar seemed too exquisite to be destroyed and was moved to the Koutoubia Mosque, where it lived for 8 centuries.
Today the minbar de la Koutoubia has been lovingly restored and rests in El Badi Palace, right in the middle of our ‘Woodworking’ Medina walk available on our free Marrakech Riad App. The El Badi Palace has a small, 10 dirham entrance fee and it costs a further 10 dirhams to visit the small museum that houses the minbar de la Koutoubia, a small price to pay to witness such a unique piece of Marrakech history and a fine example of the traditional woodworking technique and design.
Hosted every year in the lavish courtyard of the El Badi Palace in the Marrakech Medina is the ‘National Festival of Popular Art’s’ (Festival National des Arts Populaires) in the centre of Marrakech. Being only a five minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba I went down to the festival last night to discover more.
Before the festival has begun I walk through alcoves of the El Badi Palace with the guardian of Dar Habiba who has agreed to accompany me. A red Moroccan carpet guides our way through the 400 year old building and the festival planners have rigged up projectors so that the walls of the ancient palace are bathed in a golden glow.
As we take our seats I learn that over 300 Berber storytellers, dancers, acrobats and singers from all four corners of Morocco have descended on Marrakech for this five day long spectacle.
As each group takes to the stage the guardian of the Dar Habiba tells me that ‘each troupe tells a different tale’ which range from love and loss to nature and sustenance.
Indeed as Berber musicians from the Dadès valley fill the spotlight I learn that their song is about a husband and wife who are both beekeepers. As the song evolves into dance and grows in intensity I discover that the meaning behind the act is to convey the importance of unity within nature. Both man and wife rely on the bees, who in turn rely on the flowers and thus the cycle of nature continues.
Part of what makes National Festival of Popular Art’s such a special experience is that it is difficult even for the Marrakshi locals to understand the true meaning behind the acts. As
21 different dialects of the Berber tongue fill the air, much of the nights proceedings are shrouded in mystery.
For only 100 Dirhams ( 7.70£) this is a once in a lifetime performance that you simply cannot afford to miss during your stay in Marrakech. In only a few hours I was left speechless by a performance that was fully charged with the essence of Morocco and as the festival is nearing it’s 50th year Anniversary there is no question as to whether I will be coming back for it!
A beautiful palace situated in the south of Marrakech’s historic medina, originally built between 1553-1578 by the Sadiaan king Ahmad al-Mansur to host guests and to act as a residence for him and his family as Marrakech was at the time the capital of Morocco the palace was extensively used. Today however the palace is a historical and cultural sight as opposed to a functioning royal palace with that function ending in the late 17th century when parts of the palace were pulled down so they could be used in the construction of a new palace for the sultan Ismail Ibn Sharif, who decided in order to overshadow the rulers who had come before him it was necessary to dismantle some of their palaces in order to make his all the more impressive. This means that today the palace is essentially a set of ruins, however to describe it merely as such is to insult the majesty of the site that greets one’s eyes upon entering into the complex, the majestic architecture may indeed not be what it once was, but that does not mean it is not still something to behold.
The interior of the Palace is huge with the ground split into four quadrants all containing olive trees around which one can walk. This gives the area a very organic feel and adds a nice splash of colour to the pink and sandy walls, this in contrast to the two large pools which go down the centre of the square give the palace a majestic look and one can certainly put their mind back to the times of the sultans as they walk along the pathways that cross the area of the former palace.
Entrance to the palace is a very reasonable 10 Dirhams meaning that one can take in the cultural and historic sights of this amazing place for less than a pound.
open daily from 9h to 16h 45 / except during Ramadan