Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Additional photos by Manos Angelakis
Outside the Inside or Morocco’s Inner Landscape
Morocco is a land of vast open spaces with a tradition of hiding from public view private homes and palace complexes. No one would guess that when negotiating through noisy and often time’s filthy, narrow congested alleyways in Morocco’s Medinas and isolated Kasbahs, behind massive often highly decorated doors, lay another world of indescribable beauty; a peaceful world of bubbling fountains, fragrant rose-scented air, carefully tended foliage and intricately designed tiles in amazing colors that complete with the artistry of Mother Nature herself. Of course I am referring to the “old cities” not the beautifully laid-out neighborhoods of modern Morocco… although they too have homes that are often sequestered behind high walls and gated entries.
This enclosed atrium style of architecture with an open courtyard and rooms situated around interior balconies, insulated and protected the family from the outside chaos and created an oasis where they could safely thrive. Nowadays, many of the old private homes and palaces have been turned into Riads; high-end hotels or restaurants that are geared towards delighting the senses of those fortunate enough to locate one through the maze that is the trademark of the Medina. See: Riads of Morocco and Palais Amani .
Of course not all treasured complexes are located in the Medina, some reside in the countryside. Just a short drive from the modern seaside city of Agadir on the Atlantic Coast, and just outside the former Capital city of Taroudant, is the Palais Claudio Bravo, located equidistant between the mountains and the sea.
This amazing complex will literally take your breath away. A series of architecturally unique buildings surround a garden of verdant bounty. Every conceivable type of tree, plant, vine, flower and succulent are handsomely laid out along winding walkways interspersed with sculptures. At the end of the garden is a pavilion overlooking an immense reflecting pool facing ever-changing mountain vistas. Visitors can take tea in this lovely setting or enjoy a light meal ordered in advance.
The main house, now a museum, was the home of painter Claudio Bravo whose works of art, collected objects d’art and artifacts decorate every inch of ceiling, walls, and floor. I must admit Claudio Bravo - considered a hyperrealist - was previously unknown to me but one look at his artwork and I am a confirmed admirer. His choice of everyday subjects, his clarity of line, the realism of his vision, is totally captivating and it was hard to leave this living-large museum. Palais Claudio Bravo is available to host professional events such as workshops, forums, trade shows, seminars, etc. www.palaisclaudiobravo.com
Out of Marrakech, at the gateway to the Atlas Mountains you will find Kasbah Bab Ourika… well you will find it if you (or your driver) has nerves of steel and a heavy foot on the accelerator. Taking pity on their poor guests the road is under construction but we were there while it was still a donkey trail.
Nevertheless, all was forgiven when we reached the top of the hill and got a look at what awaited us. Kasbah Bab Ourika is a collection of small handcrafted traditional Berber-style buildings, constructed mainly out of pise (rammed earth) and rock, surrounded by well-tended gardens and pools with views of the distant mountains, valleys filled with olive, orange and lemon groves, with small rivers winding along green fields.
This is truly a place to relax and contemplate nature’s abundance. The furniture and artifacts are a combination of antiques, tribal furniture and modern comforts. Like the road, the retreat is under construction… that is, slowly enlarging to meet the demands of an ever growing clientele. They will continue to spread out to fill the hilltop as long as artifacts and furniture can be acquired that meet the vision and high standards of the owner.
Property Manager, lovely Ingrid Debertry, showed us around the property followed closely by a funny looking pug dog with his tongue lolling out of his mouth and panting heavily for air, but totally dedicated to us and our investigation. Many cats were also residents of the Kasbah all looking well fed with shinny coats.
After our peregrination we were invited to lunch in the garden under a pergola draped with flowers and grapevines and many of the cats came to say howdy. Normally I do not feed animals from the table but one cat was particularly persistent and so I dropped a bit of left over grilled meat which had been sitting on a bed of humus. The cat sniffed the meat and indignantly looked up me obviously not interested and you could almost hear her saying “that’s people food not cat food”. I reached to retrieve the meat and the cat instantly licked up the humus and meowed at me. Surprised I dropped another bit of humus and another and another until it was all gone as the cat licked the floor clean. I indicated “all gone” and the cat clearly understanding “people talk” nodded at me and left. Surely this was a close encounter with a royal Moroccan cat. https://kasbahbabourika.com/
Clearly off the beaten path but well worth the effort is Kasbah Pacha El Glaoui near the Atlas Mountain town of Telouet. This monumental wreck of a once magnificent building holds a story of mystery, treason, betrayal and ultimately, redemption... well kind of!
The Kasbah was home to T’hami el Glaoui, a man of enormous power and wealth, prominent head of the Glaoua (Glawa) Berber tribe and Governor (Pasha) of Marrakesh from 1912-1956. T’hami “enjoyed” a reputation as a ferocious warlord ruling over a ruthless clan known for taking no prisoners. Over time he became known as the “Lord of the Atlas” due to his accumulation of great wealth trading in salt, olives and saffron. When he wasn’t making money or killing people from other tribes he was known for glamorous entertainments of royalty, celebrities and world leaders. Problems arose for El Glaoui when he sided with the French to remove Sultan Mohammed V (Mohammed Ben Youssef) from power in 1953. After World War II, Mohammed V had championed for independence from the repressive position as a Protectorate under French rule. Sadly, E Glaoui was on the wrong side of history by siding with the French and participating in the overthrow and exile of the Sultan. It was not until November 16, 1955 that the French finally ceded independence to Morocco and Sultan Mohammed V was returned from exile and resumed the crown as King.
T’hami was now regarded as a traitor and only by begging at the Sultan’s feet was he “forgiven”. Humiliated he died shortly after and Kasbah Telouet along with other Glaoui properties and assets were seized by the state to ensure no further member of the tribe would participate in a coup.
Construction of Kasbah Telouet was initially undertaken in 1860 by members of the Glaoui family and no expense… or manpower… was spared on the materials that were lavished on the design of the building. Although it was never fully completed, what was finished was ultra opulent and evidence of this glorious creation still exists in a few rooms that have been somewhat maintained by the Glaoui family… breathtaking mosaics and vaulted ceilings, stunning woodworking in the reception hall give a small taste of how awesome this building once was.
The Kasbah is normally closed but a small fee paid to the guard will allow access and even a brief tour. The government has not yet decided to restore this ancient treasure. Perhaps one day the dastardly deeds that were perpetrated there will be forgiven so that this superb example of Moorish architecture can be restored, if not to its former glory, at least to a semblance, for all to marvel at.
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