The Saadian Tombs are situated in the northwest corner of the Kasbah and are accessed by a very narrow passageway with overhanging buttresses and archways. This complex of mausoleums dates back to the late 1500s, and it was commissioned by Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour. Ironically, he was the first individual to be buried here and more than 60 of his successors were to follow. In the early 1700s Sultan Moulay Ismail had the tombs sealed, and it seems as though everyone forgot about them until the early 1900s. Maps of the town had recorded their existence, so the narrow alleyway was unblocked and the tombs finally re-opened in 1917.
The first thing that will strike you as you enter the small, but well-kept grounds to the tombs is the absolute calm. It is hard to place yourself in the bustling city because here the only noise is that of the tourists, both human and bird. You will also see cats prowling the grounds, as this is a haven for Marrakech’s wild cats. Don’t worry, they’re small!
There are three distinct burial areas. One is a sole tomb. I’d like to assume that this contains the remains of al-Mansour, as it would be befitting that the mausoleum’s designer should have pride of place. The second area has been dedicated to the women of the family–initially it appears as an adjunct to the first tomb, but on reflection, it is in a prominent place in the garden. This open-sided building is incredibly ornate, with brightly tiled walls and highly polished marble tiled floor. The appearance of being open to the elements under a high, protective roof provides a real sense of freedom with the boundaries defined, but a real connection with the outdoor garden space.
In contrast to this light, bright space is the dark and restricted area that was reserved for the male successors of al-Mansour and the children. The more open space was reserved, by and large, for the royal children, and it is somewhat chilling to see the small headstones signifying the child deaths in this powerful Saadian dynasty. Typically the building is decorated with intricate stuccowork above a bright mosaic. The superb geometric decorative work extends to the brightly floor and encloses the stark marble pyramid type structure that mark the graves.
At either end and to the rear of this room are darker spaces accessed by the classical, highly decorated tall archways. The tiled theme seemed to run through to these darker niches, confirming that the designer was anticipating the future needs of his dynasty!
All the guidebook references seem to imply that there has been little restoration applied to this building, and it is referred to as the "best surviving example of Moorish craftsmen from Al-Andalus." It certainly is impressive and perhaps the fact that it was sealed for two centuries has assisted its survival. It is indeed a great tribute that will command your admiration and reverence.