Jardins Majorelle, Marrakech

Posted by admin | May 6, 2009 2

In a hot climate the idea of a secluded garden with water at its centre was a haven from the heat and noise and in fact the word so redolent with meaning and symbolism in our culture, “Paradise” comes from the Persian for a water garden. From the time of the Achaemenid dynasty the idea of an earthly paradise spread through Persian literature and example to other cultures, both the Hellenistic gardens of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies in Alexandria. The Avestan word pairidaêza-, Old Persian *paridaida-, Median *paridaiza- (walled-around, i.e., a walled garden), was transliterated into Greek paradeisoi, then rendered into the Latin paradisus, and from there entered into European languages, e.g., French paradis, German Paradies, and English paradise. The word entered Semitic languages as well: Akkadian pardesu, Hebrew pardes, and Arabic firdaws.


As the word expresses, such gardens would have been enclosed. The garden’s purpose was, and is, to provide a place for protected relaxation in a variety of manners: spiritual and leisurely (such as meetings with friends), essentially a paradise on earth. The Persian word for “enclosed space” was pairi-daeza, a term that was adopted by Christian mythology to describe the Garden of Eden or Paradise on earth.

The great work of Persian poetry the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (albeit, rewritten and reinterpreted by an Irishman, Edward Fitzgerald) also has the famous Persian Astronomer and Mathematician Hakim Omar-e-Khayyam reflecting on life in a garden.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

Indeed the great poet and mathematician of Iran, Hakim Omar-e-Khayyam now rests in a Mausoleum which is situated in a beautiful garden in Nishapur. This mausoleum was constructed in 1341 A.H. (1962 A.D.).

Riad Lotus Privilege, Marrakech

Marrakech Riads

Marrakech, known as the “Red City or Al Hamra,” is for most visitors defined by two sensations the dust and bustle of the Medina and Souks and the quiet and beauty of the city’s gardens. There are the great public gardens and then there are the Riads or “Garden Houses.” From the outside just a doorway in a cul de sac or Djerb but inside there is a cool courtyard garden with a pool, fountain, overhanging balconies and seating niches in which to relax, read or smoke a shisha. Indeed with the “credit crunch” and accompanying stress many people are turning to their gardens for balm and reassurance from the stresses of modern life. The failure of the vacuous economic model of increasing output and consumption is mirrored by the changes in people’s lives.

Dejeuner pour Deux – http://daithaic.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/lunch-in-marrakech.html

And so back to Marrakech which is one of those places on earth which lives up to the hype. It is an amazing medieval city contained within 12 kms of walls or “ramparts” surrounded by a Francophile “Ville Nouvelle”, surrounded by palm groves and overlooked by the High Atlas and with an amazing culture and vitality. There’s only one world to define it: magical… There are a thousand legends which describe its history, which began in 1070 when the Saharan Almoravid Abou Beker, the leader of a powerful army, encamped in the plain of Hauz, at the base of the upper Atlas Mountains. Marrakech, the capital of the south, has a mysterious and seductive air. Marrakech, a name with a magical sound that evokes palm groves and caravans, oriental markets and international spies, and duels to the death in an oasis of peace. Many are the roads which lead to Marrakech but the most famous is the P.7, which comes from Casablanca. The crossing of the plain after Ben Guerir, in all its disturbing bareness, lets you understand how Marrakech represents a passage way to the centre of Morocco. More than any other city, it epitomises the idea and the stereotypes of the culture and the traditions of the country. So, it is an excellent starting point for those who want to discover what Morocco can offer in the city which gave the country its name.

To define yourself by your ability to consume is as vacuous as a trip through the second floor of Selfridge’s department store in London where air heads validate their empty consumer lifestyle with the flotsam of the throwaway fashion world. Indeed the gardener and plain person’s philosopher Alan Tictmarsh has commented that “Gardening is the new sex!” whilst hastily adding that he preferred the traditional variety. But there is no doubt that people are returning to their gardens for their traditional purpose of a place of rest and reflection and as a personal haven.

A garden Sage
Menara Gardens

The pride and joy of Marrakech are its gardens which are taken care of with an age-old passion that dates back to the days of the Almoravids. The truth is that there wouldn’t even be a palm tree in Marrakech if these sovereigns hadn’t started planting them. Since then, the number of parks has multiplied and no one here finds it strange that a garden, like a building, can boast antique origins. This is the case of the AGuedal o Agdal, a word that means an irrigated garden, created in the XII century by the Almohad Abd el-Moumen. Much smaller and cosier, the garden of the Menara has a pavilion surrounded by cypresses which seems to have been the place where the sultan met his mistresses. As for Marrakech’s famous palm grove, which has an area of 13,000 hectares, it has no less than 100,000 trees. The fastest way to visit it is by car. A more striking way to see the grove is on a classic carriage ride, perhaps preceded by a tour of the ramparts of the hispano-moorish monumental doors. But above all, I recommend a visit to the Majorelle gardens, located north-east of Gueliz in the Ville Nouvelle. Created in the ’20s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, these unique gardens are home to bougainvilleas, coconut, banana and palm trees as well as rare and exotic plants, some of which have strange and menacing forms.

But for me the most wondrous gardens are the ones in the Ville Nouvelle sketched with an artist’s palette of bright gouache paints in cobalt blue, titanium yellow and sea green, the Jardins Majorelle. These iconic gardens were designed by the French painter, Jacques Majorelles who brought an artists eye to the gardens with his wonderful use of colour. In amongst the cacti, bamboos and bougainvillea is the magnificent blue villa housing Museum of Islamic Art. The gardens and museum were restored and are owned by Yves St. Laurent and his partner who have a house in the grounds.

