Visitors come to Marrakesh for three things — to shop, eat and relax at a spa. In the Medina, spas are like pubs in Dublin, there’s one every 50 feet. In terms of attractions, there’s not much beyond the souks and Jamaa el Fna.
One of the few places to go for a bit of history and admiring design is the Ben Youssef Medersa. It’s Marrakesh’s top destination in terms of being a “museum”. I put that in quotes because the site has no traditional demarcations like placards describing what is what, no video presentations and no gift shop. This is either done on purpose to preserve the site or to create a cottage industry of locals harassing you to be your guide.
Easy tip: avoid hiring a guide at all costs. Starting the second you leave your riad, you’ll be followed by many people telling you where the Ben Youssef Medersa is and how they can help. Just a simple shake of the head and stern “no” will ward them off until the next person tries the same thing. There are signs that point to the museum.
A guide-book or a web search will tell you everything you need to know. The site was an Islamic college with dorm rooms that dates back to the 1500s. As with most Islamic structures, there’s no artwork that resembles human or animals, just geometric shapes. The center pool, as you’ll find in other courtyards, stimulates air circulation and coolness. On the doorway to the center, the writing translates into English as “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded”.
The site is great space to study the detail in the marble work and wood. As you can see in the pictures, it’s what you think a historic Marrakesh is like.
With that in mind, don’t get suckered into a getting a guide. The tourists who I saw that hired a guide looked like they were in a long awkward conversation they couldn’t get out of. Then, as I learned, once you’re done, they will up sell you into being your guide through the souks. Yup, it’s a big scam that you should avoid.