Marrakesh's historic Koutoubia Mosque damaged by deadly quake

Most of the main historic sites in the old city appear largely unscathed as authorities assess the extent of the damage

Koutoubia minaret at dusk. Marrakech, Morocco (Mauricio Abreu / AWL Images/Corbis) *** Local Caption ***  wk27mr-tr-marrakech02.jpg
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As the death toll crosses more than 2,000 after an earthquake struck Morocco late on Friday, rescue teams are racing to find survivors trapped in the rubble of mountainous villages and ancient cities not built to withstand such force.

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake has killed at least 2,012 people and injured over 2,059, many of them critically, according to the latest official figures. The quake struck 72 kilometres south-west of the historic city of Marrakesh, wiping out entire villages in rural areas

In Marrakesh, people could be seen on state TV clustering in the streets, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable. Situated at the foot of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the 11th-century city of palms and palaces is Morocco's top tourist attraction, welcoming more than 2 million visitors a year.

Dramatic videos shared on social media showed the famous Koutoubia Mosque shaking as people rushed to safety nearby. Built in the 12th century, the mosque's 69-metre minaret is popularly known as the “roof of Marrakesh.”

The Koutoubia Mosque looms over the vast Jemaa El Fna square, the beating heart of Marrakesh, which comes alive each night with dancers, storytellers, snake charmers and dozens of food stalls brimming with traditional Moroccan dishes.

Authorities said the extent of the damage to the mosque was not immediately clear. Most of the main historic sites in the old city appeared largely unscathed as well.

Eric Falt, the regional director of Unesco, told the online Morocco World News that the damage was "much more significant than expected".

Falt, who conducted a two-hour assessment of the city, said: "After a disaster like this, the most important thing is to preserve human lives. But it is also necessary to immediately plan for the second phase, which will include the reconstruction of schools and cultural assets affected by the earthquake."

Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city, a Unesco World Heritage site. The collapsed minaret of another mosque was also widely shared.

Moment Moroccan earthquake rescuers rejoice after finding survivor

Moment Moroccan earthquake rescuers rejoice after finding survivor

Legendary French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent visited Marrakesh in 1966 and was immediately smitten.

The city became a huge influence on his work, particularly his use of colour.

Saint Laurent, who died in 2008, spent time there every year while designing his collections. In 2017, a museum dedicated to his designs was opened in the city.

Each November, Hollywood stars descend on Marrakesh for its international film festival, with some of the screenings taking place under the stars in Jemaa El Fna.

Sharon Stone, Martin Scorsese, Sigourney Weaver and Robert de Niro are among those to have walked the red carpet in a country that has long been a favourite location for international film shoots.

Last month, the Oscar-winning Scorsese announced he was returning to the festival, set to run from November 24 to December 2, as the official patron for the event’s Atlas Workshops.

“I am always happy to be returning to my beloved Marrakesh Film Festival. When I haven’t been able to attend in person, I’ve always been there in spirit,” said Scorsese.

“For this very special anniversary edition of the festival, I have been entrusted with a precious task: to interact with young filmmakers and help to guide them on their way. I look forward to seeing old friends, and to making new ones.”

This year’s Atlas Workshop participants will be known as the Class of Martin Scorsese.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: September 10, 2023, 1:20 PM