This high-walled compound, shaded with palms and dotted with bright zellij-topped tombs, is the final resting place of the Saâdian dynasty's sultans, princes, and other members of the royal household. The principal structures were built in the late 1500s by Sultan Ahmed el Mansour, who lies in the larger of the two main mausoleums within the compound in a central room called the Hall of the Twelve Columns. This central hall is spectacular, with soft light from an ornate lantern filtering down onto the Sultan's tomb and those of his son and grandson. The other smaller, older mausoleum houses the tombs of el-Mansour's mother and the founder of the Saâdian dynasty, Mohammed ech Sheikh. Between them, the two mausoleums house 66 tombs, while out in the courtyard and garden you'll find more than 100 others.
The whole compound was sealed off during the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail, the first of the Alaouites to take control of Morocco from the Saâdians, who destroyed virtually everything else the Saâdians had constructed (the el Badi palace next door, for example). The tombs were rediscovered in 1917 when a French resident general noticed the tomb formations on an aerial survey map and constructed a passageway from the side of the adjoining mosque. The sealed-off tombs were in a fairly good state and have since also been restored.
The tombs are popular on guided tours and thus can get crowded, so try and visit very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The passageway to the tombs is well signposted and lies directly to the right of the Kasbah Mosque, whose tall minaret is easy to locate. There are English-speaking guides (20dh) at the entrance, and a couple of relaxing cafes across from there.