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Riads : History and Architecture

Marrakesh was founded in the 11th century by Sultan Ibn Tashfine, who ruled over Morocco (a Western distortion of the name ‘Marrakesh’) at the time, as well as over Mauritania and parts of Algeria and Spain. This we know – it’s all in the history books. What is only legend, however, is the tale of his soldiers creating the far-famed Palmeraie by throwing the stones of the innumerable dates they consumed on to the fertile ground!
But why not believe it anyway? After all, it’s a lovely story!.
The Sultan had a sumptuous palace built, made up of several separate buildings set in a magnificent garden.
The gentry of the time had their own residences built around it – more modest edifices to be sure, but following the same idea: lounge and outbuildings set either around or within a central garden planted with fruit trees and ornamental flora, the whole surrounded by a blind wall, like a miniature city.

Riad al Jazira and its splendidly worked archways.
The Arabo-Classical colonnade in Riad el Arsat.

And so it was the riad came into being.
There were no upper storeys in those early days, and terraces were (and long continued to be) only used for domestic purposes.
Over the centuries, as dynasties, discoveries and fashions followed one upon the other, riads saw their walls and archways adorned with geometrical sculpture work, the advent of cedar wood, of the famed pastel-hued tadellakt, and of superb multicoloured zellij ornamenting their monumental fountains and lower walls, and even used to liven up much of their flooring.
Today, in a medina that was constructed bit by bit, one district after another, we can still trace the ways in which this style of architecture developed.
Daniel Smith
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