Imagine what you could build with Morocco’s top artisans at your service for 14 years, and here you have it: La Bahia (the Beautiful) has floor-to-ceiling decoration begun by Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s and embellished from 1894 to 1900 by slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed.
Grand & Petit Courts
Painted, gilded, inlaid woodwork ceilings in the Grand Court still have the intended effect of subduing crowds, while sunburst zellij in the Petit Court dazzled dignitaries. But the Bahia proved too beguiling: in 1908, warlord Pasha Glaoui claimed the palace as a suitable venue to entertain French guests, who were so impressed that they booted out their host in 1911, and installed the protectorate’s résident-généraux here.
Though only a portion of the palace’s 8 hectares and 150 rooms is open to the public, you can see the unfurnished, opulently ornamented harem that once housed Bou Ahmed’s four wives and 24 concubines. The quarters of his favourite, Lalla Zineb, are the most spectacular, with original woven-silk panels, stained-glass windows, intricate marquetry and ceilings painted with rose bouquets.
Through the harem is a flowering garden attached to the stark, sternly official Court of Honour, where people waited in the sun for hours to beg for Bou Ahmed’s mercy. Apparently they cased the joint too: before the despot’s body was cold, enemies and wives of Bou Ahmed stripped the palace bare.