Built in the 19th Century, the Bahia Palace in Marrakech is a masterpiece of Moroccan architecture. Bahia means “brilliance,” and reflects the intent of the builder to construct the greatest palace of its time.
I visited the Bahia Palace as part of a trip arranged by the Moroccan National Tourist Office. If you take a golf vacation to Morocco, be sure to take the time to visit the cultural sites. As good as the golf was, I wish that I had more time to spend exploring the history and culture.
The Bahia Palace is a sprawling compound of 160 rooms surrounding a series of gardens and courtyards. In all, the complex covers some 20 acres. The interior is labyrinthine, and I quickly lost my bearings. Were it not for our guide, Latif, I would been lost in the Bahia Palace for days.
In the palace, the tour passed from hallways through rooms, across gardens, back through rooms, down hallways, followed by rooms, gardens and courtyards, more rooms and hallways. The rambling design of the palace may be due to the fact that it was build in several stages, first by Si Moussa and then his son, Bou Ahmed. Moussa was a former slave who had risen to the post of Grand Vizier under the Sultan of Morocco. Ahmed not only served as Grand Vizier, but as regent for the the teenage Sultan he served.
Our guide said that while some parts of the palace served as living quarters, particularly for the Grand Vizier’s concubines. I can see how the inner courtyards and gardens would have kept them safe from prying eyes, while still allowing the enjoyment of the outdoors. Other parts of the Bahia Palace served official functions. One courtyard-garden had three large sitting alcoves off to one side. One was decorated in Islamic motifs; a second had Stars of David, the third was designated for Christians. These apparently were areas for supplicants to wait before meeting with the Grand Vizier.
The detailing in the Bahia Palace was amazing. During the construction, craftsmen were imported from across Morocco to create the beautiful tiled floors, cedar carved ceilings, zellij tilework, water features, and gleaming marble floors.
According to the guide, the Bahia Palace and adjacent garden grounds has been used for scenes in many movies, including the Jewel of the Nile, The Man Who Would Be King, Brideshead Revisited and Alexander.
More photos of the Bahia Palace follow.