Last Updated: 2020-09-28
To the southwest of Marrakech are the inspiring Menara Gardens. They are shrouded in a halo of legend with the imposing Atlas Mountains as a backdrop.
The gardens are a symbol of this emblematic city and a walk through the gardens is a comforting experience and a necessary refreshing counterpoint to the hustle and bustle of the medina.
This space was built by Abd al-Mumin, the Almohad caliph, at the beginning of the 12th century. It was designed as a facility to be used by the city and consisted of a large orchard divided into a grid of plots and a huge reservoir to store water.
In the 16th century, the sultan used it as a vacation residence. This is when the pavilion was built, and the gardens took on a more recreational dimension.
An Ingenious Irrigation System
The two most remarkable elements of this vast space are a large pond of slightly salty water and a beautiful olive grove, which is currently the oldest and most important in the city both for its size and for having forty varieties of olive trees. What is surprising is that the olive grove and the lush crops that accompany it, get their water from the melt-off from the Atlas Mountains, whose snow-capped peaks adorn the landscape. This means that the water travels a distance of about 30 kilometers (20 miles) through a channel system to arrive at the gardens.
This ancestral system, devised more than 2,500 years ago (although the section at the gardens only dates back about nine centuries) is called khettaras. This system aims to provide water resources to areas in need. It is a simple but no less effective system: an underground channel with a slight slope, enough for gravity to transport water over long distances.
A more visual, complete and typical example would be those located on the outskirts of Erfoud. The landscape there is dotted with what, at first, seem to be chimneys, but which are actually holes for ventilation and maintenance of the aqueduct. At certain points there are public access areas, where we can go down and check out the irrigation system.
Facts and Legends
The Menara Gardens cover an area half a mile wide and nearly a mile long, branching off from a main avenue that runs through the middle lined with cypresses, olive trees, palm trees, orange trees and other fruit trees.
The only element that interrupts this avenue is the pond, which covers nearly 5 acres or about three soccer pitches. It is home to huge carp that are patiently waiting for visitors to feed them. The legend is that Almohad soldiers learned to swim here before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and reaching Andalusia.
A charming two story pavilion presides over this pond. It is ocher in color and crowned by a green pyramidal roof—a very common combination found in significant buildings in Marrakech. It is also surrounded by a brick access wall with the characteristic reddish hue of the medina. This pavilion is sometimes known as the Pavilion of Pleasure, because the legend says that one of the ancient sultans―whose name they discreetly omit―often had rendezvous here, and then, at dawn would throw his chosen mistress of the night into the pond.
The gardens’ name also comes from a legend. The word Menara in Arabic means “lighthouse”. The most solid theory is that it is a nod to the vertical element par excellence of the city, the Koutoubia minaret, based on the fact that both were designed by the same sultan. In addition, the main direction of the gardens and the Koutoubia form approximately ninety degrees, so it was probably intended to establish a dialogue between them and constitute an axis that would backbone the rest of the city.
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The fact that they are called “gardens” can be somewhat misleading, since they are made up of a set of orchards outside of the city. So, although it is not used for relaxation to the extent of other gardens or parks, this place is still well worth a visit.
It especially appeals to those looking for an activity away from the tourist spots. Most travelers that stop here, prefer to spend most of their time in the medina. So, the vast majority of those who enjoy this place are locals, who consider it one of their favorite places to have a picnic, walk or enjoy pleasant talks surrounded by nature.
The legends, the closeness of the Atlas Mountains, the seductive palm trees, the reflections over the pond and the picturesque scenes that take place here make these gardens a perfect escape valve from the commotion of Marrakech.
Coordinates: 31°61′N -8°02′W (see location)
Size: 24 Acres (10 hectares) approx.
Construction date: The gardens were created in 1130. The pavilion was built in the 16th century and renovated in 1869.
Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Mon-Sun).
Entrance fee: Free. Visit to the Pavillion: 11 dirhams.
Where to eat: There is no food to buy inside the gardens, but you opt for a picnic with food that you bring with you or you can buy food at the street stalls near the pond.
If you want to know more about the city, check out our Marrakesh Travel Guide.