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  2. Morocco
  3. Marrakesh
  4. Saadian Tombs

Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh

Exterior corner with decorated roofline at the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo © David Joyal. View all images in our Saadian Tombs Photo Gallery.
Photo © David Joyal.
Carved doorway in the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Colorful Islamic geometric designs on a wall in the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh. Late 16th century.
Interior room in the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Small door and column with carved capital at the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Colorful tiles, carved decoration and tombs in the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo © David Joyal.
Roses and finely decorated tombstones in the courtyard of the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Tiled floor with tombs in the Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Merchants outside the Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh were sealed up for centuries until their rediscovery in 1917. Occupying a quiet enclosure at the kasbah, the tombs are magnificently decorated with colorful tiles, Arabic script and elaborate carvings.

History

This site may have been a burial ground before the Saadian period, but the earliest known burial dates from 1557 and all the main buildings were constructed under Sultan Ahmed el Mansour (1578-1603). The site is contemporary with the Ben Youssef Medersa and the similarities between the two are evident.

When Moulay Ismail (1672-1727) took over in Marrakesh, he systematically destroyed the adjacent Badi Palace but superstition probably kept him from destroying the burial ground. Instead, he sealed up all the entrances to the Saadian Tombs except for an obscure one from the Kasbah Mosque.

Nevertheless, a few prominent citizens were buried here after it was sealed up: the last was the "mad sultan" Moulay Yazid in 1792, who ruled for 22 violent months. Immediately following his brutal suppression of a rebellion based in Marrakesh, he was shot in the head during a counterattack.

The Saadian Tombs lay hidden and mostly forgotten until 1917, when they were discovered during a French aerial survey and a passageway was built from the side of the Kasbah Mosque. The tombs' long neglect has ensured their preservation and they have since been fully restored to their original glory.

What to See

The enclosure consists of two main mausoleums, with 66 tombs laid out within them and over 100 more outside in the gardens. The first mausoleum, seen on the left as you enter, is the finest of the two. Built to house Mansour's tomb and completed during his lifetime, its vaulted roof, fine carvings and stunning zellij tiles recall the Alhambra in Granada (built 200 years earlier).

The first hall is an oratory and probably not originally intended for burial, but nevertheless contains the thin marble stones of several Saadian princes. Here also is the tomb of the mad Moulay Yazid, which ironically conflicts with the black-and-white script in the hall that reads, "And the works of peace they have accomplished will make them enter the holy gardens."

In the back of the mausoleum is a very fine mihrab, supported by a delicate group of columns. El Mansour's tomb is in the domed central chamber, flanked by the tombs of his sons and successors.

The second mausoleum is older but less impressive. It was built by Ahmed el Mansour in place of an existing pavilion over the tombs of his mother and of the founder of the Saadian dynasty, Mohammed ech Sheikh. The former is below the dome in the outer chamber; most of the latter is buried in the inner chamber (he was murdered in the Atlas mountains by Turkish mercenaries and his head was put on public display in Istanbul).

Scattered around the gardens are the tombs of over 100 more Saadian princes and members of the royal household, including a few Jewish graves. The gravestones are covered in brilliantly colored tiles and most have inscriptions with epitaphs and quotes from the Qur'an. Most simply read:

Carved on the walls is the following poem:

Getting There

From the Djemaa el Fna, follow Rue Bab Agnaou south outside the ramparts. At the end is a small square flanked by two gates; through the gate on the left (Bab Agnaou, from Almohad times) is the kasbah mosque. The narrow passageway to the Saadian tombs is well-signposted at the right-hand corner of the mosque.

Tip: The Saadian Tombs are a popular sight; be ready for a line.


Quick Facts on the Saadian Tombs

Site Information
Names:Saadian Tombs; Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh
City:Marrakesh
Country:Morocco
Categories:Cemeteries; Mausoleums
Faiths:Islam
Styles:Saadian
Dates:In use 1557-1792
Status:museum
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Marrakesh, Morocco
Coordinates:31.617300° N, 7.988702° W  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of the Saadian Tombs

Below is a location map and aerial view of the Saadian Tombs. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Personal visit (April 9, 2007).
  2. The Rough Guide to Morocco, 7th ed. (October 2004).

More Information

Article Info

Title:Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:08/18/2009
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/morocco/marrakesh-saadian-tombs
Link code:<a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/morocco/marrakesh-saadian-tombs">Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh</a>