El Badi Palace was once the magnificent royal palace of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadi Dynasty, and reminiscent in its design of Mughal architecture from India. Having taken over 25 years to build, El Badi Palace was a lavish and grand sixteenth century complex of buildings with over 350 rooms, courtyards, gardens, as well as a large pool.
Today, however, there is no sign of the gold which once adorned the walls of El Badi Palace. Indeed, the whole complex lies in ruins in the centre of Marrakech, having been utterly destroyed by the sultan Moulay Ismail. Moulay Ismail is infamous for demolishing many of the buildings in Marrakech to use their materials in his own creations – and El Badi palace was probably one of the most prominent examples of this.
Visitors to the remains of El Badi Palace enter through its gatehouse and can view the remnant of much of this site. Some of the highlights include its sunken gardens, its subterranean passages, and the Koubba el Khamsiniyya (main hall), which has 50 intricate columns.
The entrance to El Badi Palace was originally in the southeast corner of the complex, but today you enter from the north, through the Green Pavilion, emerging into a vast central court, over 130m long and nearly as wide. In its northeast corner, you can climb up to get an overview from the ramparts, and a closer view of the storks that nest atop them.
Within the central court are four sunken gardens, two on the northern side and two on the southern side. Pools separate the two gardens on each side, and there are four smaller pools in the four corners of the court, which is constructed on a substructure of vaults in order to allow the circulation of water through the pools and gardens. When the pools are filled they are an incredibly majestic sight, even if they aren’t very deep.
One of the things El Badi Palace is now famous for is the sight of storks. Wherever you go in the complex, you can be sure of noticing these storks rummaging around in their nests, which they have built in seemingly impromptu fashion on the walls or roofs of the ruins. They are much quieter than the crows that plague Egyptian or Indian palaces, especially those in Delhi such as Humayun’s Tomb.
It only costs 10 Dirhams to enter El Badi Palace, and although it closes down in the middle of the day (noon until around 2.30pm), it is well-worth a visit to see the ruined beauty of a palace that was once considered a near equal to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.