The Ri­ads of Mar­rakech

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

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.

vis­it­ This is an edited ex­tract from The Ri­ads of Mar­rakech by Elan Fleisher (ACC Edi­tions); an­tiquecol­lec­

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