What is a Riad in Morocco? Unveiling the Charm of Traditional Moroccan Houses

Last Updated on June 17, 2024 by Safaa (founder of moroccanzest)
marrakech riad

What is a Riad in Morocco? Unveiling the Charm of Traditional Moroccan Houses

Riad, a Palace Between Gardens and Terraces

I grew up in a riad in Morocco, in the historical city of Salé, mostly known as the bordering city of Rabat, the capital. Our riad was built in the early 1900s by my late grandfather, an architect. Once the riad was finished, my grandfather planted a vine in its entryway, following his family’s housewarming traditions. The vine developed quickly and, in a few decades, climbed one of our riad walls and reached the sky-blue rooftop terrace. 

My grandfather also built a pergola on the rooftop for the vines to twine, blessing us with a gorgeous, shady rooftop and some of the sweetest and juiciest grapes we had ever had.

Every riad in Morocco was built with comfort and luxury in mind. When you look from the outside, the walls leave nothing to guess. But once you pass through the riad’s heavy door, you enter a protected universe of the riad’s heavenly richness.

What is a riad, you may ask. The word riad means paradise in Arabic. Designed more than eight centuries ago, Moroccan riads were meant to represent the Muslim vision of paradise. They were built and decorated by the best craftsmen from all over the Mediterranean area and enriched by Andalusian art to become the Moorish-style palaces we know today.

From an architectural standpoint, a traditional Moroccan riad is a house constructed around an interior courtyard with a marble or zellige fountain in the center. The courtyard is designed to look like a geometric garden with a profusion of aromatic and ornamental plants and orange or palm trees.

Traditional riads have plenty of rooms—five or six if not more—each decorated with a distinct style, colors, and originality, using splendid zelliges, ironwork, intricate fabric embroideries, and other beautiful creations of local artisans. No two rooms are identical.

A riad usually has one or two floors and sometimes a douiria, a private apartment with separate access designed for receiving visitors other than relatives. The douiria has a street entrance independent from the access to the riad and usually has a couple of rooms, a lounge, and a private terrace, making it the ideal nook for those who want to hide and dream.

There is a unique spirit inside a riad house which has to do with the combination of the ancient Andalusian architecture, the concentration of intricate artworks created by the hands of women and men, and also the symbolism behind traditions, like the Moroccan tea ceremony. Riads offer a tour of the past in the spirit of the present, inspiring comfort and safety.

riad entryway

 

When you look from the outside, the walls of the riad leave nothing to guess | Photo credit: Moroccanzest

moroccan riad fountain

 

in Islam, paradise is a garden with at the center a fountain that gushes nourishing water. Picture courtesy of Riad Maya, Fez.

moroccan riad architecture

 

Many of the old riads in Morocco were restored with respect for the traditional architecture and artwork. Picture courtesy of Riad LHOTEL, Marrakech.

riad morocco

 

The first room when you enter the riad is named Koubba, which means dome in Arabic. Riads are influenced mainly by the Andalusian art.

 

riad architecture

moroccan riad tiles and iron work

 

moroccan riad terrace outdoor

riad morocco patio

The Douiria – private apartment – is as refined as the main riad | Courtesy of Riad Dar Housna, Marrakech

riad garden

 

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s Riad Dar Es saada in Marrakech, 1977 | Photo credit: Guy Marineau, Musee Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

riad bedroom decor

 

Colorful tiles, nooks, pottery, light from outdoor patios, and warm colors | Courtesy of Riad Jardin Secret, Marrakech

 

  •  At the time of the protectorate in Morocco, the growth of new cities and ways of life resulted in disaffection and the degradation of the riads of the country. Luckily, the 1960s and 1970s brought a few artists and personalities, mostly European, who became passionate about the riad architectural and cultural richness. They engaged in massive restorative projects respecting the original architecture and traditional materials. Some settled there permanently while others only spent a few months in the year.

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé were among the personalities who fell in love with Moroccan riads. In 1974, they bought Dar Es Saada, “the House of Happiness” in Marrakech, and entrusted their friend, Bill Willis, with the interior design. Their beautiful riad was located near the Jardin Majorelle, which Saint Laurent and Bergé frequented until it was acquired in 1980.

Styling tips:

  • Moroccan decor in traditional riads doesn’t always involve using a lot of colors. You can work with neutral or bold colors.
  • These artisanal Moroccan poufs as well as these Moroccan tables and pillows are an easy way to add a charming and elegant Moroccan touch to your interiors.

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Safaa, founder of moroccanzest

From design and decor to food and travel, moroccanzest is the space where I share what I loved growing up in Morocco, and more. It’s your destination for everything beautiful, artistic, and made the Moroccan way with love. Learn more about me here.