views updated May 18 2018


second largest city in morocco; one of the four imperial cities of precolonial morocco, established about 1060 c. e.

Located in the Hawz, an agricultural plain bounded to the south and east by the High Atlas mountains, and watered by the Tansift river, Marrakech is situated in a natural site of great potential. In opposition to Fez, the Arab capital of Morocco, Marrakech is a Berber metropolis, which drew population from the Berber-speaking groups of the nearby central High Altas mountains. The city was founded by Yusuf ibn Tashfin (10601106), first ruler of the Almoravid dynasty (10551157), under whom Marrakech became the base for the conquest of Morocco, portions of the Maghrib, and Andalusia. Extensive irrigation works were undertaken at this time, but little remains of the architecture of the Almoravid period.

Conquered by the Almohads (11301269) in 1147, Marrakech became the capital of an empire that at its height extended from Tunisia to the Atlantic, and from the Sahara to Andalusia. The Almohads were the effective builders of the city, constructing the Kutubiya mosque, one of the finest examples of Hispano-Moorish architecture, together with the ramparts, a fortress complex, and extensive bazaars and gardens. The celebrated philosopher, doctor, and savant Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroes, 11261198) lived in Marrakech, where he wrote several of his best-known works.

Marrakech went into a prolonged decline during the reign of the Marinids (12441578), whose capital was at Fez. Under the Saʿdians (15101603), who made it their capital in 1554, Marrakech once again became an imperial city. Numerous important palaces were constructed at this time, and the irrigation system of the surrounding Hawz plain was revived. The Alawi dynasty (1603-present) has continued this tradition. The city continued to benefit from its position as a crossroad of trade between the mountains, the pre-Saharan steppe, and the fertile plains of central Morocco. Under Sultan Hassan I and his successors Abd al-Aziz ibn al-Hassan and Abd al-Hafid, Marrakech was drawn increasingly into the world capitalist market. In the period of the Moroccan question (19001912), European business interests in collaboration with local urban notables and Berber lords based in the city began to acquire substantial holdings in the Hawz plain and the surrounding area.

Under the French protectorate (19121956), effective authority was conceded to Madani and Tuhami al-Glawi, who ruled much of southern Morocco as pashas of Marrakech and imperial viceroys. In this period, the city became a major agricultural entrepôt and center of light manufacturing. There was considerable investment in irrigation technologies and agriculture, and the population of the city increased from 70,000 in 1912 to 145,000 in 1921 to 215,000 in 1952.

Since Moroccan independence in 1956, Marrakech has continued to grow. Its population in 1994 was about 673,000 people. It is a center of tourism and an agricultural marketplace for southern Morocco, with a university and important cultural installations.


Julien, Charles-André. History of North Africa: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, translated by John Petrie. New York: Praeger, 1970.

Pascon, Paul. Capitalism and Agriculture in the Haouz of Marrakech, translated by C. Edwin Vaughan and Veronique Ingman. London and New York: KPI, 1986.

edmund burke iii


views updated May 21 2018

Marrakech (Marrakesh) City in w central Morocco, at the nw foot of the Atlas Mountains. Founded in 1062 by the Almoravids, it was Morocco's capital until 1147 and subsequently served as the sultan's residence. Industries: tourism, leather goods. Pop. (1994) 672,506.