Like several historic sites in the Medina, signposting here is minimal so take a guided tour if you want to learn more about the history of the rooms.
Built initially under Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s, Bahia Palace’s embellishments were completed by Vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed, a one-time slave who housed his 24 concubines and four wives in the palace’s harem. Both in scale and in its intricate decoration, Bahia Palace is truly dazzling.
The palace comprises around 150 lavishly ornamented rooms, and two enclosed gardens or riads. Visitors enter through an arcaded courtyard to the smaller riad, which is decorated with stucco and carved cedarwood; at the heart of the palace is the large riad, alive with orange, jasmine and cypress trees filled with songbirds. The surrounding halls feature magnificent zellij (mosaic) fireplaces and painted and ceilings with exquisite marquetry. It is difficult to overstate how impressive a residence this is: the most talented artisans were at work here for 14 years.
While not all of the palace’s rooms are accessible, the spectacular harem is open to the public. The chambers of Ahmed’s favourite Lalla Zineb are the most impressive, with a ceiling painted with bouquets of roses, beautiful stained-glass windows and woven silk panels.
The palace was stripped bare on Ahmed’s death, and the French, impressed after they had visited the warlord Pasha Glaoui here in 1908, claimed it for themselves in 1911 as the residence of their Commissioner General. The rooms as seen today are absent of any furnishings and consequently rather empty, but it’s not hard to imagine the place in its heyday - and the humbling effect it would have had on visitors.
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