Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Palais Bahia, MARRAKECH, Morocco

Today we spent all day with a private guide, Noura, touring this wonderful city by both foot and horse drawn cart. Using a local guide to discover a city gives a perspective that would be virtually impossible to achieve by oneself and we always find it worth the cost. We spent 9hrs with Noura, and the insight we achieved into the historical and cultural aspects of this city was enormous - she also took us to areas we would definitely have missed without her. 

The Palais Bahia, originally the home of the administrative head of the city, is a series of beautiful Riads with intricate plaster, painted timber and mosaic tile work. The word 'Riad' means Eden or Paradise, and refers to the style of architecture in these hot, largely Muslim countries where the focus was internal - presenting as bland to the street, once you step inside the thick walls there is a beautiful internal courtyard with trees, running water and small open alcoves to sit and avoid the heat. Once, they were largely homes for the wealthy within the old Medina (old area of the city with in the original 'Rampants' - walled section), but now the government has encouraged private investors to turn many into small hotels. Built in 1889, Palais Bahia is undergoing extensive work to the courtyard of the third Riad, but the first two Riads are a superb oasis of beautiful handcrafted workmanship - much of which is still done today.

Palais Bahia is filled with marble from Carrara Italy, which was traded for sugar centuries ago
Our wonderful guide Noura who was very knowledgable on historic & cultural aspects of Marrakech 
Palais Bahia has intricately painted timber ceilings - painted using natural dye colours
achieved with saffron, henna & mint
The internal courtyard is peaceful and calm - blocking out the noise and frenetic pace of the outside world

These ceilings would originally have been open to the elements in the top sections, but the stained glass panels were added by the French to make the place more hospitable in the months when snow covers the nearby Atlas mountains. The fireplace is also an addition by the French when they colonised this country from 1912 - 1956