Thursday, August 25, 2016

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: BAHIA PALACE AND BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA

1.  THE BAHIA PALACE                                                                                                                      In the mid-19th century, the grand vizier of Morocco (essentially the prime minister) began construction of a home for himself in Marrakech. When he died, his son replaced him and took over the home, expanding it greatly and bringing in the best artisans in Morocco to make it the most beautiful building in the world. He named it Bahia Palace, "Bahia" meaning "brilliance" or "beautiful." Altogether, it took about 50 years to build, being completed in 1900. A sprawling, irregular structure, it covers almost 20 acres and includes multiple courtyards and extensive gardens. In my trip journal, I wrote that the Bahia Palace was the prettiest building we had seen so far on our trip. 
These days the Bahia Palace is a museum, but it's also used for formal government events, such as visits by foreign dignitaries and special guests. The Moroccan Ministry of Cultural Affairs is also housed in the Palace, and while we were in town, it was being used as one of the exhibition sites for the Marrakech Biennale.

The first courtyards we entered were stunning, the enclosed greenery providing a transition from the outside to the inside:



 

A series of courtyards open up one after another:


Inside the larger rooms, my eyes were almost immediately drawn to the spectacular ceilings:

The intricacy and artistry of these ceilings rival the great Renaissance ceilings in Europe:



This one is my favorite. Isn't it wonderful?

Even the walls of the thick doorways are covered with patterns:



Some of the rooms in the Bahia Palace were being used as exhibition rooms for the Marrakech Biennale, which was spread out in four or five venues around the city.  

I really enjoyed seeing contemporary art in such an unusual setting:







The display below looks like a construction project, but I think it was part of the art show: 

The Palace itself is one giant artistic masterpiece:


There are as many patterns of window grills as there are tile patterns:


The same is true of these over-the-door embellishments:






And while I make sure that I have matchy-matchy windows, doors, and trims in my house, this enormous Moroccan house has hundreds of doors and windows and trims that are each unique to one spot. The variety is mind-boggling.

Like a honeycomb, courtyard follows courtyard, but unlike a honeycomb, no two are the same:

The only way we could tell if we were by the perimeter was by whether or not we saw palm trees on the other side of the wall:
In her travel book In Morocco, Edith Wharton wrote of the Bahia Palace:
"Court within court, garden beyond garden, reception halls, private apartments, slaves' quarters, sunny prophets' chambers on the roofs and baths in vaulted crypts, the labyrinth of passages and rooms stretches away over several acres of ground. A long court enclosed in pale-green trellis-work, where pigeons plume themselves about a great tank and the gripping tiles glitter with refracted sunlight, leads to the fresh gloom of a cypress garden, or under jasmine tunnels bordered with running water; and these again open on arcaded apartments faced with tiles and stucco work, where in a languid twilight, the hours drift by to the ceaseless music of the fountains."

Yes indeed.

One of the interior rooms had a niche that seemed to be the popular place for photos. Several couples were lined up waiting for their turn.  I wish I had a better picture of this sweet couple posing for a picture, but I didn't want to invade their privacy any more than I already was (and am):



2.  BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA

Our next stop was the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the largest madrasa--or Islamic school--in all of Morocco. 
When we walked into the courtyard, I almost had to eat my words about the Bahia Palace being the prettiest place we'd been in Morocco. Ben Youssef Madrasa ran a very close second, and was probably tied with several other eye-candy spots we had already visited.

Built in the 16th century, this madrasa was named after the 12th century Almoravid sultan Ali Ibn Yusuf. Up to 900 students at a time lived and studied here, and the site operated as a madrasa until 1960.

Close up of tiles and stucco carvings:

The same courtyard as viewed from above:


The Ben Youssef Madrasa is sometimes compared to the Alhambra palace in Grenada, Spain, and it is thought that Andalusian artists and architects probably helped design this madrasa. I know I've posted photo after photo of similar-looking structures and embellishments, but we never grew tired of their complexity and variety. I've said what I have to say about them, so I'll just finish with a string of images.






3 comments:

  1. I like the last photo with the series of corners. I think the Bahia Palace was the most magnificent building we visited, but the madrasa was also very nice. I enjoyed the color that the palace had in spades.

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  2. This post took me a long time to read because I kept blowing up your photos for a closer look. Theses are all amazing photos -- you outdid yourself. My favorite was the ruffled window overlooking the pink-tinged court: breathtaking!

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  3. My goodness, is there a place in the world with more beautiful architecture than Morocco? I'm just amazed by the craftsmanship.

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