Marrakech: The Red City

I have just returned to the calm of London from Marrakech and can still feel the adrenaline pumping through my system.

Marrakech is a labyrynthine city bursting with life, craftsmen, activity, people and culture. Both an assault on the senses and ones boundaries (people will try and lull you into going into their shop or guiding you at a price); this tiny city can be quite overwhelming. However, with a bit of confidence navigating through the maze of seemingly identical streets and armed with boundaries of steel, after a day or two I started to really appreciated the richness of this unique place, especially the houses or riads, some of which are breathtakingly beautiful.

The narrow winding streets can be filled with donkeys, markets vendors, fruit and vegetables rolling around the pavements, and carcasses of meat hanging dubiously close to ones face. But behind the anonymous red walls are serene and often ornamented riads or moroccan courtyard houses, completely hidden from view.

Entrance of hotel el fenn from a unassuming doorway off the street

Entrance of hotel el fenn from a unassuming doorway off the street

Entrance lobby leading to the open spaces of the courtyard, yet to reveal themselves in boutique hotel El Fenn.

Entrance lobby leading to the open spaces of the courtyard, yet to reveal themselves in boutique hotel El Fenn.

One enters a riad, often, from an inconspicous doorway on the street of windowless walls, which leads into a dark and cool lobby and only once reaching a certain depth does the open space of the courtyard and its surrounding rooms unveil itself.

 A private riad: evening view into the courtyard

 A private riad: evening view into the courtyard

Houses were traditionally all built in this way to comply with the Islamic belief that one's home should be private and protect the people, most importantly the women of the household from the gaze of the neighbours. Coming from a western city, it feels as if the houses have been turned inside out, and glory of the facade is only apparent from the interior.

Detailed tiling,ironmongery and ornamental columns typical in courtyards of a Riad

Detailed tiling,ironmongery and ornamental columns typical in courtyards of a Riad

The courtyards are often filled with vegetation, pools and fountains. Birds in the trees tweet, and the thick walls drown out the noise of the road, enhancing the sensory experience. Walls, arches, collonades and doors are articulated in carvings or decorative tiles, woodwork, ironmongery and brickwork, and these intricate architectural details mark a striking shift in sophistication compared to the blank red external walls of the street.

This is a hidden jewel box of a city. And whatever the religious reasons for it, phenomenologically, this contrast from often an often dirty, hot, noisy and busy street with plain red walls, to a clean, cool, open and and serene interior framed with the most beautiful ornamented facades is magical.