El Badi Palace

While planning our itinerary, Palais El Badiî was top of the list. Little were we to know when we arrived in the sultry, shadowy night that we were so close to the palace we'd bask in its terracotta glory each and every morning in Marrakech: rising to breakfast on the roof terrace we could hardly believe our luck when the nesting storks were literally mere wingspans away from us. Visiting became indisputably our number one priority. After stuffing ourselves with crepes and warm rolls with home-made jams, and gallons of freshly-squeezed OJ, we set off on the gruelling expedition (5 minute walk) to reach the palace. The 10am sun beat down as if it was midday, but a fresh breeze kept us comfortable as we rounded the corner to the ticket office, manned by a smiling security guard. Tickets were next to nothing at 10 dirham (£1.80) each, which did not remotely correlate to the awe that was in store for us. Just through the entrance a magnificent display of ancient doors stand, shadowed and sombre, that could easily be an art installation but for the intrinsic sense of connectedness to a greater purpose they arouse. Passing through, as the palace's interior unfolds before us, we are hit with the both immensely humbling and genuinely magical feeling of standing where thousands of others have before us, for centuries past. The only comparison I have (and it's not an entirely expected one) was of standing on the pavestones of Tiananmen Square: of being involved and somehow enveloped in history, a history that is altogether still living and present and can be palpably felt today.

The remnants of the majority of rooms are still in some way standing, and entirely re-imaginable: informative boards help to provide scenarios, from banquet halls to visiting ambassadors' quarters, and the visible remains make up the ceremonial sector. And despite its state of disrepair, the original grandeur and resplendence that once shone from its majestic structure linger still, as an aura that permeates the very clay of the remaining walls, the cool flagstones where kings once walked. It is rumoured that, upon viewing his newly-created palace, the Saadian sultan turned to his court jester who replied, 'this will make a magnificent ruin'. Although the palace itself is in ruin, the sunken gardens are very much alive: the lush grass in the centre of the courtyard, offset by the vividly vibrant orange trees scattered throughout, breathes life into its ancient surroundings. 

Once you've marvelled at the rooms, taken in all the wondrous works of architecture and carving, and explored all the dilapidated passages and staircases, twisting and winding to higgledy-piggledy levels, take yourselves up the narrow flight of stone steps to the terrace above. Here you are offered a complete 360° view of the city - and more importantly the copious nests woven together diligently by handsome storks, perching proudly over their offspring. Take a minute longer and gaze over the rooftops of Marrakech, not to mention the frosty peaks of the Atlas mountains looming faintly on the horizon. 

Palais El Badiî literally translates to 'the incomparable palace', and it certainly lives up to its name.