Jacques Majorelle 1950
Jacques Majorelles’s House

Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886 in Nancy (France). In 1919 he settles in Marrakech to continue his career as a painter, where he acquires the land for his studio which was going to become the Majorelle garden. After the war in 1947 he opened his garden’s doors to the public. Following a car accident, he returned to France, where he died in 1962. In 1980 Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent purchase the garden and begin to restore it.

The garden contains one of the more important collections of plants of his era where plants of the five continents are exhibited in an enchanting setting. The uniqueness of the place lies in the combination of a luxurious vegetation and architectural elements combining restraint and traditional Moroccan elements. Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886 within a family of artists. His father, Louis Majorelle, was a celebrated cabinetmaker of Nancy. Inspired by his father’s artistic friends he enters the Academy of Fine Arts of Nancy in 1901, and then goes to the Julian Paris Academy. Inspired by the prevailing fashion of the “easel in nature”, he is initially inspired by Brittany. It is later in Spain, where he goes to recover from tuberculosis, that he discovers his passion for the south.

There he develops a Mediterranean style of painting inspired by Moorish Andalucia which features strong colours, simple shapes and an originality of subjects. In 1910 he discovers Egypt and the Nile. He views the orient with a new eye, deprived of all orientalist fantasies. In 1919 Jacques Majorelle settles in the medina of Marrakech where he mixes with the French colonial upper middle class. He captures the life of the Souks with their marvellous light and riot of colours. He was also attracted by the Berber regions of the magnificent High Atlas, the geometry of the villages and the Kasbahs of clay fascinated him. The south of Morocco occupied a big part of his existence and the light and vibrancy of Marrakech and Morocco which was later to attract Winston Churchill and many other artists enraptured him and inspired his art.

Date Souk Marrakech – Majorelle depicts
complexity with simple shapes
Majorelle Tourist poster for Tangier
Kasbah, Atlas Mountains

Beside his canvasses, Majorelle created tourist posters for Morocco, and he took part in the decoration of the famous art deco Mamounia hotel in Marrakech. Between 1945 and 1952 the quest of beauty brought him to discover Black Africa (Sudan, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Niger and Senegal), where he painted a set of canvasses of glaring contrasts, showing a great creativity. Nevertheless, Jacques Majorelle always came back in the haven of peace that he constructed in 1924 in border of palm grove in Marrakech. His main residence, currently the private property of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, was created in the image of Marrakech palaces: architectural simplicity, games of water and lush vegetation. In 1931, the architect Paul Sinoir conceived the blue workshop, nowadays the home of an Islamic Art Museum. Majorelle rushed then created his botanical garden as a setting for his home and studio and brought plants from the whole world: cactus, yuccas, water lilies, jasmines, bougainvillea and much more.

After Majorelle’s death in 1962 the garden remained open to the public but lack of maintenance and money led to its decline. In 1980 Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, until there visitors and admirers of the Majorelle garden, purchased it, thus saving it from real estate speculators whose concrete blight had devastated the great inheritance of Marrakech’s gardens. Restoration work started funded by these generous new benefactors and in January 2001 a trust under the discreet patronage of Pierre Bergé et Yves Saint Laurent guarantees the future of these unique gardens. Since the Eighties, the blue workshop, conceived in 1931 by the architect Paul Sinoir houses the Islamic Art Museum. This museum displays the personal collection of Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Lauren. It exhibits objects of Islamic art coming from Maghreb, Orient, Africa and Asia. In this extraordinary collection we can admire ceramics and potteries of a great value, weapons and magnificent jewellery, textiles, carpets, woodworks and other treasures. A space is also devoted to the works of Jacques Majorelle, creator of the garden.

Yves Saint Laurent was hailed as a 20th century cultural icon who revolutionised the way women dressed. The reclusive Saint Laurent’s couture creations won global fine art status and he was widely considered to be one of an elite club of designers including Christian Dior and Coco Chanel who made Paris the fashion capital of the world. From Princess Grace of Monaco to the actress Catherine Deneuve, Saint Laurent’s creations adorned many famous women but he was also the first designer to make luxury labels accessible to a wider audience through innovative read-to-wear collections.

Yves Saint Laurent

Saint Laurent and Mr Bergé began collecting art in the 1950s, at a time when the young designer was gaining a worldwide reputation with the fashion house Christian Dior. He needed art “like water to survive”, in the words of one dealer, and acknowledged that his creations were inspired by his passion for paintings. Yves Saint Laurent died of cancer aged 71 in June 2008. St Laurent, who was born and grew up in Oran, Algeria, had a particular affinity with the Maghreb. Oran had one of the highest proportions of Europeans of any city in North Africa. However, shortly after the end of the Algerian War of Independence, most of the Europeans and Sephardic Jews living in Oran fled to France. A massacre of Europeans, four days after the vote for Algerian independence, triggered the exodus to France. In less than three months Oran lost about half its population. These were the traumatic circumstances lost the place he regarded as home – throughout his life he always thought himselg a North African from the Maghreb and spent as much time as he could at his house in Marrakech.

Saint Laurent Memorial – After Yves Saint Laurent
died in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden.

Islamic Museum

To my mind the combinations of amazing and eclectic planting and vibrant colour in an enclosed haven with cooling water and enticing vistas makes for a unique garden and setting which is both out of place and at the same time at one with the great Persian traditions of gardens as a place apart, a soothing vision of happiness. Its setting in this great and unique Arab and Berber city with its superb public and private gardens reflecting Man’s inner soul adds to the riches and sensation of this place apart. And in the midst of this special place this is a place apart, one artists vision which others have fallen in love with and lavished with care and thought. Truly this garden stands as a vision of Paradise and no visit to the Red City is complete without sitting in this cooling space and allowing it to work its magic.

See also;

Marrakech Express


Marrakech Guide;


Eileen Gray’s Armchair;


A lunch in Marrakech


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