From the World Heritage inscription:
The capital of the Almoravids and the Almohads played a decisive role in the development of medieval planning. Marrakesh (which gave its name to the Moroccan Empire) is the textbook example of a large Islamic capital in the Western world. With its maze of narrow streets, houses, souks (markets), traditional crafts and trade activities, and its medina, this ancient settlement is an outstanding example of a vibrant historic city.
Marrakesh was founded in 1071-72 by Youssef ben Tachfin on the site of the camp where Abou Bekr had left him in charge. From that point forward, Marrakesh was no longer an occasional stopping place for the Almoravids. It became the true capital of these conquering nomads who succeeded in stretching their empire from the Sahara to the Ebro and from the Atlantic to Kabylia.
The original layout of the medina dates back to the Almoravid period from which there still remain various monumental vestiges (ruins of the so-called Abou Bekr Kasbah, Youssef ben Tachfin Mosque and Ali ben Youssef Palace, not far from the Koutoubia, the pool and the ‘Koubba’ of Ali ben Youssef Mosque which were discovered in 1955, Bab Aylan gate, etc.). In essence it is an adaptation of the older urban model of Marrakesh.
The walls of the medina were built in 1126-27 following the order given by Ali ben Youssef. The planting of the palm groves, which at the present still cover a surface area of roughly 13,000 ha to the east of the city, has also been credited to the Almoravids. When in 1147 this dynasty bowed to the attacks of the Almohads led by Abdel Mou’men, the task of purification that was carried out did not spare the monuments which, for the most part, were destroyed by the victors. Nevertheless Marrakesh remained the capital. Under the Almohad rulers (1147-1269), Marrakesh experienced new and unprecedented prosperity.
Marrakech is an amazing city. Unfortunately, I visited at the tail end of a 30 day trip up the west coast of Africa, where I had little to no internet access. I spent most of my time in Marrakech catching up on work.
I did get a chance to visit some of the highlights of historical Marrakech, but there is so much more in the city that I’d like to make a return visit. In fact, I’d like to do a proper trip through Morocco and visit the remaining world heritage sites in the country which I haven’t visited.