I am channeling my inner Talitha Getty this weekend packing and preparing for our Marrakech adventure. I have always been enchanted with the patterns and colors of Morocco, but this is the first trip where I knew so little about the customs and culture of a destination. Every place I have traveled before I had studied in various classes from high school to design school learning everything from the history and religion to the art of architecture of the region. I have tried to do a self taught crash course in all things Moroccan and I am beyond fascinated by this part of the world the more that I learn.
The varied culture, customs and design influences can be attributed to the number of groups that have conquered Morocco…Arabs, Berbers, Africans, Turks, Romans, Byzantines, and French. Around 1000BC, the area around Marrakech served as a temporary campsite to nomads who made their living crossing the Sahara and trading with African tribes to the south. A permanent city was not founded until 1062, when Ben Youssef of the Almoravid dynasty claimed the site for his soldiers and erected the Koutobia mosque. Marrakech became an important cultural, economic and military base.
“Understanding Morocco’s history and culture is essential to finding the answer to Morocco’s design equation. So many foreign, indigenous and religious influences have left their mark on Moroccan decor in indeliable ways. And the end is a heady mixture of old and new that has caught the design world by storm.” -Maryam Montague, Marrakesh By Design
Maryam’s book explains how Moroccans believe in magic in both good and bad. Most design elements have great significance. Talismans, numbers, colors, symbols, and substances are thought to have magical powers. Doors are painted blue to ward off evil spirits from entering the home.
The Moroccans have the reputation of being friendly and gracious. Perhaps it is their fear of the “evil eye” that makes them so admirable. “The evil eye can be described as a glance combined with a compliment. Compliments are believed to be dangerous if they are associated with envy and coveting; a person’s good fortune, good health, or good looks may provoke envious people to cast the evil eye…Some Moroccans belive if not twarted, the evil eye can provoke sickness or misfortune, and thus every effort must be made to circumvent it through the use of symbols, substances and talismans.” -Maryam Montague Marrakesh By Design
Modesty is paramount to also discourage the “evil eye.” Morocco is a conservative nation with 99% of its population identifying as Muslims. Therefore, the first rule to dressing in Morocco is to respect Islam’s emphasis on modesty. Clothes and accessories are not meant to attract attention or excessively reveal the body. Women should ensure that their clothes do not expose the décolletage, shoulders, or thighs. Furthermore, because of Islam’s emphasis on modesty, brand names are not often seen on Moroccan streets and the display of ostentatious jewelry, luxury handbags, and high-end electronics is discouraged . Most households tend to live prudently, and value giving to the community over materialism.
Hand shaped door knockers represent the protective hand of Fatima.
Pom Poms are sequins are also thought to ward off the veil eye and mischievous genies.
Even in tile design, there is significance to the designs. Islam prohibits the depiction of human and animal figures because it is imitating God’s creation. Therefore, Tastir (geometric) and Tawriq (floral) are the predominant patterns found in the designs. The repeating patterns symbolize eternity and are said to inspire meditation on the eternal nature of God.
Fountains play a major decorative role in the culture. Water symbolizes paradise and rules mandate cleanliness before prayer.
Symbols instead of actual animal depictions are used as talismans in Moroccan rug. Click here to read a previous post dedicated to the various Moroccan rug designs.
Finally, join us on our Instagram Takeover for Traditional Home September 25-27 as we share the sights, designs, and visual experiences of Marrakech with Cloth & Kind, The English Room and Buckingham Interiors +Design!
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.