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.
In 1976, the Etablissement Régional d'Amenagement et de Construction (E.R.A.C.) Tensift, a government agency, was set up to create housing for the masses, the Assif complex was one of its first programmes, involving 600 plots. 300 row-houses were to be designed by architect Charles Boccara and the remainder consist of individual houses built by their owners. In 1981, the architect was commissioned to design 128 apartment units as well as a commercial centre as an extension to the project.
The complex comprises housing facilities for 3000 inhabitants and is divided into: · 191 two to three-storey houses; · 110 apartments; and · 72 shops.
The row-houses respond to a 'villa" housing type that has gained popularity amongst the new urban classes, and include a porch, front garden, and balcony or loggia. A sense of introversion is maintained by the interior organisation of spaces around an inner patio, and the row-houses are further removed from the street by richly planted, walled gardens. The apartment units are grouped in three courtyard complexes joined by monumental arcades and arranged on the site to form a large public garden (riyadh). Small shops are located on the ground floor, and the urban fabric of traditional towns has inspired this combination of commercial and outdoor communal facilities with dense housing above, integrated through a system of streets, passageways, galleries, and inner courts. The individual apartment units, entered through courtyard gardens and served with roof terraces, were conceived on the model of traditional Arab houses where family life is concentrated in a central room.