Marrakesh, also known by the French spelling Marrakech, is a major city of the Kingdom of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier. It is the capital city of the mid-southwestern region of Marrakesh-Safi. Located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh is situated 580 km (360 mi) southwest of Tangier, 327 km (203 mi) southwest of the Moroccan capital of Rabat, 239 km (149 mi) south of Casablanca, and 246 km (153 mi) northeast of Agadir.
Marrakesh is possibly the most important of Morocco's four former imperial cities. The region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times, but the actual city was founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin. In the 12th century, the Almoravids built many madrasas (Koranic schools) and mosques in Marrakesh that bear Andalusian influences. The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in red sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the "Red City" or "Ochre City". Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading centre for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa; Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest square in Africa.
Jamaa El Fna
The Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. It has been described as a "world-famous square", "a metaphorical urban icon, a bridge between the past and the present, the place where (spectacularized) Moroccan tradition encounters modernity." It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The name roughly means "the assembly of trespassers" or malefactors. Jemaa el-Fnaa was renovated along with much of the Marrakech city, whose walls were extended by Abu Yaqub Yusuf and particularly by Yaqub al-Mansur in 1147–1158. The surrounding mosque, palace, hospital, parade ground and gardens around the edges of the marketplace were also overhauled, and the Kasbah was fortified. Subsequently, with the fluctuating fortunes of the city, Jemaa el-Fnaa saw periods of decline and renewal. Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history. The square attracted tradesmen, snake charmers ("wild, dark, frenzied men with long disheveled hair falling over their naked shoulders"), dancing boys of the Chleuh Atlas tribe, and musicians playing pipes, tambourines and African drums. Richard Hamilton said that Jemaa el-Fnaa once "reeked of Berber particularism, of backward-looking, ill-educated countrymen, rather than the reformist, pan-Arab internationalism and command economy that were the imagined future." Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists, pickpockets, and entertainers in medieval garb still populate the square
Marrakesh is a vital component to the economy and culture of Morocco. Improvements to the highways from Marrakesh to Casablanca, Agadir and the local airport have led to a dramatic increase in tourism in the city, which now attracts over two million tourists annually. Because of the importance of tourism to Morocco's economy, King Mohammed VI has vowed to attract 20 million tourists a year to Morocco by 2020, doubling the number of tourists from 2012. The city is popular with the French, and many French celebrities have bought property in the city, including fashion moguls Yves St Laurent and Jean-Paul Gaultier. In the 1990s very few foreigners lived in the city, but real estate developments have dramatically increased in the last 15 years; by 2005 over 3,000 foreigners had purchased properties in the city, lured by its culture and the relatively cheap house prices. It has been cited in French weekly magazine Le Point as the second St Tropez: "No longer simply a destination for a scattering of adventurous elites, bohemians or backpackers seeking Arabian Nights fantasies, Marrakech is becoming a desirable stopover for the European jet set." However, despite the tourism boom, the majority of the city's inhabitants are still poor, and as of 2010, some 20,000 households still have no access to water or electricity. Many enterprises in the city are facing colossal debt problems.