By Nii B. Andrews.

Ahmed Al Mansur was the Saadian Sultan of Morocco (1578 –  1603) who built the splendid El Badi Palace aka “the incomparable palace”, now an important tourist landmark in Marrakech – famous for its nesting storks and a concert venue.

The palace was completed in 1593 and featured the finest gold, onyx and marble.

He was a consummate diplomat and a polymath well skilled in theology, geometry, law, astronomy and the arts.

In 1600, Al Mansur sent an ambassador to Elizabeth I of England to negotiate an alliance against Spain. Earlier in 1590, he captured Timbuktu, Djenne and Gao.

On August 4 1578, at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir (also known as “Battle of Three Kings”) the Portuguese were defeated and Al Mansur became Sultan; his brother the incumbent was killed in the battle.

Al Mansur started building the El Badi; established a sugar refinery near Mogador (Essaouira) and exported the product to Versilia in Italy.

The sugar – “white gold”, was exchanged for its weight in the finest white marble; one cubic meter of marble weighed 2700 kg.

The marble was shipped to Tunis then ferried along the coast through the Straits of Gibraltar back to Mogador. 

Overland caravans brought the prized marble back to Marrakech to construct the El Badi Palace. 

This commercial arrangement has been commemorated in a sculptural installation by the Italian artist Oli Bonzanigo.

Oli and Damali in front of the sculpture. Feb 2019.

It stands within the sculptural garden at the MACCAL as part of the current exhibition MATERIAL INSANITY.

Bonzanigo’s piece, in its stark simplicity, is a powerful reminder of the long standing largely peaceful interaction, exchange and fusion of cultures along and across the Mediterranean; something which today appears to run the risk of being forgotten.

Oli Bonzanigo is represented by the Voice Gallery. 

She trained at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade; she also studied stone mason practice with Master Robert Kelley. 


  1. Thanks Nii. I would love to be able to exchange sugar for marble today and build my new house entirely out of it.

  2. Great piece of history.
    They still exhibiting that forward thinking approach!
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks Nii.

    I would love to be able to exchange sugar for marble today and build my new house entirely out of it.

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