In Morocco, any riad is a dar but the reverse is not true! To understand the subtleties of these appellations for those who did not grow up in the heart of the medinas, you must dive into the millennial history of the Arab-Andalusian house, well before the vogue of its transformation into charming accommodation.
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Conceal any outward signs of wealth
Dar simply means the house in Arabic. In the medinas, it is not just any type of dar: traditionally, the house is built according to a square or rectangular plan around a patio open to the sky (wast ed-dar). A precious skylight for the household: the exterior walls being blind, the openings of the rooms - windows or doors - overlook this inner courtyard. This design has other advantages: it shields the family, especially women, from view and conceals any outward signs of wealth. Not to mention what remains a constant, protect the occupants from the inconvenience of the outside, noise, heat, dust, crowd. In Morocco, anyone who has pushed the door of an old house in a medina knows what a strange feeling of peace seizes visitors as soon as they cross the threshold. "The walls of mosaic and stucco sing the glory of the conquering God; a subtle incense, distilled by the heat in the shadow, evaporates from the ceilings and cedar woodwork; and the rolling of water in the fountain, continuous as time itself, seems the sound of hours carried away over eternity," writes Jean Gallotti in The Arab Garden and House in Morocco, which remains one of the reference works more than a century after its publication.
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The precise model of the riad
Restored by its owner, the Belgian architect Quentin Wilbaux author of a thesis on the medina of Marrakech, this seventeenth century house is the archetype of the real riad with its large garden divided into four parterres around a basin and arcaded galleries. Berber Riad / Press photo
But then what about the riad? Conversely, the word riad (from rawd, meaning beautiful park) refers exclusively to the notion of garden but it ended up designating by extension the house with indoor enclosed garden. A real riad must therefore have a patio of sufficient size to be planted, according to a specific model: two alleys crossing at right angles, draw four parterres of equal size around a fountain or a basin. Even today in the patios of the riads we do not always find these "four squares of domesticated nature" according to the expression of the architect Quentin Wilbaux (Marrakech, le secret des maisons jardins, ed. ACR). And the signs sometimes blur the tracks with names unrelated to the typology of the places, even in Marrakech where this hybrid model of garden house has flourished, Fez being rather the city of diour (plural of dar) with richly decorated patios.
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