Mag­i­cal ri­ads of Mar­rakech

In­ti­macy is a key fea­ture of Morocco’s court­yard homes and guest­houses

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

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

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