A Riad is a courtyard house found in the old cities of Morocco. These properties have a classically defined layout centered around a courtyard. In fact, it is the courtyard that gives meaning and feeling to the Riad. Each person’s vision of Islamic Heaven,as described in the Koran, will instruct the use of the courtyard space.
In Morocco, privacy is a primary trait when it comes to one’s family residence. Classical Riads reflect this cultural reality in a number of ways. They usually have no outward looking windows. All windows look into the central courtyard. The entrance is usually a chicane, meaning that even as you stand at the open front door you cannot see into the property. And the front door itself is usually misleadingly modest – some of the great Riads lie behind small and unflaterring doors. Unlike in Western culture, where wealth is flaunted, in Morocco wealth is traditionally very discreet.
The classical Riad will be more or less square. The main walls be made of red brick on beaten earth foundations. It will be built up on four sides surrounding the central patio. It will have only one storey – usually comprising two facing reception salons, a kitchen and sleeping quarters. The salons will usually have high wooden or plaster ceilings. There will be an internal well or access to an ancient “khettara” underground waterway.
The formal courtyard will have four square gardens in the middle of which will be found a fountain, usually in marble. The gardens will have various citrus trees – orange, grapefruit, lemon, bergamot – and pomegranate, sometimes herbs such as rosemary and thyme. Date palms figure in the larger Riads.
Over time the word “Riad” has come to mean many different things. It could be any beautiful property in a Medina, whether in Marrakech, Fes, Meknes or Essaouira. Many guesthouses call themselves “Riad”, whether they correspond to the classical definition or not. In fact, a town house which doesn’t have four sides and a central courtyard should be called a “Dar” – meaning “house”. Many of these properties are stunning in their own right.
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