The Riads of Marrakech
covers in detail 12 of the city’s best examples of the accommodation form, all of which embody traditional architectural elements. But there are unusual variations, too, such as the art decoinspired Villa Makassar and the colonnaded La Sultana, its 28 suites themed after animals of the jungles of Asia or the African savanna. Here’s Fleisher’s designer dozen, in no particular order: La Sultana Riad Kaiss Riad Noir d’Ivoire Riad Enija Riad Lotus Privilege Villa Makassar Riad Farnatchi Dar les Cigognes El Fenn Road Nashira Villa des Orangers Riad Anayela
The lighting in the setwan will be very subdued, for a transportive experience of inward passage from dark to the brilliant illumination of the open-sky courtyard.
The courtyard is invariably square or rectangular in shape, set around the sahridj, a fountain or basin.
The importance of the sahridj in the riad cannot be understated. Water is a potent symbol of life in desert lands and as such is valued as sacred. It represents the vital life force of the house. Thus, the courtyard is the focus of the house and the fountain or basin is the focus of the courtyard.
An inner garden is also highly prized and courtyards are likely to feature native citrus trees, palms and jasmine. Their fragrances add to the tranquillity of the trickling waters, for a perfectly balanced and harmonious oasis of peace.
Elongated rooms, called bayts, line the perimeter of the courtyard and are typically devoted to public salons and dining rooms. Each has a central open arched passage, which looks upon the courtyard and fountain. Tight winding stairways, illuminated with dappled lamp lighting, are tucked into the building’s corners, leading down to hammams or up to the upper level, where private rooms are found.
This upper level is lined with open colonnaded galleries, serving as passages between rooms, and being covered, both the passages and the private rooms are kept unusually cool considering the strength of the sun in Arab lands.
This forms the basis of the riad floor plans, although many public riads are often a collection of many courtyards and have found new ways of reinterpreting the form.
During the French protectorate of the last century, city development was concentrated in the new town, ignoring the medina, resulting in its subsequent lapse into decay.
A profusion of European homeowners, passionate for the Moroccan domestic lifestyle, brought valuable investment and currency into a relatively poor country, which has revitalised the medina.
Although fundamentals of riad design have been highly canonised within Islamic architecture through the ages, the vast majority of the fashionable riads have been developed by Europeans. Subsequently, these remarkable homes have expressed such principles in highly original and eclectic fashion. Be your riad customary or unconventional, your stay promises to be an exotic, romantic and fully transcendent Moroccan experience.
visitmorocco.com This is an edited extract from The Riads of Marrakech by Elan Fleisher (ACC Editions); antiquecollectorsclub.com.