Horses, djellaba and men

A harem of your beautiful women relaxing and natural, greets the Pacha of Marrakech at his grossly decorated palace in the heart of the Marrakshi medina. As the Pacha of Marrakech, most powerful man in Morocco and one of the richest in the world, Themi El Glaoui was able to command great respect and a vast, questionably sourced, wealth built up of investments in Moroccan produce and natural resources.

El Glaoui’s palace Dar El Bacha, not currently open to the public, is a feast of history and architecture that transports visitors into Themis’ world and love of pretty things.  Guests at our Riad Papillon arrive at a taxi rank next to the palace.  Above are pictures of Dar el Bacha in 2012 and in its heyday in the 1930’s.

Dar El Bacha, a facade, cross the neutral unprepossessing doors and you enter one of the most beautiful palaces of Marrakech! Do not wait for a guide, marvel in the great presentation and detail on the architecture of the palace, open your eyes and see the work of craftsmen who built this masterpiece only a century ago.

A long corridor is awaits gripped visitors. Moving your head to the ceiling you see the Zelliges multicolored cedar wood door painted with the natural pigments available (poppy, indigo and saffron), engraved with the common but highly symbolic star of Morocco.

We move towards the reception room where the Andalusian inspired ceiling rivals colors and forms: exposed cedar wood beams and coffers detailed with beautiful geometry and floral motifs. Tiles and Stucco carvings adorn the columns contours along with rigorous star polygons, Friezes diamond-shaped jewels or “Lion’s Claws,” braids and knots whose colors meet, continuously overlapping.

The seductive courtyard, which is the reception room and room for a grand harem, provides an atmosphere of calm and serenely planted palm trees, banana trees, roses and other colourful plants. By the patio, notice the intriguingly secret ironwork, door knockers and hinges. Opposite the reception hall is the office of the Pasha of Marrakech and open on occasions invite yourself in the hammam, even if the premises are undeveloped and basic by western eyes. Hammam consists of three small rooms (hot, warm and cold) and a relaxation room. The plaster ceiling is painted lace with small openings allowing light to pass just: but the blue, green and red ceiling reflect the ambient light.

Moroccan architecture is unique is many ways and well represented by this beautifully crafted palace seeped in recent history. Decor, ambiance and local techniques can be appreciated at the warming and welcoming and beautiful raids of Marrakech-Riad.

In the year 1912 the French government officially annexed the majority of the kingdom of Morocco via the treaty of Fes. This treaty was the culmination of creeping European influence over what was for a time one of the only non-European controlled parts of Africa at the time, it laid out in direct terms France and Spains control over the country of Morocco.

Marrakech found itself in the French part of Morocco, one of the primary things this meant of course that Marrakech developed a link with the French language that can still be seen today and indeed in the vast majority of Morocco as all signs are in both French and Arabic and the fact that a high number of individuals speak both Arabic and French in most of the service sector as well as in general, indeed the Moroccan dialect of Arabic has been said to be a mixture of Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish, reflecting Morocco’s rich heritage.

French colonial influence is not only seen in the language used by Moroccans but by the actual city of Marrakech itself, the primary example of this is the area of Gueliz which was built by the French and the name is thought to originate from a corruption of the French word eglise, meaning church. This was due to the fact that the French new town was based around the church and therefore the area was associated the locals used the building to refer to the area in general. This area in particular shows particular influences from French architecture with large boulevards and French style cafés, restaurants and bars.

Particular examples of a French style café in Gueliz is the Grande Café de poste and in the medina Café France. Both are old colonial buildings that as businesses have decided to retain the colonial aesthetic in order to attract customers and achieve a certain ambience. To summarise although Morocco became independent in 1956 the cultural heritage of French colonial rule is still very much evident from the fact that the language is still dominant to the fact that one can sit down in a Continental style café and have a café au lait. Consequently  Marrakech has a very interesting mixture of ambience as one can in a 10 minute walk go from the archetype of North African towns that the Medina represents to European style boulevards and Cafés that would not look completely amiss in Spain or the South of France, in the shape of the area of Gueliz. This contributes to making Marrakech one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in the world.

If you are planning a visit to Marrakech don’t miss the opportunity to stay in a Riad hotel in the vibrant old town, just minutes walk from the celebrated Jemma al Fnaa Square.