Morocco’s riads are architectural wonders that have fascinated visitors for centuries. Built around an inner courtyard, they offer a unique glimpse into the country’s rich cultural heritage, blending traditional Islamic design with European influences.
Throughout Morocco’s old cities, from Marrakech to Fes, the narrow alleyways that twist and turn suddenly open to reveal a hidden riad, a luxurious Arab house with a garden. But what exactly is a riad?
A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard, usually found in the old city’s ancient medinas. These houses are composed of a rectangular structure with a central open-air garden known as a “sahn.” The structure is usually two to three levels high, with several rooms opening directly onto the courtyard.
The architecture is characterized by a fusion of Islamic and Andalusian design styles. The houses are typically decorated with intricate tile work, carved plaster and wooden ceilings, and marble floors. The furniture is similarly ornate, with sofas, chairs, and tables upholstered in richly embroidered fabrics and antique textiles.
Many of the riads are now used as boutique hotels, offering visitors an intimate and authentic taste of Moroccan life. They are often decorated with traditional Moroccan crafts such as leather goods, rugs, and pottery.
Riads can be found in every corner of Morocco, but some of the most famous are in Marrakech. The city’s old medina is home to dozens of beautifully restored riads, such as the Riad El Fenn, which was converted into a hotel by Vanessa Branson, sister of British entrepreneur Richard Branson.
One of the most spectacular riads in Marrakech is the Bahia Palace, built by the wealthy Moroccan Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the late 19th century. The palace’s 160 rooms are arranged around several gardens and courtyards, featuring fountains, intricate zellige tilework, and plaster carvings.
Another famous riad in Marrakech is the Maison de la Photographie, which houses a collection of vintage Moroccan photographs. The building itself dates from the late 19th century and has been restored to showcase the intricate plasterwork and tilework typical of traditional Moroccan architecture.
In Fes, arguably Morocco’s cultural capital, riads also play an essential role in the city’s rich heritage. In the medina’s labyrinthine alleyways, visitors can stumble upon hidden riads such as the elegant Ryad Mabrouka, decorated with a blend of traditional and contemporary design.
Riads are a testament to Morocco’s rich cultural history and an essential part of the country’s architectural heritage. These stunning homes offer visitors a glimpse into a bygone era and a chance to experience Moroccan culture in all its splendor.