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.
The Agdal Gardens in Marrakech are the origin of a fundamental garden type, the Islamic agdal garden. The gardens were constructed in 1157 by Almohad Caliph 'Abd al-Mu'min bin 'Ali al-Kumi (reg. 1130-63) at the same time as the nearby Menara Gardens. 'Abd al-Mu'min was the founder of the Almohad capital in Marrakech, and he undertook many significant building projects in the city between 1147 and his death in 1163. The Agdal Gardens were established directly adjacent to the southern edge of the Médina, and they functioned both as productive orchards and private pleasure gardens for the caliph. Much larger than the nearby Menara Gardens, the Agdal Gardens and their reservoirs directly served the medina and its residents.
The word "agdal" is a Berber term which means "meadow enclosed by a stone wall." It is said that the Agdal Gardens in Marrakech were so named because visiting Berber Tribes from the Atlas mountains associated their native panoramas of green meadows framed by tall mountains with the walled landscape of the urban gardens.
The Agdal Gardens are essentially rectangular in shape, with a relatively small rectangular section removed at their northwest corner. The longitudinal axis of the site is its north-south axis, rotated counter-clockwise from the north-south meridian. The gardens are 3.1 kilometers long and between 1.2 and 1.4 kilometers wide. The rectangular area that is cutout from the northwest corner of the rectangular parcel measures 620 meters long and 450 meters wide. The vast majority of the land within the Agdal Gardens is given over to productive orchards. Various trees and bushes are planted in grids whose rows range between five and ten meters wide, depending on the type of tree or plant. The entire site is subdivided by a network of paths into a patchwork of smaller gardens, within which one species of plant is cultivated; this strict rationalism in organization is typical of the Hispano-Mauresque productive garden. All paths within the garden are lined by a single row of olive trees planted ten meters on center. Beyond this edge of olive trees are orchards of lemon, cypress, olive, and orange trees.
The Agdal Gardens are irrigated by two large reservoirs that sit approximately 820 meters to the north of the property's southern edge. The basins are filled via a network of underground channels, or khettara, built in the early twelfth century during the reign of Almoravid sovereign 'Ali bin Yusuf (1107-1142). The larger of the reservoirs is the Basin al-Manzeh, which is 205 meters long and 180 meters wide. The architecture of the elevated basin and its perimeter terrace was designed by Abu Yaqub Yusuf, who later used this reservoir as a model for similar basins in Rabat (1171) and Seville (1171). Adjacent to the southern edge of the Basin al-Manzeh is a simple pavilion known as the Dar el-Hana. This open-air structure, measuring eighty meters wide and thirty meters long, was built as a loggia within which the king could entertain guests overlooking the impressive expanse of water in the neighboring basin. It was also used to observe the military training activities that were frequently conducted in the Basin al-Manzeh, including swimming and boating drills.
The second reservoir is the Basin Gharssya Agdal. This basin is slightly smaller than the Basin al-Manzeh, measuring 200 meters long and 150 meters wide. A small square island measuring sixteen meters to a side was constructed at the center of the artificial lake. At the center of the island is a square pavilion structure measuring twelve meters to a side. This pavilion was built for entertaining and could be reached by boating across the reservoir. Due to the elevation of the basin, the pavilion affords a spectacular view across the water to the crowns of the trees filling the surrounding orchards.
Another notable work of architecture within the Agdal Gardens is the Dar el-Beida. This palace is reserved for use by the 'Alawi royal family when they are in residence in Marrakech. The palace is relatively modest in scale but has been richly decorated and well-maintained due to its continuing use as a royal residence. The rectangular plan of the Dar el-Beida is 120 meters wide and 142 meters long. The west wall of the palace is located 330 meters east of the western edge of the gardens, and the north wall of the palace is located 870 meters south of the northern boundary of the gardens. This places the Dar el-Beida in the northwest quadrant of the garden grounds. The palace was built centuries later than the rest of the gardens by 'Alawi Sharif Moulay 'Abd al-Rahman bin Hisham (reg. 1822-1859). The palace and the other pavilions in the Agdal Garden were subsequently renovated by his successor Sidi Muhammad IV bin 'Abd al-Rahman (reg. 1859-1873).
Today the Agdal Gardens are accessible to the public for several hours each Friday and Sunday, as long as the royal family is not in residence at the Dar el-Beida. When the Dar el-Beida is in use, the whole of the Agdal Gardens are reserved for the pleasure of the sovereign and his guests. The Agdal Gardens were listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, as a part of the Médina of Marrakesh.
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