Staying in Morocco: What is a Riad?

by Jules on March 13, 2013

Lots of people who are looking at going to Marrakech will consider staying in a riad. A riad isn’t a standard hotel though, or a normal holiday villa. So what is a riad?

A riad is a traditional Moroccan palace comprising a grand set of living quarters around a central courtyard, which gives the building its name (‘riad’ is taken from the Arabian term for ‘garden’). There are two reasons for the inward-focused layout: to give the family privacy and to protect them from the Moroccan weather. The central garden benefits from the shade of the surrounding walls, keeping the occupants cool in the extreme heat during the day.

Riads have very distinctive decorative styles. The focus is on function, with lots of tiles to keep the house cool, but these are often decorated with painted Arabic script from the Qu’ran. Common elements of the garden include citrus trees and fountains to create a sense of calm. Moroccans are very houseproud, and there is a strong focus on making a house feel homely, warm and inviting.

Marrakech in particular has seen a surge in popularity of riads as holiday accommodation as tourists become more interested in an authentic Moroccan experience, with renovations of old riads taking place all over the city. Some of the riads in Marrakech still operate as normal riads, whereas others have become boutique hotels or restaurants.

One of the main things to note about a riad is that there is a sense that the thick medluk walls, made from sand, lime and egg white, are there to create a definite separation between the home and the hustle and bustle of the medina, or the old town.

In a truly Islamic architectural style, the relatively bland exterior is juxtaposed with a vibrant, intricate interior, which carries through to the elegant, tile-adorned atrium. The repetition of the decorative tiles is actually a way to represent God according to Islamic mythology, showing the fact that God is infinite. While a riad may not look particularly special from the outside, it is the fine, architectural dream of the inside that makes it a magical Moroccan encounter.

While running water is not included as standard in a traditional riad, with the surge of riad-seeking tourists flocking to Morocco, riads are now being found with more and more luxuries, such as plunge pools, spas and beautiful rooftop gardens. This doesn’t detract from the sense that these are genuinely Moroccan establishments, though; merely that they are adapting to provide a more comfortable experience for those wanting something with more character than a chain hotel.

A riad is a great way to see Morocco and to get acquainted with its gorgeous architecture on a more personal level, and you’ll find yourself charmed by the calm atmosphere amidst the amazing setting of the building and courtyard itself.

Emma Lawson is a keen travel enthusiast who writes about a range of travel-related topics, from holidaymakers’ favourite resorts to attractions off the beaten track.

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