Moroccan Riad, a Palace Between Gardens and Terraces

Moroccan Riad, a Palace Between Gardens and Terraces

I grew up in a Moroccan riad 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 at its entryway a vine 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 over the years 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.

The word riad means paradise in Arabic. Designed more than eight centuries ago, 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 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, iron works, 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 and designed for receiving visitors other than relatives. The douiria has a street entrance independent from the access to the riad and usually 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 special spirit inside a riad 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.

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 decided to settle 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, frequented by Saint Laurent and Bergé until acquired in 1980.

Moroccan riad entryway


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

riad fountain


Paradise in Islam is a garden with at the center a fountain that gushes nourishing water | Courtesy of Riad Maya, Fez.

riad marrakech architecture


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

riad lhotel marrakech conran


The first room when you enter the riad is named Koubba which means dome in Arabic | Courtesy of Riad LHOTEL Marrakech


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

riad jardin secret marrakech


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

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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.