Marrakech and its dreamy world of Riads

Africa Contributor
Amazing tropical garden with Arabic style architecture illuminated by sunset light in Marrakech, Morocco. © Marius Dorin Balate |

Riad, the dreams Marrakech expresses the peace of Islam like nothing else. Visiting a riad in the Medina of the city is a unique experience. The word riad is Arabic, which means garden.

In such a harsh environment of Morocco and Marrakech, the green and blooming gardens are a breathtaking luxury. In a desert region, the oasis equates with life. As our peaceful religion Islam emerged from the desert, the Islamic garden actually indicates life and worldly harmony. In Islam, a garden is symbolized as Paradise. The word comes from the Persian ‘Pairidaeza’, which means an enclosed garden.

The historical and religious concept of Paradise dates back to 5000 years. It is mixed with Quranic references as a garden with four rivers. The component of each river is water, milk, honey, and wine. This concept is the central element of Islamic Culture. Now, if you look at Morocco, especially Marrakech, it is situated at the edge of the Sahara desert. And the city actually took and believed the essence of Paradise pretty well.

The interesting way of living in an Islamic world

In Marrakech, a riad is a house with an enclosed garden. The courtyard of the house is divided into four quadrants. Each of the quadrants is decorated with plants. This is called “Chahar Bagh, which is, according to the Qur’an the mirror of our four-fold world. And the paths in between represent the four rivers. In the middle of the garden, there is Sahridj, which is a shallow basin with a beautiful fountain. It is the greatest important element of a garden. In Holy Qur’an, Almighty Allah stated,

“That is because Allah is the True Reality, and that what they call upon1 other than Him is falsehood, and because Allah is the Highest, the Grand.” [Quran 31:30]

A riad garden has functional as well as the spiritual dimension. Trees like a Date palm, orange, and olive indicate sustainability and happiness. Along with prosperity and peace. The aromatic herbs like rosemary mint and aloe vera are prized for their medical properties.

The garden is also lushly green. We all know that green is the color of Islam. The only jasmine is allowed for fragrance, else flowers are barred in the Islamic garden. The riad embodies the art and interesting way of living in an Islamic world.

History of riad gardens in Marrakech

Historically, a riad referred to a type of interior garden which is common to Moorish architecture which was prevalent in Al-Andalus. It has an old root in The Mediterranean and Middle eastern domestic structure. According to the scholars, the origin of riads in the western Islamic world is attributed to the eastern Persian world.

The striking examples of riads are Aljaferia and Alhambra. However, it is not clear how Moroccan riads were influenced by the models of Al-Andalus. Probably the immigrants brought the style.

The hidden gems of the riads in Marrakech

The historical gems of Marrakech are hidden in the enclosed gardens. For example, the Koutoubia Mosque is one of the gems. Also, there is a jewel-like garden in the middle of Bahia Palace. In the riad of Dar si Said, paths are paved with green and white tiles which indicates river flow.

According to the architects, the ruins of the 16th century El Badi Palace are perfect in style. It was built by Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. It has two monumental pavilions facing each other.

Also, the lower gardens are stretched 8 feet below the pavements so visitors can enjoy the beautiful view.

Riads were important elements of later Moroccan royal palaces. The presence of these riads is considered a blessing. These gardens actually balance tradition with modernity. It is also a message from the basic Islamic tenet, as the Khalifas occupy the position of guardians of nature.

“Then We made you successors in the land after them so that We may observe how you will do.” [Quran 10:14]