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Art and architecture

Art and architecture in Morocco

The concept of art in Morocco is radically different from that of the West. And this is so because of the powerful influence of Islam, to which any artistic manifestation is subordinated. In this country, as in all Muslim art, there is no search for beauty per se, nor is there a desire to express personal emotions on the part of the author. What Islamic art seeks is, in most cases, to contribute to create an atmosphere conducive to the meeting of the faithful with Allah. The following is a brief review of the main artistic manifestations of Morocco.

Table of Contents

Architecture, at the service of Islam

Architecture is one of the main artistic disciplines in any society and religion. And Morocco is no exception. It has many similarities with Arab architecture, for obvious reasons, but it also has typologies and other native details that are worth knowing.

In Morocco we can find religious, civil and military architecture. But sometimes, the same construction can have two or even all three functions, which gives greater originality and interest to some monuments.

Religious architecture

As far as religious architecture is concerned, the mosques are the most important mosqueswhich are the main temples for prayer. Unfortunately, the vast majority of mosques are reserved for worshippers only, so a non-Muslim cannot enter to visit them. The great exception is the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, which is open to visitors and thus allows them to discover the main areas of these temples: the great prayer hall, the mihrab or niche indicating the direction to Mecca, the ablutions courtyard…

Therefore, non-Muslim travelers will have to be satisfied with seeing almost all the mosques from the outside, although from there you can also admire some details of these buildings, such as the minarets or minarets, which are the towers from which the call to prayer is made.

Another fundamental construction of religious character, and also educational, are the medersas or madrasas. medersas or madrasasKoranic schools where students study to become imams or other positions related to the teaching and interpretation of the Koran, the holy book for Muslims. In Morocco there are many, but in some cities they reach a supreme beauty and importance. This is the case of Bou Inania and Attarine in Fez, or that of Ben Youssef in Marrakech, to cite a few examples.

In addition, in Morocco we find a type of religious construction of great originality: the marabouts. marabouts. They are a kind of mausoleum where the remains of a saint or religious personage of great significance rest, where numerous faithful make pilgrimages every year. Some examples are that of Moulay Bousselham or that of Moulay Abdeselam, both in the north of the country, although their artistic interest is lesser.

As for the characteristics of all religious architecture, the most notable is the use of humble and light materials, which respond to the Islamic idea that only Allah is eternal. The most outstanding materials are brick for the walls, wood for the roofs, plaster and ceramics for the decoration, the latter with a glazed finish to give a touch of elegance and durability.

Civil architecture

Civil architecture has a popular character in most cases, especially in the medinas. medinasThe historical centers of Morocco: an area of narrow, labyrinthine alleys, surrounded by a wall, in some cases with monumental gates. In them, the most traditional life of the cities takes place, with numerous bazaars, artisans’ quarters, mosques, medersas, etc.

However, there are also examples of more orderly and planned architecture. This is the case of the
ville nouvelle
or extensions outside the medina, built at the beginning of the 20th century, at the time of the French and Spanish protectorates. Therefore, in these spaces you can recognize wider and straighter streets, with a style reminiscent of European modernism or the neo-Andalusian architecture of southern Spain.

Special mention should be made of the
or Jewish neighborhoods of Morocco. Unfortunately, there are few of them left, and those that remain have lost much of their essence. But the most intrepid travelers will appreciate what remains of them, especially if they manage to enter the humble but spectacular synagogues that still remain, for example in Essaouira. In Fez, the architecture of the mellah, around the Royal Palace, is also recognizable and worthy of admiration, with very characteristic wooden balconies.

But the most spectacular civil architecture are the royal palaces and palatial residences. royal palaces and palatial residences. of high society, where often no decorative efforts were spared. The different dynasties reigning in the country, and in particular some sultans, promoted the construction of royal palaces. As with most mosques, they cannot be visited inside, but at least we can enjoy their exterior facade: the Royal Palace in Fez with its magnificent golden doors, or the Caliph’s Palace in Tetouan are some examples of this.

To get an idea of what these fascinating palaces are like, you can visit other residences of high society, which have sometimes been converted into museums or headquarters of official institutions. The Bahia Palace in Marrakech or the Nejjarine Museum in Fez are examples of this, where you can appreciate the importance of the inner courtyard as the core of private life and which have their equivalent in other more humble buildings, now converted into hotel-riads. In these courtyards, water and vegetation are always present, as elements of purification and evocation of Eden.

On the other hand, south of the Atlas, in the desert lands where there is a greater presence of the Berber culture, there is a predominance of adobe as a building material, given the abundance of sand and the scarcity of other raw materials. The mixture of this sand with clay and straw results in this material used in popular constructions but also in palatial residences.

Military architecture

Military architecture has also left us important jewels, and many of them can be seen inside and out. Depending on the region in which we are, the constructions will have one style or another.

For example, in the desert and in the vast pre-Saharan region, kasbahs predominate. kasbahsThese are adobe fortresses made by the Berbers, with crenellated towers and simple geometric decoration that creates chiaroscuro on the upper part. Some of these kasbahs were also palatial residences, with interiors of great refinement.

On the other hand, on the Atlantic coast (Essaouira, El Jadida, Asilah), maritime fortresses maritime fortresses have a more western air, specifically Portuguese, as this nation promoted the establishment of fortresses and commercial enclaves from the 15th century, when they began their voyages of exploration around Africa.

The main tourist cities also usually have their own walled kasbah, which offers an advantage to the visitor: the panoramic views that can be enjoyed from them, as a viewpoint, as they are usually located in the highest areas of the city center, such as the Kasbah of the Udayas in Rabat.

Religious Architecture

Art: the zenith of architectural decoration

As we said, art in Morocco is conceived differently: painting and sculpture had a null development here, given the prohibition of Islam to represent the human figure and the figure of God. For this reason, its role has historically been ‘relegated’ to the decoration of buildingsalthough with truly sublime levels of quality and beauty.

Vegetable and geometric forms become extremely detailed here, in crisscross patterns that cover walls and ceilings. Calligraphic decoration also has a strong presence, especially in religious environments such as medersas, which is also used to insert passages from the Koran.

For all these reasons, the art in these spaces has a character more typical of craftsmanship than of art,
as we tell in this page
becomes an art form. Whether embedded in walls, floors or ceilings, or in freestanding elements such as furniture, the main handicrafts find their space here.

The wood, especially cedar, leaves the spectators speechless. Tilework provides very interesting color notes, in some cases even for the roof tiles, such as the green ones in the Fez area. Textile works such as carpets and upholstery, not only give comfort but also elegance to any room. And even high-value metals, such as gilded bronze, are used to cover furniture and other architectural elements, such as doors.

However, all of the above being said, in the last few years, art museums have emerged art museumsThe new art scene, influenced by tourism and globalization, but also by the desire of new Moroccan creators to explore new avenues of expression. This has encouraged the emergence of artists who move in the abstract currents, being present in galleries and in new museums, such as the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern Art in Rabat or the Museum of Modern Art in Tetouan. On the other hand, greater importance has been given to photography. photographyphotography, albeit with a documentary and social character, as can be seen in museums such as the Maison de la Photographie in Marrakech.

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