Magical riads of Marrakech
Intimacy is a key feature of Morocco’s courtyard homes and guesthouses
MARRAKECH is baffling, seducing, appalling, always stimulating and never dull. Like almost anywhere, it is a place of contradictions, but seldom have these opposites been so acute; one footstep can transport you from a world of energy, discordance and alertness into a haven of quiet, tranquillity and pure pleasure.
This is the relationship of Marrakech to its riads. By its strictest definition, a riad is an enclosed garden or courtyard. However, by popular usage, the term has come to represent traditional Moroccan homes, built around such an enclosure and more specifically those homes that have been renovated and restored and opened to the public as intimate guesthouses.
This type of construction, with both public and private rooms organised around a central open courtyard, is a key distinction of Islamic architecture and remains remarkably consistent throughout the Arab world, from private dwellings and places of worship, through to the grandest palaces.
The inward-facing scheme of the riad is designed to maximise family privacy from the outside world. Such privacy is highly prized, conforming to Islamic cultural norms. As such, rooms typically have windows and bal- conies looking back inward to the courtyard rather than outward facing. This keeps the focus on the courtyard as centre of all house activities. The Moroccan home in the medina will have no frontage and is distinguished only by a modest door. The structure’s outer walls and the outer walls of other homes parallel each other to form the alleys and passages through the medina. This is the basis for the most striking of contrasts and contradictions, that of the grim and oft-neglected public street and the highly ornamented, highly decorated and well-kept inner dwelling.
The outer house door will open into a setwan, a modest sitting area where guests can be received without disturbing the inner house. From here a corridor will lead into the house and the open courtyard. This corridor will most likely be angled to shield from sight the inner life of the house.
La Sultana offers glorious views of Marrakech, top; extravagant Riad Noir d’Ivoire, above; an elaborate entrance at El Fenn, left