This second blog on my trip to Morocco consists of slideshows (links found at the end of this commentary) covering buildings and patterns. Go directly to the end if images are what you want. Otherwise, to appreciate the buildings it may be helpful to know that the architecture of Morocco is essentially an Islamic style of construction with profound influence from Spanish styles of the mid centuries. It is not very difficult to identify the architecture of Morocco (and indeed in the West today there are firms that specialize in so-called Moroccan architecture) because of its distinctive Islamic style comprised of some typical features:
- huge U- shaped arches and lovely domes
- large courtyards, adorned with charming gardens
- use of geometrical patterns.
- use of bright color schemes
- use of ornamental Islamic calligraphy and fewer pictures
- ornamentation of the exterior of the buildings
I have spread images among four slideshows here divided among housing, religion, schools and decorative patterns.
A few key concepts and examples may be useful:
, a place for the local leader to live and that functioned as a defense when the city was under attack. A kasbah has high walls which often have no windows, athough examples here have some splendid views from windows. Sometimes, they were built on the top of hill to make them easier to defend. A good example seen here is the Taourirt Kasbah
This building is Ouarzazate’s only historic building and it has been rebuilt and renewed many times by the film industry that now forms the economic basis of Ouarzazate. It was originally begun in the 18th century and renovated in the 19th c. Interestingly, and not visited on our trip, the Kasbah stands beside a former Berber village, inhabited today by a busy population. In its winding streets are such modern accoutrments as an internet café, a former synagogue that now serves as a carpet shop and a herbalist.
, a term describing a Berber village consisting of generally attached houses, often having collective granaries and other structures (mosque, bath, oven, shops) widespread among the oasis populations of the Maghreb (northern Africa). Ksars are sometimes situated in mountain locations to make defense easier; they often are entirely within a single, continuous wall. The building material of the entire structure is normally adobe, or cut stone and adobe.
A good example seen here is Ait Benhaddou
, now a UNESCO heritage site. The village sits on a hill on the bank of a small river flowing down from the Atlas Mountains. It was reputedly founded in 757, and was started as the home for one family and the settlement has grown out of this. The tomb of its founder Ben-Haddou is at the base of the hill behind the town. The front parts of the village are well restored, as this has been the setting of many films, from Lawrence of Arabia through to Gladiator. It has also been a testing ground for UNESCO and ICOMOS in preservation techniques. Therefore the first part of the town looks very impressive almost new, the higher up the hill however the less restoration you see and this gives a good feel for what the site would be like with out the investment. Within the 'old' town families still live, making their living from tourists. The image below is a watercolor still wet when purchased.
On the other side of the river, is a more modern part of town, where there are restaurants and shops still mostly mud brick architecture.
The Bahia Palace
is a residence of another sort with a set of gardens located in Marrakech, Morocco. It was built in the late 19th century, intended to be the greatest palace of its time. The name means 'brilliance'. As in other buildings of the period in other countries, it was intended to capture the essence of the Islamic and Moroccan style. There is a 2 acre (8,000 m²) garden with rooms opening onto courtyards. Set up at the end of 19th century by Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan, for his personal use, this palace would bear the name of one of his wives. Here, the harem, which includes a vast court decorated with a central basin and surrounded by rooms intended for the concubines. As the black slave Abu Ahmed rose to power and wealth towards the end of the 19th century, he had the Bahia palace built by bringing in craftsmen from Fez.Madersa or madrasah
literally means "a place where learning/teaching is done". The word is also present as a loanword with the same innocuous meaning in many Arabic-influenced languages, such as: Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Indonesian, Malay and Bosnian.
In the Arabic language, the word مدرسة (madrasah) simply means the same as school does in the English language, whether that is private, public or parochial school, as well as for any primary or secondary school whether Muslim, non-Muslim, or secular. Good examples reflected in thes slideshows are Madersa Ben Yousef
and Madersa Bou Inania
featured here include the Hassan II Mosque
as well as the remains of the 11thc dome of Koubba Ba’Adiyn
. The Hassan II Mosque was built between 1986 and 1993 for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan king Hassan II. The Hassan II Mosque has space for 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 outside. The 210-meter minaret is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around. Although Hassan II Mosque was designed by a French architect, it is Moroccan through and through. Except for the white granite columns and the glass chandeliers, the materials used to construct the mosque were taken from the Morocco region. 6,000 traditional Moroccan artisans worked for five years to turn these raw materials into mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, sculpted plaster moldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings. The mosque also includes a number of modern touches: it was built to withstand earthquakes and has a heated floor, electric doors, a sliding roof, and lasers which shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca.
