As 16th-century Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour (r 1578-1603) was paving the Badia Palace with gold, turquoise and crystal, his court jester wisecracked, ‘It’ll make a beautiful ruin.’ That jester was no fool: at the beginning of the 18th century, the place was destroyed by Sultan Moulay Ismail and materials carried off to then-capital Meknes. Today only remnants remain, watched over by nesting storks. There are magnificent views from the ramparts, and in 2018 a renovation added some exhibitions.
Construction began in 1578, the same year the sultan ascended to the throne. Al Mansour came to be known as 'the golden king' and was the longest-ruling and most famous of all the Saadian dynasty rulers, as well as the last of his line. During Al Mansour's reign, Badia was the most impressive palace in the western reaches of the Muslim world – now only Badia's vast courtyard, with its four sunken gardens and reflecting pools, give a hint of its former majesty. A CGI film on loop in a room along the ruin's far eastern back wall shows what some areas of the palace would have looked like – historians believe it was designed in imitation of the grand Moorish palaces of Andalusia in southern Spain.
The ruin's subterranean chambers house two exhibitions, one a photographic history of the Kasbah and Mellah area from the 1920s to 1950s, the other an underwhelming exhibition about the conditions for slaves and prisoners who would have once resided in these underground caverns. Across the vast courtyard (opposite the entrance), the Khayzuran Pavilion houses temporary contemporary art exhibitions.
Just west of the pavilion, a highlight is the room housing the Koutoubia minbar (prayer pulpit). Once the minbar of the Koutoubia Mosque, its cedar-wood steps with gold and silver calligraphy were the work of 12th-century Cordoban artisans headed by a man named Aziz – the Metropolitan Museum of Art restoration surfaced his signature.
To reach the palace entrance, head through Place des Ferblantiers and turn right along the ramparts.