The Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh were sealed up for centuries, and for various bizarre reasons they were not discovered until 1917. They are situated in the kasbah, an area of the medina, Marrakech. The Saadian tombs in Marrakech date back to the rule of sultan Ahmud al-Mansur (1578-1603), and were built at around the same time as the Ben Youssef Medersa, and are magnificently decorated.

When Moulay Ismail (1672-1727) became ruler in Marrakesh, he destroyed the adjacent Badi Palace but superstition probably kept him from interfering with the burial ground. Instead, he sealed up all the entrances to the Saadian Tombs, and the site remained hidden from view until 1917 when they were apparently discovered during a French aerial survey, and a passageway was built from the side of the Kasbah Mosque. Although how, local people were not curious about what lay behind the walls amazes me. The tombs’ long neglect has ensured their preservation and they have since been fully restored.

The tombs are a major attraction for visitors of Marrakech. The two main mausoleums, with 66 tombs laid out within them and over 100 more outside in the gardens. The first mausoleum, is on the left as you enter, and is the finest of the two. The mausoleum contains the remains of members of the Saadi dynasty. The building is composed of three rooms, the most famous of which contains 12 columns. The second mausoleum is older and was built by Ahmed el Mansour in place of an existing pavilion over the tombs of his mother and the founder of the Saadian dynasty. Scattered around the gardens are the tombs of around100 more Saadian princes and members of the royal household, including a few Jewish graves. The gravestones are covered in tiles and many have inscriptions from the Koran.