Have you ever spent a disproportionate amount of time waiting in line to see a place vs actually seeing the place? It seems that it can happen fairly regularly when travelling, especially to more popular spots. An obvious example is the Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre. You’ve likely had to steadily push your way through a crowd to see it up close and once there, you likely only saw it for a few seconds before someone else pushed in front of you! In Marrakesh, visiting the Saadian Tombs was more orderly than the Mona Lisa scrum as there was a line. But I did have to wait an hour to see the pièce de resistance and I only got to see it for about two minutes! I bet your question now, is, was it worth the wait? Read on to find out!
Saadian Tombs: A History
The Saadian Tombs were originally built in the 14th-century. They were expanded and embellished in the mid-1500s by Ahmad al-Mansur, a Sultan from the Saadian dynasty. He died in 1603 and was buried here as per his wishes. However, several decades later, a new dynasty came into power. One of the sultans, Moulay Ismail, apparently destroyed or looted anything from the Saadian dynasty; however, he left the tombs alone. Superstition, maybe? But he still walled up the tombs to hide them from view. As the years and decades rolled on, people eventually forgot these tombs existed. They weren’t rediscovered until 1917, thanks to French aerial photography. The tombs were renovated and have been open to the public ever since.
Saadian Tombs: A Visit
If you don’t know where to look, you may never find the tombs amongst the crowds and side streets. There is only one entrance, located at the end of a small passageway next to the 10th-century Kasbah Mosque. As I approached the quasi-hidden corridor, I sped walked to beat a little group to the ticket booth. As a clutched my ticket and congratulated myself on learning to navigate the crowds in this heavily visited city, I entered the site’s main courtyard. My eyes popped open, wide. There was an incredibly long line of humanity snaking through the place!
As the line inched forward, it gave me an opportunity to admire the surrounding gardens that included both flowers and graves. Apparently, the garden plots would have been for chancellors and their wives as well as favoured Jewish advisors. The main chambers were reserved for the Sultan himself, his family, and his parents.
Eventually, I made it to the entrance of the main chamber. Unfortunately, one cannot go inside. You can only admire the enclosed room from a doorway wide enough for two people at a time. It was hard to take in the incredible room from this narrow spot and I felt the long line pressing on me to hurry up and move. But I did manage to admire it for a couple minutes. Sultan al-Mansour went all out when he created the Saadian Tombs we know today: imported Italian Carrara marble, carved walls and ceilings gilded with pure gold, tall columns, and colourful tiles inlaid in geometric patterns. While stunning, I thought the room was a classic case of someone who had too much money and not enough charitable sense.
Saadian Tombs: A Final Verdict
If you enjoy architecture, history, and/or art, then the Saadian Tombs are worth a visit. Just try to go early in the day to minimize your wait. If you’re in a rush or architecture is not your thing, then I say don’t bother.
Saadian Tombs: Practical Information
Location: Near the Kasbah Mosque on Rue de la Kasbah
Price: At the time of writing, tickets cost 70dh.
What to bring: Pack according to the weather (hat for sun, umbrella for rain) as this is an outdoor site, your camera, and your patience.
Other: I didn’t see any signs describing what you’re looking at. I suggest reading up about it before going. Or read about it while you’re in the long line!