Certainly there are plenty more than just two sets of tombs in Marrakesh but there are two relatively famous interment sites that are absolutely worth a visit. And the experiences at the two could not be more different.
The Saadian Tombs, dating back over 400 years, are incredibly ornate and well preserved. It houses the graves of about 60 members of the royalty from that era. The story of the Tombs’ “discovery” mostly goes that an intrepid Frenchman eventually wandered far enough back into various dark alleys and past folks trying to keep him out until he found the beautiful site in 1917. The caretakers asked his assistance in helping to protect the secret and preserve the site. Today it is perhaps the most visited attraction in Marrakesh. At least each of the visitors pays a few dirhams to get in, helping to keep the site in decent repair.
The site is quite beautiful. The mosaic work on the walls is impressive but even more stunning is the intricate detail with which the cedar and stucco moldings are carved. It is a bit hard to get a sense of scale from the photos but the pieces are rather huge and the level of detail is quite minute.
The site is not particularly large but it gets crowded, so much so that there are lines to get to the doorways of some rooms from time to time. Fortunately the lines moved quickly.
Just a bit across town, in the Mellah district, is the old Jewish Cemetery. Contrary to the huge crowds at the Saadian Tombs, the Jewish Cemetery was nearly empty. For most of the time we were on the premises we appeared to be the only people there. No admission is charged and access is gained through a relatively poorly marked gate that hangs slightly ajar off a side road. If you didn’t know it was there (and none of the kids on the corner chased after you reminding you where to find it) then you could easily miss it.
Most of the monuments are unlabeled. There are mounds built up above ground to mark the tombs but many appear to have been never labeled or the writing is wearing away. Similar to the Saadian Tombs there are a few “special” grave sites marked in the space, mostly those of prominent members of the Jewish community. They are quite ornate in their own right, similar to the mausoleum across town. Even the simplest of the graves held a certain amount of beauty, however.
The Jewish Cemetery had the benefit of being mostly overlooked by visitors in town, giving it the quiet, respected feel that memorial sites should have. Similar to our visit to the Taj Mahal, where it was quite nice and serene for the first 45 minutes or so until folks started to show up en masse, the calm that overtook the space was incredible. As the crowds build a bit of that is lost, unfortunately. It doesn’t make the busier sites any less beautiful from an architectural perspective, but it does diminish the overall experience a bit.
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