Monday, January 2, 2012

Royal ruins. El Badi Palace.

Today was our last day in Marrakesh and I intended to make the most of it. I had yet to see the main heritage sites so I told Soon that come hell or high water, I would see them today! Turned out that Aaron and Mildred wanted to go their own way so it was Soon and I going out to check the sites on our own.













We skipped out on breakfast at the hotel and for the last time, made our way through the souks to Djemma el Fna.





 "Brekkie in the square"All around the square are restaurants and they pretty much all serve the same menu. We just picked one at random and sat down.   We ordered our breakfast which was coffee and an omelette.  After two weeks of eating the typical Moroccan breakfast, it was nice to just have something simple and light.


The square was just coming to life and we had a front row view.  Vendors were coming to get set up.  Then, there was this guy who wheeled his cart to a spot just a few feet in front of us.  In my entire time in Morocco, I had never seen such a disinterested vendor.   He never even attempted to approach us or even to make eye contact.  At the rate he was going, he was going to be going home without a sale under his belt.

Tourists were coming and going as well.   We saw one poor couple who were definitely new to town.  Their body language told us they were struggling with the map and the lack of street signs just as we had when we first arrived into town.

As we ate breakfast, we laid out our plan for the day.  First destination would be the El Badi Palace.  Looking on the map, El Badi was located just stone's throw from Bab Agnaou so it shouldn't be hard to find....of course, I said that like I knew where I was going :-)

We paid our bill and headed off, down the same street where our sugar cane juice vendor was located.  As we passed the place, I checked to see if anyone was juicing cane but the machine was not even on :-(

 "El Badi "We made our way towards Bab Agnaou and thanks to the help of some kind locals, we eventually found the entrance to El Badi, located at the end of a narrow alleyway.  Of course, there was not a single sign around that would have pointed us to this location.
The entry ticket was 10 dirhams so I plopped down the money for two tickets.

We entered the site and were greeted by a view of the ruins of this former Saadian palace that was commissioned by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur in 1578.






No, not this view.













 THIS view!









The design of the palace was influenced by the Alhambra in Granada and it is thought that the original building consisted of 360 rooms, a courtyard, a pool and a small, underground, tunnel-like jail with about four cells where the king kept his prisoners. The palace, which took approximately 25 years to construct, was torn apart in the 17th century by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismail, who used the material obtained from El Badi Palace to decorate his own palace in Meknes.







 "View from above "As we started to walk around the palace grounds, we noticed a set of steps.  I decided to head on up; Soon was right behind me.  At the top, there was a terrace from which we could get a better view of the palace grounds.
It was obvious that work was being done on the rooftop terrace though I wasn't sure if the columns were newly added or if they were truly trying to recreate the look and feel of the original palace.  Whichever was the case, they somehow looked a bit out of place.

At the edge of the terrace, we could get a layout of the palace grounds.  It was a beautiful view.  In the foreground, were the sunken garden beds that had been planted with orange trees. 






We could see that the pool that ran through the middle of the grounds.  The green color of the water was because of algae.  Beyond the walls of the palace lay the medina and in the very, very far distance were the snow capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains.






The minaret of Koutoubia stood over the buildings of the medina.













Nowadays, the Palace is surrounded on all sides by the buildings of the medina.  The satellite dishes atop the roofs were a reminder that we were in modern city.  In Marrakesh though, the dishes have to fight for roof top space with the storks :-)










All around the palace grounds, construction work was going on.







 "Back on ground level "we started to walk around the pond.  There was a lone duck swimming in the pond.  What a lucky duck.....the whole pond to himself.


Of to one corner there was an arched entrance.  Standing under the arch was another worker.  Sign that something is going so we headed in that direction.  On the other side of the arch were stones scattered about and gardens in shambles.  According to the map of the grounds, this area was once the Summer Residence.


Looking at all the rubble, it was impossible to imagine what the original residence looked like.  There was no layout diagram to help us out either.

In one section of the area, a man was paving over a new set of concrete steps.   Soon took one look and commented that although it was probably a good idea, from both safety and *attract the tourists* perspectives, to not leave the ruins as they were, it was a shame to essentially erase all the original stones by rebuilding.  Maybe some sort of a 3-D artist rendering of what the original might have looked like would be good enough; leave the stones as is.


Back to the main grounds, we continued our walk around the main pond.  Across from the entrance to the site was the Khaysuran Pavilion which I believe houses some artifacts from the site but on the day we were there, it was closed.

From the Pavilion, we could look back at the entrance.   From one end to the other, El Badi is not a big palace; it actually feels like a place you could see a royal family living in.  I wonder where the harem is?


All in all, the ruins at El Badi are not all that spectacular BUT somehow, when you see the ruins against the backdrop of a crystal clear, brilliant blue sky with dots of green (aka orange trees) in the foreground, it just makes for a beautiful set of views.  Even the scummy green pond added to the beauty of the place.  I know that sounds weird but it does.  The fact that aside from Soon and I and maybe one or two other tourists, the place was empty and we could enjoy it all to ourselves also made the visit a very enjoyable one.

But, no time to dwell on El Badi.  Time to move on to the next historic landmark - El Bahia Palace.