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Marrakech is situated at the foot of the High Atlas, the highest mountainous barrier in North Africa. The desert borders it to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Stretching over 700 km, the High Atlas chain features a series of peaks of which a dozen attain 4,000 metres. Snow can be found on hilltops all year long at altitudes as low as 600 metres above sea level.

To the south arise the stretches of steppes terrain that forewarn of the burning winds and the rigor of the Sahara. Beyond the 130,000 hectares of greenery and the 180,000 palm trees of its Palmeraie. Marrakech is an oasis of great and rich plant variety. Throughout the seasons, orange, fig, pomegranate and olive trees spew out their fragrances and display their marvelous colors and luscious fruits. The precious gardens of the city conceal numerous native plants or other species that have been imported in the course of the centuries: Giant bamboos, yuccas, papyrus, palm trees, banana trees, cypress, philodendrons, rosebushes, bougainvilleas, pines and various kinds of cactus plants. To this date, Marrakech is seen as a gateway from the West into the East, only 2–3 hours from mainland Europe.

Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna.2 The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers and musicians. By night food stalls open in the square turning it into a huge busy open-air restaurant.

Prior to the advent of the Almoravids in the 11th century, the area was ruled from the city of Aghmat. Not long after conquering Aghmat, the Almoravid leader, Abu Bakr ibn Umar decided Aghmat was overcrowded and unsuitable as base for his court. He decided to set up his court in the plains near the Tensift River. He chose the site of Marrakech,because it was in neutral territory between two tribes who were vying for the honor of hosting the new capital.3 There is a dispute about the actual foundation date, Ibn Abi Zar and Ibn Khaldun give it as 1061/62 while Ibn Idhari wrote that the work started in 1070. The probable reconciliation is that Marrakesh started off as an encampment c.1062, with Abu Bakr and the Almoravid chieftans, almost all from desert-dwelling Sanhaja tribes, pitching their tents on the plains of the Tensift, as they were used to back in the Sahara desert, and that it remained a desert-style encampment until the first stone building, the Qasr al-Hajar, began to be erected in May, 1070.4 Abu Bakr was recalled to the Sahara to put down a rebellion in January, 1071, and the city was completed by his deputy and eventual successor Yusuf ibn Tashfin.5 The layout of the buildings was still along the lines of the encampment, with the result that early Marrakesh was an unusual-looking city, a Medieval urban center evocative of desert life, with planted palm trees and an oasis-like feel.

The city experienced its greatest period under the leadership of Yaqub al-Mansur, the third Almohad sultan. A number of poets and scholars entered the city during his reign and he began the construction of the Koutoubia Mosque and a new kasbah.[citation needed]

Prior to the reign of Moulay Ismail, Marrakech was the capital of Morocco. After his reign, his grandson moved the capital back to Marrakech from Meknès.

Notable residents

Historical Residents

  • Yusuf ibn Tashfin, prominent Almoravid King and founder of the city.
  • Averroes, 12th-century Muslim philosopher
  • Abd al-Mu’min, first Almohad caliph.
  • Qadi Ayyad, 12th-century Moroccan Maliki scholar.
  • Ibn al-Banna’ al-Marrakushi, 13th-century Moroccan mathematician and astronomer
  • Ibn Idhari, 13th-century Moroccan historian
  • Abdelwahid al-Marrakushi, 13th-century Moroccan historian

Current Residents

  • Mohammed ash-Sheikh, First Saadi Sultan of Morocco, relatively recently deceased.
  • Abdallah al-Ghalib, current Sultan of Morocco, brother of Ahmad al-Mansur.
  • Ahmad al-Mansur, prominent Saadi prince, son of Mohammed ash-Sheikh, brother of Abdallah al-Ghalib, in exile in Ottoman Empire.
  • Abd al-Malik, other exiled brother of Abdallah al-Ghalib, also hiding with Ottoman Empire.
  • Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, 16th-century Moroccan diplomat and ambassador to Elizabeth I of England, possible inspiration for Shakespeare’s Othello character.
  • Ahmad ibn Qasim Al-Hajarī, prominent 16th-century Morisco who escaped the Spanish Inquisition and works as an ambassador for Morocco.

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