What’s that exactly a Riad?
If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve heard about this particular beastie then! A riad is a traditional Moroccan house. The word itself means ‘garden’ in Arabic, like a courtyard garden in a house.
In its most traditional form the term ‘Riad’ describes a large house with a floor plan of at least 400m2. All the rooms face towards the interior courtyard (the garden mentioned above, please keep up as I won’t have time to repeat things…) and the building is stripped of any view from the outside, in search of discretion. The entrance normally opens on a little elbow shaped corridor, behind which is found the courtyard. The courtyard is usually set with four squares of earth planted with trees (often orange trees), around a central fountain.
Generally organised over three floors (ground floor, first floor and terrace), the top floor of a Riad was often traditionally the place where the women of the house carried out all the household tasks. These days, the terrace has become a strategic relaxing point; usually comfortably furnished and with lots of plants, it’s a lovely spot to relax after a long journey through the chaos of the souks and the medina. It’s usually a fantastic spot to enjoy a drink at sunset, with its unbeatable view of the rooftops of the old city.
Where do you find a riad then?
You find these traditional houses when wandering in the narrow streets of the medinas of Morocco, and only in the medinas. On the outskirts of the larger Moroccan cities there are plenty of villas built following an architectural style close to that of authentic riads, but in no way can the word ‘riad’ be used to describe a building outside of the medina.
Enclosed by imposing ramparts, the little streets that make up the old city centres (medinas) are stuffed full of little shops, various workshops, and local markets, all maintaining an extremely lively social and economic life in each area. The buildings still house Moroccan families who live there following their own daily rhythms, in a way not found in any other cities in the world. This activity is often accompanied by the shouts and laughter of children playing in the streets.
Wandering between the immense bare walls and the modest entries, you can doubt that behind them, in fact, are sometimes hiding the most sumptuous houses; the most impressive examples of this are to be found in the medina of Marrakech, Meknes, Fes and Rabat, the four imperial cities of Morocco.
Well, things have changed!
In the 70s the enchantment with Morocco as a tourist destination began and the attraction of this country has continued to grow, with some visitors bitten by the bug to live here. And so started the search for riads, which didn’t cost much at the time, but which saw their value increase exponentially in the 2000s, reaching a peak in 2007/8. In that time, many transformed their riad in to a little guest house to host tourists and share the authentic charm of this type of Moroccan accommodation. Over the years the term ‘riad’ underwent a notorious transformation (essentially for commercial reasons) and the term ‘riad’, before a house with a floor plan of more than 400m2, is now used for houses of 100-200m2, a size that in fact corresponds to what the Morrocans call a ‘Dar’, a little family house.
So there’s my brief explanation of what a riad is, motivated in part by the surprising attitude of some people who think sometimes that they’ll find riads to be museum pieces, untouched, abandoned and dusty.
If you have any questions, or would like further detail or clarification on anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me, I am always delighted to discuss the subject with enthusiasts, so get in touch!