Hegira 986–1002 / AD 1578–94
Ahmad al-Mansur al-Dhahabi (r. AH 985–1012 / AD 1578–1603).
On 3 Sha'ban 986 / 4 October 1578, Ahmad al-Mansur achieved a resounding victory against the Portuguese at the Battle of Wadi al-Makhazin (also known as the Battle of Alcazarquivir / al-Qasr al-Kabir or the Three Kings), after which he was proclaimed sultan and received the title of 'Mansur' (the Victorious). Having achieved international renown, he decided to build a luxurious reception palace in the kasbah of Marrakesh.
The work lasted 16 years and the palace was named 'Badi' (the Incomparable), one of the 99 names of Allah (moreover, ksar l-bdi in Moroccan Arabic means 'the porcelain palace', which could refer to the rich ceramic panels that profusely decorated the building). Montaigne, in his Voyage en Italie, reported that Italian craftsmen near Pisa were cutting, 'for the King of Fez in Barbary', 50 very tall marble columns which were paid for in sugar, weight for weight. And al-Ifrani reported that workmen from different countries, including in Europe, were recruited to execute the work.
For three-quarters of a century, the Badi was the venue for all of the great ceremonies and parties given by the Sa'did sovereigns, and ended up with a reputation, more or less deserved, for excess and debauchery. This was the main reason why the 'Alawid king Mulay Isma'il (AH 1083–1140 / AD 1672–1727) ordered the complete destruction of the building and consequently all that remains today is a section of the 2 metre-thick outer wall, the esplanade, with remains of its pools and orchards, one of the pavilions with its columns and some decorative elements (stucco, marble, zellij – small tiles).
However, excavations carried out in the 20th century, the discovery of two drawings of the palace (one Portuguese and one English) and the reports of contemporary chroniclers and foreign visitors give us a reasonably precise idea of how the Badi would have been in its heyday.
The palace was constructed around an enormous rectangular courtyard measuring 135 m by 110 m, including a long central pool measuring 90 m by 20 m that contained a monumental fountain and had hollows on either side planted with trees and flowers and four small rectangular basins at the ends whose ceramic mosaic paving is still visible. The east side of the palace looked out over a large garden known as 'the crystal garden'.
Two pavilions measuring 15 m by 16 m were built half way along the shorter sides of the courtyard and two more measuring 23 m by 15 m in the middle of the longer sides. Truncated-pyramid towers stood in the corners of the courtyard.
The pavilions were crowned with domes whose ceilings were encrusted with gold and precious muqarnas (honeycomb work) supported by marble columns with capitals covered with golden leaves. The floors and walls were covered with faience mosaics, the doors were made of sculpted wood and, throughout, the fountains gushed water from the mouths of lions, leopards and pythons sculpted in solid silver.
For 75 years the Badi, destroyed under the 'Alawids, hosted all of the celebrations held by Sa'did sovereigns.
The palace was built around an enormous courtyard endowed with five ceramic-tile pools and leading to large garden. Central pavilions flanked by two towers were built at the centre of each of the sides. Its decoration was extremely sumptuous, with gold-encrusted muqarnas (honeycomb work), Italian marble, mosaics and solid-silver fountain heads. Part of the outer wall, the esplanade with remains of the pools, one of the pavilions with its columns, and some decorative elements have survived.
According to al-Ifrani, based on the poetic inscriptions that decorated the palace (now lost), work started in the month of Shawwal 986 (December 1578) and was completed in 1002 / 1594.
Al-Ifrani, A., Nouzhat al-Hadi, histoire de la dynastie saadienne, ed. and trans. O. Houdras, Paris, 1888–9, ch. XL.
Deverdun, G., Marrakech des origines à 1912, Rabat, 1959, pp.392–401.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, pp.395–6.
Kamal Lakhdar "Badi Palace" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;13;en
Prepared by: Kamal LakhdarKamal Lakhdar
Linguiste et sociologue de formation, c'est en autodidacte que Kamal Lakhdar s'est adonné aux études d'histoire du Maroc et du monde arabo-musulman, en axant tout spécialement ses recherches sur l'histoire de Rabat.
Sa carrière de haut fonctionnaire l'a conduit à occuper des fonctions de premier plan auprès de différents ministères. Il a notamment été membre du cabinet du ministre de l'Enseignement supérieur, conseiller du ministre des Finances, conseiller du ministre du Commerce et de l'Industrie, directeur de cabinet du ministre du Tourisme, chargé de mission auprès du Premier ministre et directeur de cabinet du Premier ministre.
Parallèlement, Kamal Lakhdar mène des activités de journaliste et d'artiste peintre – il a d'ailleurs été membre du Conseil supérieur de la Culture.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: MO 18