I am battling the Monday blues by studying more Marrakech history. One of our first stops on our trip will be Le Jardin Marjorelle. These famous gardens were started by the painter Jacques Marjorelle in 1937, opened to the public in 1947, and eventually purchased by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berge in 1980.
Jacques Marjorelle was a French orientalist painter and the son of the famous Art Nouveau furniture designer Louis Marjorelle. He fell in love with Marrakech and purchased a palm grove in 1923 which is now Le Jardin Marjorelle.
As Marjorelle travelled the world, the artist would bring back specimens to add to his garden including hundreds of rare varieties of trees and plants that included: cacti, palm trees, bamboo, coconut palms, thujas, weeping willows, carob trees, jasmine, agaves, white water lilies, datura, cypress, bougainvilleas, and ferns. He laid out the gardens in the same way he would arrange the composition of a painting playing with light and shadow and introducing bold color through painted walls and pottery.
He began introducing color by painting the facade of his studio, and then gates, pergolas, pots and the various buildings in a scheme of bold and brilliant primary colors. His favorite shade was, an ultramarine, cobalt blue, “evoking Africa” which came to be known as “Marjorelle Blue”. This intense blue accentuated the various shades of green found throughout the garden.
In 1931, he commissioned the architect, Paul Sinoir, to design a Cubist villa for him, constructed near his first house. His workshop, where he would paint his large decorations, was located on the ground floor, and he established a studio on the first floor where he spent much of his time. Balconies and an Arab-inspired pergola were added to the construction in 1933.
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé discovered the Jardin Majorelle in 1966, during their first stay in Marrakech.
“We quickly became very familiar with this garden, and went there every day. It was open to the public yet almost empty. We were seduced by this oasis where colours used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature… And when we heard that the garden was to be sold and replaced by a hotel, we did everything we could to stop that project from happening. This is how we eventually became owners of the garden and of the villa. And we have brought life back to the garden through the years.” – Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent, “Une passion marocaine” Éditions de la Martinière, 2010
In 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the Jardin Majorelle, saving it from real estate developers. The new owners decided to live in the Villa Bou Saf Saf, which they renamed Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle.”
The painter’s studio has been transformed into a museum open to the public, dedicated to Berber culture, housing the personal Berber collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
Yves Saint Laurent would say he was able to find an unlimited source of inspiration in the Jardin Majorelle, and that he dreamt many times about its unique colours.
Yves St. Laurent dies in 2008 in Paris. His ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the Villa Oasis; a memorial was built in the garden, designed around a Roman pillar which was brought from Tangier and set on a pedestal with a plate bearing his name, so that visitors can remember him and his unique contribution to fashion. “It is a way for artists to live on… ” After Yves died, I donated the Jardin Majorelle and the Villa Oasis to the foundation in Paris which bears both our names.” – Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent, Une passion marocaine, Éditions de la Martinière, 2010
Each year I try to take a creative pilgrimage to keep my design juices flowing. Next month I am beyond excited to embark on the adventure of a lifetime with my design pals to Marrakech. The intrepid travelers include Julia Buckingham of Buckingham Interiors, Holly Phillips of the English Room, Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Nicholas of Cloth and Kind. I can think of no better shoppers and bons vivants with whom I love to travel.
Marrekech has intrigued me as long as I can remember…the mystery of the riads, the labyrinth of the souks, the pattern on pattern everywhere, and the exuberant colors have always fascinated me. I have fallen down the rabbit hole trying to learn as much as I can before our trip. Indulge me as I share my research on everything from rugs to tiles to design history in my upcoming posts.
The grand finale to our trip will be a brief stay at La Mamounia. Not only has this legendary hotel hosted everyone from royalty to rock stars, it was also renovated by favorite designer Jacques Garcia in 2009. Designed in 1922 by architects Prost and Marchisio, La Mamounia combined the Moroccan architectural tradition with Art Deco design and decoration. The hotel originally had 100 rooms, but was expanded in 1946, 1950 and 1953, and now includes nearly 200 rooms. Inspired by centuries of history, Garcia created a mythical setting evocative of a Moroccan palace. In lieu of the original Art Deco style, the designer used oriental influeneces, zelliges, mosaics, woodwork, wrought iron, stained glass and marble.
La Mamounia takes its name from the surrounding gardens called the “Arset El Mamoun” which are over 200 years old. The Park once belonged to the Prince Moulay Mamoun, the fourth son of Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, who reigned in the 18th century. It was customary for the Sultan to offer his sons, as a wedding gift, a house and garden located outside the Kasbah. For his marriage present, Moulay Mamoun received the park, which has since always carried his name. It is said that the prince used to hold extraordinary garden parties here amongst the palms, bougainvilleas, amaranths, agaves and ancient olive trees.
La Mamounia’s most renowned guest was Winston Churchill. He described his stay at the hotel,”This is a wonderful place, and the hotel one of the best I have ever used. I have an excellent bedroom and bathroom, with a large balcony twelve feet deep, looking out on a truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives, and the houses and ramparts of the native Marrakech, and like a great wall to the westward the snowclad range of the Atlas mountains—some of them are nearly fourteen thousand feet high. The light at dawn and sunset upon the snows, even at sixty miles distance, is as good as any snowscape I have ever seen. It is five hours to the ridge of the Atlas and they say you then look down over an immense area, first a great tropical valley, then another range of mountains, and beyond all the Sahara desert.”
Churchill was so inspired by the views that he often painted while in Marrakech. He would wander from balcony to balcony, following the sun on its route in order to render the color of his painting as real as possible. He always stayed at La Mamounia because he thoughts the views from the roof were incomparably “paintaceous.”
The plethora of gastronomic options at La Mamounia is endless…Every bar, lounge and restaurant has a different theme, yet are all cohesive due to the talented touched of Jacques Garcia. From Le Marocain tucked into a riad in the middle of the park to the elegant Bar Italien with saffron banquettes and ornate decorative surfaces, I am sure our squad will be up for the challenge to try every unique experience.
Finally, no trip to the oasis of La Mamounia would be complete without a visit to the spa. Recognized by its large red glass lanterns, the spa is comprised of a series of treatments rooms and 2 hammams that include rooms for steaming, stone massage, and showers.
Exactly one month from today, you can find me right here!
Images via La Mamounia.