Once you have followed the small sign off Rue Mouassine, worked your way through the alleyways and knocked on the almost anonymous door to be let in, you are greeted with a warm welcome and an amazing interior.
Dar Cherifa can be found in one of the oldest Riads in Marrakech, dating back to the Saadian times. It has recently been lovingly restored by Abdelatif Ben Abdellah, one of the key figures behind the rejuvenation of the Medina. One thing that firsts strikes you about Dar Cherifa is the incredible use of space: there is a mix of bare untouched walls and original craftsmanship, with a unique centerpiece that hangs above the Riad before the blue Moroccan sky. Alongside some of the best Arabic architecture in Marrakech, the art itself is equally unique and is of a very high standard. Yet, unlike the larger contemporary galleries around the world, the fact that Dar Cherifa focuses on local talent makes it all the more unique.
Although the price of the artwork on display cost a fair bit more than your average postcard and probably won’t make it onto your souvenir list, the food and drink is very reasonably priced and we were given space, time and freedom to look round the gallery at our own leisure. Dar Cherifa is a space of culture that is accessible for everyone, well worth a visit.
The Khalid Art Gallery is becoming somewhat of an institution in Marrakech. Located on Dar el Basha in a traditional Riad, the Art Gallery (perhaps more accurately defined as a shop) is bursting with some of the most sought after Moroccan antiques and exquisite artisanal products that Marrakech has to offer. It is easy to see why it has become so popular with the international jet set.
The Khalid Art Gallery Riad has now been joined by a smaller, more compact gallery dedicated to a vast collection of exquisitely restored and lovingly made jewellery and fine metalwork. Rasheed, pictured above, invited us into the smaller Khalid Art Gallery to show us around. He told us that this second shop, located just 100m down the road from the main Khalid Art Gallery Riad, has only been open for a year before picking out his favourite pieces of Jewelry and explaining the cultural significance and origin of the design and how each piece is made.
However, if you are looking for larger souvenir to decorate your home – perhaps a traditionally painted clay vase or a wrought iron design – then it is definitely the larger Khalid Art Gallery you are after. In fact, the Khalid Art Gallery is located on our ‘Iron and Clay’ Medina walk available on our free MarrakechRiad app. In this way, the Khalid Art Gallery is perhaps the perfect place to look round during the Iron and Clay’ walk as it demonstrates the artistic heights that these two traditional art forms can reach.
The Hamsa symbol, also known as the hand of fatima, can be found all across the Arabic and North African world and you will repeatedly see the amulet throughout your stay in Morrocco. Most Moroccans believe that the Hamsa, or Khomisa as it is known locally, acts as a form of protection from evil, whilst others see it as a sign of good luck. The Khomisa finds it’s origins in the form of a salutation; that is when someone raises their hand to say hello to a friend. It is often said that when one raises their hand in a welcoming gesture it also functions as a kind of protection from his eyes and that is why there is an eye in the middle of every Khmisa.
Elegant jewelry and other exquisite items bearing the Khomisa can be found from stalls around the Jemaa al-Fna and the Artiste Ensamble so you can bring home a piece of Moroccan good luck and protection back home. Alternatively, why not head to Henna Cafe and ask for a Henna Khomisa so that you can wear this beautiful symbol throughout your stay?
Lamp’s have held a hugely high value in Moroccan architecture and design for hundreds of years and are used in all four corners of Morocco to decorate shops, restaurants and houses. Hand-crafted Moroccan lamps come in all shapes and sizes and often take a painstakingly long time to complete.
In Jemaa al-Fnaa many lamp salesmen can easily be found among the street shops that line around the edges of the central square. Though these boutiques are nameless, there is one however which specialises in traditional Moroccan lamps which is nearly impossible to miss.
After a 10 minute walk from the Riad Star towards the centre of the red city, I spot the lamp boutique and immediately images of Aladdin’s cave are conjured in my mind. I have to stoop under the array of Moroccan lanterns hanging from the shop’s ceiling, all of which are designed using different patterns, sizes and materials.
I talk to the shop keeper, who introduces himself as Omar. He explain’s that he and a friend have been in the trade of collecting lamps in Marrakech for around 10 years. He goes on to explain to me that traditional Moroccan lamps are used in the interiors and exteriors of homes and that their unique design is important to many Moroccans.
I would recommend returning to the lamp shop after the sun sets. From then it is easier to get an understanding of the unique ambiance that the Moroccan lanterns create. As the flames dance within their casings the unique patterns of each lamp are illuminated on the surrounding walls, giving the boutique a stunning and truly mysterious feel.
We are grateful to our guests at our Riad hotels who have been wonderfully supportive recommending us to family and friends. With so few rooms at each Riad we have, more often than we would have liked, had to explain that we were fully booked for returning guests preferred dates. It seems our Marrakech Riads are not such a well kept secret as they used to be.
It was not easy finding for the right Riad to ‘join the family’ a painstaking process since, as one of our Moroccan friends puts it, ‘you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince!’ Eventually, after years of searching we were thrilled to find a beautiful light spacious Riad in the Central Medina with delightful features including intricately carved plaster decoration and Cedar woodwork in an Art Deco style. We instinctively loved the blend of European and Moroccan architecture and it was impossible to miss a quality of craftsmanship the full significance of which was only to become clear later. Of course the house needed more than a little TLC after years of neglect but there was no doubt about it we had found a STAR so the day we got the keys we lost no time registering the name Riad Star with the Marrakech authorities.
Our central medina district is full of history. Guests at Riad Cinnamon enjoy the luxury of staying only a few hundred metres from three of the most important monuments in Marrakech, the Almoravid Kouba (believed to be the oldest building in the Medina), the Koranic School or Medersa attached to the Ben Yussef Mosque and the Marrakech Museum.
The history of the Museum is fascinating, built as a Palace in classic Andalusian style (the history of North Africa and Southern Spain being inextricably intertwined) it was only recently restored as a museum which opened in 1997. In fact the Palace complex extended further to the north than the current museum and included what are now a number of elegant independent dwellings accessed from Derb Alilich our newly discovered Riad Star being one of them.
Meeting our new neighbours was a delight, they were kind enough to show us inside their homes, atmospheric Riad courtyards with elegant proportions and suites of rooms decorated with zellige of Fez tiles under cedar wood ceilings. It was talking to a neighbour that we made an amazing discovery. ‘Did you know that a big star used to live in your house?’ Our new friend, born in the street but now retired explained that in the 1940’s when Pachah Thami El Glaoui was at the hight of his powers the Palace that is now the museum belonged to the Pachah’s family and the renowned Josephine Baker lived in the Palace complex. Miss Baker’s life story is truly remarkable, she rose rapidly from humble beginnings in St Louis, Missouri to superstardom in Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s becoming a French national and distinguishing herself in the French Resistance as well as the American civil rights movement. Fame and status notwithstanding it is for her human warmth that Josephine is remembered in Derb Alilich. The following short film dating from many years later in 1974 gives a glimpse of possibly why.