Marrakech is experiencing something of a renaissance these days. Part of its newfound energy has gone into a host of new museums, complementing a scene already rich with attractions, notably the Musée de Marrakech, the Maison de la Photographie, the Bahia Palace, the Saadian Tombs and the Ben Youssef Madrasa (currently closed for renovations).
I made it to four new museums on my last visit to Marrakech, but shortly after I departed, two more fascinating-looking institutions opened their doors. Time permitting, I recommend visiting all of the museums below, with one important exception.
Although this uncrowded museum was only partially opened as of December of 2017, it’s quickly become one of Marrakech’s top attractions. The early 20th-century Dar el Bacha Palace was home to Thami el Glaoui, pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956. The palace itself is magnificent, with splendid hand-painted ceilings and some of Morocco’s finest zellij tile work. But I was particularly moved by the Musée des Confluences now housed there, which displays objects illustrating the similarities among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Closed Tuesdays.
Dar el Bacha-Musée des Confluences
Route Sidi Abdelaziz
A delightful respite from the adjacent souks, this surprisingly large “secret garden” is in fact two connected garden riads surrounded by a 19th-century caid’s mansion, built atop the foundations of a Saadian palace. It fell into disrepair in the 1930s, and squatters eventually occupied the site. After eight years of renovations, the gardens opened to the public in 2016. The small and tranquil Exotic Garden, bordered by a café patio, leads to the larger Islamic Garden. At its center is a grand gazebo, where we watched a painter restore the intricate floral design of its ceiling. The ingenious irrigation system of the gardens has also been restored. Next to a rooftop café, a tower affords fine views of the riads and the surrounding city.
Le Jardin Secret
121 Rue Mouassinet. Tel. (212) 524-390-040
At first we walked past the entrance to this new small museum, located at the end of a shopping passage in the Guéliz neighborhood. The Museum of Art and Culture of Marrakech focuses on art and decorative objects by Moroccan artists. We happened to meet the museum director, Christophe Sokal, as we admired the collection. I asked Sokal to show me a piece he especially loved, and he took me to “Mes Nièces,” a work by Khalid Chakour, a self-taught painter. “Chakour isn’t focused on traditional clothes or folklore,” Sokal explained. “He presents women as people with their own expression, even their own sensuality.” I, too, marveled at Chakour’s cheerful and disarmingly frank depiction of his nieces. This museum should be at the top of the list for anyone interested in the contemporary Moroccan art world. Closed Sundays.
61 Rue Yougoslavie, Passage Ghandouri. Tel. (212) 524-447-379
Housed in a 17th-century riad between the Ben Youssef Madrasa and the Maison de la Photographie, this sister museum of Musée MACMA displays works by Europeans who painted in Morocco. Alas, it had not yet opened at the time of our visit, but we were able to see a handful of the standout Orientalist paintings while they were still on display at MACMA. While some might consider these European works unworthy of note because of their colonialist gaze, I found the paintings fascinating and beautiful. They shed light on how Europeans saw North Africans a century ago (revealing as much about the Europeans as the North Africans), and many of the paintings have wonderful expressivity, luminosity and attention to detail. I definitely plan on paying a visit to this museum when I next return to Marrakech.
The Orientalist Museum of Marrakech
Kaat Benahid, 5 Derb el Khamsi. Tel. (212) 524-447-379
Unfortunately, this new museum near the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech resort just outside the city was also not yet open at the time of our visit. The Museum of African Contemporary Art al Maaden displays Moroccan art, like MACMA, as well as contemporary works from a range of nearby countries, both in the museum and in a sculpture park. I wish I could have seen the special exhibition “Africa Is No Island,” which assembles works from some 40 photographers “working from a distinctly African perspective,” on view through August 24. After touring the museum, a poolside lunch at the Mandarin Oriental would be just the thing. Closed Mondays.
Al Maaden, Sidi Youssef Ben Ali. Tel. (212) 676-924-492
Like the Majorelle Garden, the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent seems to be on the itinerary of every single tourist visiting Marrakech. And why wouldn’t it be? All the travel magazines seem to think it’s a must-see. Alas, the museum is dark and airless, and it took me less than 10 minutes to take in the exhibition of the designer’s gowns. A second exhibition, of paintings by Jacques Majorelle, was sabotaged by the dim, claustrophobic space. The overrated Majorelle Garden nearby provides little relief. I suppose the electric-blue colonnades and fountains look pretty, contrasted with the green bamboo and cacti, if you can actually see them through the thickets of selfie sticks. The interesting Musée Berbère and stylish gift shop aren’t reason enough to battle your way into the gardens. I recommend skipping the entire Yves Saint Laurent complex. Closed Wednesdays.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent
Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Tel. (212) 524-298-686