Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The architecture of a Riad in Marrakech

We just love our Riad in Marrakech! We had it now for five years and at the time we bought it we thought we would just have it as a holiday home but after we found ourselves going back more and more frequently we decided to make it to one of our more permanent homes. And now it is exaclty two years ago we decided to move down for a year to Marrakech.

Riad Arabe, from above.

To own a Riad has proven to be an on-going adventure, there is always something happening or something that has to be done. Like cleaning the pool from all the sand that constantly flies in from the Sahara or re-painting the walls every six months due to the damp in the medina. But also all the fun things like re-tiling the bedroom floors or buying new carpets and cushions for the living rooms. Our Riad is always full of life with people coming by to help us with all our projects but also with friends and family who come to visit. Our Riad itself, with it's intricate architecture and own quirky personality, has over time become a very dear friend.

The entrance hall to Riad Arabe

Our favourite room at Riad Arabe, the sitting room with the fireplace.

The word Riad means strictly "enclosed garden" but has over time come to represent traditional Moroccan homes built around a courtyard. The word is also often used in Marrakech for houses that have been renovated and opened up as boutique hotels or B&B. The traditional construction, with the rooms around an open courtyard and no windows or balconies facing the streets, is typical Islamic architecture and designed to maximize family privacy from the outside world, but also to protect it from the weather and all the incoming desert sand as much as possible.

All the windows from the room faces the inner courtyard, not onto the street.

The hallway on the second floor also faces out towards the inner courtyard.

A typical Riad in Marrakech, like the one we have, has three levels including the roof terrace. There are usually two rooms on the bottom floor, on each side of the couryard, often used as living rooms or dining rooms and on the second floor you find the bedrooms. On the top level is the terrace, often with spectacular views. In the muslim culture it is not common to use this level for social purposes, it was usually only used to hang the washing and men were seldom seen up here.

The terrace of Riad Arabe...

...where we often have breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Riads often have very simple outer doors and it is usually hard to know what door hides a palaces and what door hides a ruin. When you enter the Riad you always have to go right or left since it never opens up directly into the house. There is usually a sitting room in connection to the entrance.

The sitting room at Riad Arabe.

The centre of the Riad is the courtyard that is usually square or rectangular. It is often built around a pool or a fountain, since water was a traditionally sign of wealth, so the more water feature you had the richer you were. Water also has an important symbolic and religious value since Moroccans always wash themselves before prayer and fountains are said to represent paradise. In larger Riads you also find a lush garden in the centre, sometimes with lemon trees or even palm trees.

The inner courtyard at Riad Arabe.

The walls and floors of the riads are usually made of a material called "tadelakt", a waterproof plaster surface that are often used for baths or sinks. The word tadelakt means "to rub-in" in Arabic and you make it with lime plaster (sometimes mixed with crusched marble) that is polished and treated with soap to make it water-repellant. It is very durable and you can shape it and colour it as you like. Another material often used, and a way to show off your wealth, is the tile or zellij as it is called in Arabic. Some Riads in Marrakech have incredible tile work, like Villa Filali for example.

The beautiful inner courtyard of Villa Filali

One of the many inner courtyards of the luxury hotel La Sultana.

This cool courtyard belongs to the boutique hotel Palais Lamrani.

Another typical architecture characteristic of a Riad is the arch-shape that is used for doors, gates and windows. One traditional belief is that a horseshoe arch will protect you from the evil eye and bring you good luck. You can read more about arches in our previous blog post HERE!


Riad Arabe has arches everywhere, here is one with our cat, Trassel, posing next to it!

And lastly, a Riad needs a lot of love and lots of friends visiting!  
For us it is now time to leave Italy after spending a month with Arpino as our base. We look forward to return to the red city and our own Riad Arabe.

Be like a riad, beautiful on the inside!

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