The Koubba Ba’Adiyn
, brick built dome, is the only example of Amoravid architecture in Marrakech. It was built in 1106 and was part of a richly decorated mosque that was demolished by Almogads. The rectangular pavilion in the photographs was recovered in 1948. The elements of the arches and the floral ornamentation anticipate the fullblown artistic creativity of the Islamic architecture.
The Saadian tombs
were neglect for a couple centuries but still today represent some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture. The style is in complete contrast to the simplicity of earlier architecture. These tombs date from the 16-18th centuries although it was not until 1917 that they were made accessible to the public.
The final slideshow presents a sample of decorative images
. To appreciate all the decorative images here as well as in the other slideshows, I offer some discussion of Islamic decoration comprised of three non-figural types of decoration: geometric, vegetal and calligraphic. All three appear in the images presented here although I find the geometric the most fascinating and pleasing. Geometric abstract designs
are found in vast abundance on the walls, floors and ceilings of the Islamic architecture as well as on any number of objects, bowls, vases, jewelry and clothing. We may see differences in quality and size of execution, but we see the same forms and designs recur regardless of medium. As the Metropolitan Museum essay, Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art, relates, “While geometric ornamentation may have reached a pinnacle in the Islamic world, the sources for both the shapes and the intricate patterns already existed in late antiquity among the Greeks, Romans, and Sasanians in Iran. Islamic artists appropriated key elements from the classical tradition, then complicated and elaborated upon them in order to invent a new form of decoration that stressed the importance of unity and order. The significant intellectual contributions of Islamic mathematicians, astronomers, and scientists were essential to the creation of this unique new style.” MoreVegetal patterns
reflect nature with a great deal of accuracy whether they are used as motifs for textiles, objects or buildings. The arabesque, essentially a geometricized vegetal ornament, is based on the same underlying mathematical principles that govern the purely geometric patterns. D. Jones describes the arabesque as “characterized by a continuous stem which splits regularly, producing a series of counterpoised, leafy, secondary stems which can in turn split again or return to be reintegrated into the main stem.”Calligraphy
, with its role in reporting the word of God, is one of the most important Islamic arts. Almost every Islamic building has some calligraphy, often an inscription from the Qur’an, or a repetition of words like Allah, and often appearing as a frame around a doorway or cornice or window, providing a pattern for filtering light. And like geometric and vegetal patterns, calligraphy is closely linked to geometry, as the proportions are governed by mathematics.
As you will see in the images of housing, schools and religious places, there is always a sequence of spaces and a unity expressed regardless of the buildings purpose. Add water and light
to the recurring geometric, vegetal and calligraphic decorative patterns and you see additional layers of patterns and transformation of space. Water is cooling and reflective, and, in a pool or contained fountain, is both stable and dynamic. Air may ripple the still pool whose reflections then become new patterns while the fountain adds a gentle murmur and creates new patterns as the water sprays up, down and out, often caught by a breeze. Light similarly modifies and creates patterns and is dynamic as the natural light from the sun changes positions and creates moving shadows. Jones writes that “many devices typical of Islamic architectural decoration -- for example, muqarnas [a honeycomb decoration that can reflect and refract light]-- are explained by a desire to dissolve the barriers between those elements of the buildings that are structural (load-bearing) and those that are ornamental (non-load-bearing).” (Sources: Jones, D: Architecture of the Islamic World; Islamic Arts and Architecture Organisation as quoted on the web site
After looking at some of these images of Moroccan Islamic buildings, you may wish to look again at the images of the I.M. Pei Museum of Islamic Art shown in the blog on January 19. Considered together with the images from Oman and those from Morocco, it seems clear that while Pei drew enormously from the Islamic repertoire he imbued his building with the essence of Islamic architecture and translated what he saw into something both familiar and new. Quite a monument for what may be his last significant achievement.SlideshowsIslamic architecture and patternsHousingTombs and a DomeHassan I MosqueMadersas