An Ornate and Tranquil Corner of Marrakech - Palais Bahia
The high terracotta coloured walls had been on our right for a while. Casting a shadow over the narrow street. Finding the gateway into this palace was proving harder than anticipated. Nearly an hour after leaving Rue Bahia Bab Mellah through a little shopping arcade we find ourselves just 30 metres away from where we started. This is the way that Marrakesh works. Wandering in circles until you find where you are looking for.
As is the way in this manic city the entrance to the palace is busy. Guides are waiting to take you through the 5 acre site, but not speaking French or Arabic we are able to wander at our own pace. For once my lack of anything beyond school French is a blessing.
At first we wander through gardens full of flowers, some are familiar, others are more tropical and unknown. Butterflies and birds flit around. A surprise in the middle of this crowded city. Again we find a terracotta wall but this time there is a gateway. The start of the palace proper awaits.
The palace is busy. Instagram magic is happening everywhere, young girls in their flowing dresses pose while bored partners attempt to get the shot for the ultimate clicks and likes. Large groups listen intently to their guides who fill minds with stories of the past. This grand palace within the medina of Marrakech was built in the 1860's. Later between 1894 and 1900 under the instruction of Ahmed Ben Moussa it was embellished and extended to house his large family and favourite mistresses. The name means "the beautiful, the brilliant" and it certainly lives up to its name.
With large courtyards and intricate details in all the plaster work the "wow" factor just keeps coming within these mundane terracotta walls. The details; complex carvings, ornate doors and stained glass windows were beautiful and magical. The small courtyard gardens scattered between the rooms give a cool respite from the sun drenched marble floored courtyards. Palms and flowers are lovingly cared for, watered to keep them growing in the African heat.
Both the petit riad and grand riad have intricate marquetry and a stunning ceiling of wood painted with intricate details. This is known as a zouak. The grand courtyard has a summer fun feeling with blue, yellow and red stripes painted on the ceiling which leads to the spectacular Room of Honour. This highly ornate room has an intricate and stunning cedar ceiling as well as more plaster castings and deep fireplaces. Beyond this room the harem has equally stunning details with woven silk panels and stained glass windows.
Amongst all this grandeur it is hard to believe that the sun baked marble of the grand courtyard is where people waited to beg Ben Moussa for mercy and all the while his four wives and 24 concubines lived in luxury behind the surrounding doors.
In 1908 everything changed for Ahmed Ben Moussa. The warlord Pasha Glaoui, decided that the palace was the ideal venue for hosting French visitors. They, in turn, decided that it would suit their needs and in 1911 the French resident-general moved into the palace and made it his home.
After wandering for what seemed like hours it was time to head back onto the bustling streets of the city. Stepping out of the gateway to the speeding motorbikes and yellow taxis it felt as if we had been a world away.
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