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.
59B: "Rhna dial Imi n'Tanout" (Music of the Souassa)
18 December 1959; Video 2020
Performers: Rais el Hussein and His Ensemble
Recorded by Paul Bowles
At Marrakech, Morocco
December 18, 1959
"The members of this ensemble are from different parts of the Souss; they met one another and formed the group in Marrakech, where they are a daily feature of the Djemaa el Fna. Of the numbers they recorded for me, only one has a title (a generic one): the Aoulouz from Taroudant on 59A; the others bear merely the names of the towns of their origin. The words are in Tachelhit, the Berber dialect of the South of Morocco, and the music is Berber music, but one whose scalar material at some point in the past has been altered, as it has in the greater part of the music of southern Morocco,) to bring it nearer to the music of the large West African element in the population of that part of the country, rather than (as in the case of the music of the Djebala) being modified to suit the exigencies of the Arab conquerors of the north. The best example of this music seems to me to be number 1 on this tape. The recordings were made in the patio of the Maison d'Amerique, the local USIS headquarters. There was a good deal of reverberation, and on the headphones I found the general sonority poor. The harshness of the rebab and the shrillness of the naqous are always hard to record. The first three of the five recorded pieces were done with the microphone at a distance of six feet or so from the principal performer; the fourth piece with the microphone pulled back another ten feet. The last piece, on reel 60A, I recorded from inside a room giving onto the patio. Unfortunately, these changes did not produce the results I had expected; that is to say, they did on the headphones, but not on the playback. When I listened afterwards, I found that the same rule still held: on the headphones the last two sounded better, while on the loudspeaker, the first three were preferable."
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.