Located on a fertile plain, Marrakesh is one of Morocco's four imperial cities. Founded in eleventh-century as the African capital of Almoravid dynasty; it was conquered by the Almohads in 1147, and then to Marinids, only to be taken by the French in 1912.
Marrakesh was founded in 1062 by Yusif Ben Tashfin, the first ruler of the Almoravid dynasty. His son, Ali, built the Ben Yussef Mosque and the city wall. The Almohads (1146-1268) made Marrakesh the capital of their empire and it was during this period that the Koutoubia was built.
The Marinids (1268-1520) neglected Marrakesh but they were succeeded by the Saadians (1520-1668) who endowed the city with the Badi' palace, the Ben-Yussef madrasa and the Saadian mausoleum.
From 1668 onwards, the Alawites, who resided in Marrakesh only occasionally, erected numerous buildings such as the palace of Bahia and Dar Si Saod at the end of the nineteenth-century. Later, the modern town was to develop three kilometres from the Medina, with its wide avenues bordered with palm-trees, orange-trees and jacarandas.
When first created in the 11th century, Marrakesh was a link on the caravan route that joins the south and the north of Morocco by way of the valleys up the Upper Atlas. Routes from the Tafilelt region and the Draa valley also converged on Marrakesh. Later, as the capital of the Almoravid and subsequently the Almohad empires (eleventh and thirteenth centuries), it became the seat of the unique authority ruling the entire Muslim West, including Andalusia.
At that time, Marrakesh was a large metropolis, housing probably up to 100,000 inhabitants.
Between the thirteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Marrakesh experienced a period of decline due to the displacement further east (in Algeria, Tunisia and particularly Egypt) of roads used to transport African gold, and the relocation of Morocco's capital to Fez. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, under the Saadians, Marrakesh was revived and flourished thanks to the gold trade, and the conquest of Tombouctou by the Saadians.
Performers: Maalem Taieb ben Mbarek and Ensemble
Recorded by Paul Bowles
At Marrakech, Morocco
October 28, 1959
In this piece the Maalem abandoned his kamenja and went back to his exhortatory singing and hand-clapping. The mqahs player, who had been clapping his hands instead of playing his shears, returned also to his original occupation. The Moroccans are very fond of befuddlement music. They will sometimes describe it as "music that makes you play games inside your head." A glass of hot mint tea and a few pipes of kif along with this music ( the kif facilitates concentration on the music's patterns) can provide complete pleasure for the space of an hour or so for a Marrakchi. This is an example, (a bit happier than the reverse example of Khenifra, where country music is being changed to fit the exegencies of the city) of a city adopting the music of the rustics of the surrounding region in order to attract them there. The Djemaa el Fna is frequented as much by peasants as by the urban Marrakech population, and Haouziya music, on the other hand, is as much appreciated by the city-dwellers as it is by the country-people from whom it came. When I moved the group out into the patio at the beginning of this piece several of them asked me if I would like them to play the music of the women. I said I would. The style of the piece is in imitation of the sound made by a group of women of Marrakech singing the same kind of music. The point of the parody, however, does not lie in ridicule, but in the desire to prove that they can do it better than the women. ( The Maalem retains his own star personality by urging them on in his natural voice. ) After the performance one of the musicians asked me: "Were we good women?" In the past there were many more of this kind of performer in the Djemaa el Fna than there are today. The misshapen and incomplete have largely disappeared from the square, and the beggars are fewer. Occasionally one finds a man such as the one playing the aouada here, who does not actually beg with his voice, but pronounces the words of the formula, as it were, on his instrument. In this way he is able to think of himself as a musician rather than as a beggar, although no one ever stops to listen to his repetitive little plaint. He had only one arm; the other had been removed at the shoulder.
The Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection (AFC 1960/001), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Courtesy of the Paul Bowles Estate and Irene Hermann / Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies.