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The Garden City of Marrakech: Pt I


The Garden City of Marrakech: Pt I

An unusual title for a blog post from a company operating a desert luxury camp in Morocco you might think—after all, what have gardens got to do with desert camps? Well, many of our guests choose to start their Moroccan adventure in the thriving city of Marrakech. But, you may say, surely Marrakech is renowned for its bustling souk and red buildings, its hive of activity, its historical monuments and friendly people? Yes, you’d be correct in thinking this, but many people are not aware that Marrakech is also the home of beautiful gardens. It would be a shame to visit this vibrant city and yet miss out on the tranquillity and beauty of its stunning gardens, especially at those times when the medina can become a bit overwhelming for the first-time visitor and you long for a bit of solitude and peace in a beautiful setting.

Firstly, you don’t have to look far from the medina to find gardens that are free to enter and where you can find peace and quiet. Locate the Koutoubia Mosque and right behind it to the south-west lies the Koutoubia Rose garden which, as its name suggests, is full of scented roses in spring. It covers two hectares and features a large fountain, ornamental orange trees, palm trees and topiarised trees and bushes with wide paths along which you can stroll. Benches under the trees provide the often much-needed shade from the hot North African sun. It’s also a great place for photographers too to get that slightly quirky shot of the Koutoubia from a different angle.

Koutoubia Mosque and rose garden Koutoubia Rose garden © MD

Another garden with no entry fee is the Cyber Park Arsat Moulay Abdeslam, located just a short walk from the Koutoubia on Avenue Mohammed V. Although originally founded in the 18th century, this park was renovated and landscaped by the French in the 20th century and was equipped for the modern age with a cyber café at its centre. So, not only is it a lovely green space in which to wander with its tall trees, landscaped lawns, fountains and marble benches, but visitors can also use the internet in the café—and it is currently free! This makes it a very popular space for young people in particular to hang out.

Cyber Park Arsat Moulay Abdeslam City walls from Arsat Moulay Abdeslam © MD

However, if you want to visit gardens that have been specifically designed as attractions, Marrakech has several to offer. One of these, located within the medina itself, so you don’t even have to leave the souk, is Le Jardin Secret, The Secret Garden. Enter through a doorway in the medina and you find yourself in the open bejmat green-tiled courtyard of this former 16th century palace. Long since fallen into a state of disrepair, the building complex was lovingly restored by an Italian man and his team, and opened to the public in 2016 after eight years of intensive work. The complex comprises two main buildings which showcase the skills of Moroccan craftsmen—rammed earth walls covered in tadelakt, zellij tiling, hand-carved stucco, hand-painted inlaid cedar wood ceilings and doors. The gardens are divided into two main areas: an exotic garden featuring plants from all over the world and an Islamic garden based on the Quranic description of heaven with a geometric orderly design. To this end, numerous streams of water flow along narrow irrigation channels called khettara, an ancient method of watering land, and snake their way through the gardens symbolising life. These two distinct garden spaces contrast nicely as you step into one from the other, and both provide tranquillity with ornate benches and a variety of water features. An added bonus, for an additional fee, is a visit to the tower, which offers arguably one of the best views over the rooftops of the city towards the High Atlas Mountains. Whilst there, grab yourself a bite to eat in the small open-air café which is located on a terrace overlooking the gardens. All in all, a very pleasant spot to spend an afternoon.

Le Jardin Secret Islamic garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech © MD

Maybe the most famous gardens in Marrakech lie in the new town of Gueliz, and are known as Majorelle Gardens, named after Jacques Majorelle, a French artist who painstakingly devoted his time and energy to landscaping a plot of land he acquired. Not only is the garden a creative work of art in terms of the numerous cacti, succulents, bamboos, herbs and tropical plants grown here, but also by the extensive use of a beautiful cobalt blue colour which Majorelle used to great effect in the buildings, paths and archways—and even in painting some of the pots. The colour has become known as bleu Majorelle, Majorelle Blue, and is now widely available to buy as paint and even as a shade of nail varnish! The effect of the use of this shade of blue alongside both complementary and contrasting colours is stunning, creating a luxuriant garden that is just full of life and vibrancy as it plays with light and shade, streams and ponds. It is no wonder that after the untimely death of Jacques Majorelle in 1962, the house and garden were bought by Yves St Laurent who fell in love with this mysterious place, describing his find as “a jewel … the strange marriage of painting and nature.” Together with his partner, Pierre Bergé, he developed and revitalised the gardens, adding new features alongside the beauty that was already there, making the gardens into the spectacle they are today. To say any more about these gardens would spoil your experience. Just go and soak the gardens up for yourself, discover and explore this sensory delight. There is a small museum within the grounds which you can explore too for an additional fee, showcasing costumes and jewellery from days gone by in Morocco. It is well worth a visit if you have an interest in Morocco’s history and culture. Be sure to arrive early morning or late afternoon though (when it is usually slightly quieter) as the gardens are extremely popular and queues to get in can be long—you have been warned! If you have a keen interest in fashion, and more particularly the fashion design career of Yves St Laurent, don’t miss the new YSL museum, for which you can buy a combined ticket with that of the entrance to the gardens.

Majorelle Gardens Majorelle Gardens © MD

In the second part of this blog, we will explore further the garden city of Marrakech. We will visit the gardens of palaces within the city, check out the 12th century Menara Gardens and marvel at the 800-year-old Agdal Gardens. We will take a look at the large swathes of the Palmeraie on the outskirts of town, and also venture further out to those gardens located outside the city which offer something totally different and unique to the discerning visitor. Be sure to stay tuned.

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