In the south and west of the country, throughout the Atlas mountains and the regions approaching the Sahara desert, the Berber kasbahs and ksar reign. These mud-brick (tabia or pisť) cities and villages are marvels of architecture with found materials, and profound examples of adapting architectural styles to the needs of dry, arid living. Although their purpose of these was originally military in nature, they evolved over time into desert palaces.
From 685 CE onward, Morocco became an Islamic state, and like elsewhere across the north of the African continent, this new faith was to transform the country's architecture, bringing familiar Islamic horseshoe arches, mosques, minarets and gates into every city skyline. It is these images which many people associate with the country today.
Thrusting upwards above the ramparts, one can typically see at least one minaret, the tower from which the muezzins call the faithful to prayer (the word minaret comes from menara, meaning lighthouse). Moroccan minarets are typically four-sided. Although all but three mosques in Morocco are closed to non-Muslims, one can get a sense of the resplendent Islamic decoration of these holy places by visited the medersas, the residential colleges for Koranic study attached to many mosques.
In every city in Morocco there are two main sections: the medina, or old pre-colonial Moroccan city, and the ville nouvelle, or new French colonial city. The contrast between the narrow passages of the medina, seemingly (but not) unplanned and extending in every direction, and the wide, grid-like boulevards of the ville nouvelle is extraordinary. The medinas, with their roots as protected pseudo city-states built at various times within Morocco's history, are typically surrounded by crenellated walls and towers, to protect against invasion.
For most visitors the medina provides an interesting introduction to Islamic architecture. Rooted in the desert experience, the goal of Islamic architecture is to create enclosed spaces for living, protected against a possibly hostile climate. As a result, most decorative flourishes, such as gardens, fountains, and the like, are located on the inside of the buildings, rather than on the outside, as is commonly the case with European architecture. In Islamic domestic architecture, the building is the environment. Nowhere can this more easily be seen than in Morocco's private gardens and riads, private homes in the medina, which often enclose a courtyard with gardens, pools and pavillions.
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Date last edited:
12 November 2012