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What exactly is a riad?

Among Morocco’s many treasures are its riads (in Arabic, ‘riyad’ means ‘garden’), which have always been the traditional residences of gentry living in the Kingdom’s cities – its medinas.
These venerable abodes, architectural jewels hidden away behind austere walls, are built around tree- and flower-filled patios, each adorned with its indispensable fountain, cooling the air and attracting the local birdlife.
The wealthier the owner, the more importance he gave to the creation of a garden in the central patio, a miniature paradise planted with trees (cypress, palm trees and orange trees, perhaps) and shrubs, fragrant plants (jasmine and rosebushes, for instance), or climbing plants such as ivy and vines.
The patio often contains a "b'hou", a richly ornamented alcove open to the fresh air. 

 The central fountain, set at the crossing of the pathways through the garden in the magnificent patio of Riad Kaïss.
In these remarkable residences, the lounges – whose monumental doors give directly on to the patio – boast high ceilings of carved or painted cedar wood, fine open fireplaces, floors and lower walls in multicoloured zellij, and upper walls in pastel-hued tadellakt.

Left : a bhou in one of the Riad Ayadina’s patios.
Right: one of the Palais Soleiman restaurant’s superb lounges.

Many riads were left to wrack and ruin in the earlier years of the 20th century, when richer citizens moved to the newly built modern districts. Interest in them reawakened, however, in the 1960s and 70s, when they were rediscovered by artists and other famous names, who fell under the spell of their neglected charm.
Some settled down in their new homes for good and all, while others spent several months a year in them, delighting in the ineffable pleasure provided by living in houses beyond the reach of time.
Many riads have now been purchased by foreigners, who make them their second homes or transform them into guesthouses or restaurants.
Note :
Today, the term “Riad” has become somewhat overworked (the temptation was irresistible!), with many “dars” – traditional houses built around small patios adorned with miniscule fountains and planted with a few shrubs – appropriating it to their own use, along with numbers of fine properties outside the medina, which latter abodes may at least boast superb gardens!
Daniel Smith
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