MARRAKECH: THE SAADIAN TOMBS
Jade and her mother had some time to kill at the end of their 1920 adventure (The Serpent’s Daughter). Unable to leave Marrakech for a while, they probably visited the recently discovered Saadian Tombs. These opulent tombs were unknown to the French authorities until 1917. Who were these Saadian Sultans buried there?
Edith Wharton records (In Morocco, 1920) that they came from Arabia in the late 15th century and gained the notice of the Berbers because they spoke against a divided empire and against the Spaniards and Portuguese who held the coasts. Ruling into the 16th century, one Sultan in particular, Abou-el-Abbas, decided to conquer Timbuctoo in the south and brought back a large quantity of gold ingots. For this he gained the nickname, “the golden” and began a period of building.
Ahmed al-Monsour, builder of the Badi Palace, is one of the princes buried here. Moulay Ismail, who razed the palace for materials to use in his own works, left the dead and their tombs alone, sealing them.
The tombs have long since been cleared of debris and again shine with the splendor of that brief period in Morocco’s colorful history. A visitor viewing them today might wonder how anything so large and so close to the Bahia Palace, where the Resident General lived in 1917, could have gone unnoticed. It’s because they were effectively buried by a tangled overgrowth of vegetation including nettle in an unused corner of the old city.
And how did General Lyautey discover them? Modern guidebooks say that an aerial survey brought them to the General’s attention. But author Edith Wharton, who visited the tombs during her 1917 trip to Morocco, wrote that the Sultan’s government quietly told the General about them in the hopes that these works of art would be saved and restored. It is possible that both tales are true. General Lyautey saw something of interest in the aerial surveys, made inquiries to the Sultan and was told of the tombs existence.
NEXT WEEK: THE BAHIA PALACE