Marrakech 3: Walls

Marrakech (Photographer: Patrick Mayon/Flickr)
Marrakech – Wall around the medina (Photographer: Patrick Mayon/Flickr)

I suppose most cities around the world strive for a certain coherence in their urban fabric. Even if the urban fabric is a patchwork of different neighborhoods, built at different moments, a certain continuity in terms of density and height is aimed for. Not so in Marrakech.

The old city of Marrakech is walled and surrounded by a band of parks, detached houses and wastelands. Beyond that band there is the Ville Nouveau (a second city center built in the nineteenth century) and other neighborhoods. The different neighborhoods are again separated by wastelands. In the end, the city of Marrakech is composed of isolated chunks of city. Some of these pieces are densely built, others less densely. What is the logic of this city?

In the Netherlands urban planners without exception strive for a city that has a dense urban core with some less dense urban neighborhoods around it and suburban neighborhoods beyond that. Moving from the city center to the periphery the density of the urban fabric gradually decreases. In Marrakech however the central and peripheral neighborhoods have a comparable density. One of the effects of this is that as visitor you have no clue whether or not you are in the periphery or not. When driving out of the city, the urban fabric at a certain moment just stops.

In the ‘chunky’ urbanism of Marrakech the neighborhoods have a clear cut perimeter that, because the neighborhoods border an open space, work as a kind of façade. Each neighborhood has a front. The most extreme example of this is the old city itself, the medina. Whereas the buildings inside the medina don’t really have a façade, the wall compensates for this to act like one.

What I find fascinating is that the idea of the walled city has been appropriated by the developers that are building massive resorts along the Route de l’Ourika to the Atlas mountains. The resorts that are popping up there are all walled in a way that reminds to the wall around the medina. The walls around the resorts are therefore cleverly contextual. Along the road the resorts present themselves with their wall. Again the wall works like a façade.

In fact, the resorts take the wall-iconography a step further to apply it to the architecture of their buildings. As seen in the first post on Marrakech on Eikongraphia, the traditional Moroccan architecture is organized around a representational courtyard. The architecture of the resorts however is detached and therefore, in contrast to the traditional architecture, has a lot of façade. What to do? The answer of the developers is to use the wall-iconography for their buildings. The ‘façade’ of the medina has become the façade of the buildings in the resorts.


Marrakech (Photographer: Island Spice/Flickr)
Marrakech – Wall around the medina (Photographer: Island Spice/Flickr)


Marrakech (Photographer: brf/Flickr)
Marrakech – Wall around the medina (Photographer: brf/Flickr)


Emaar - Oukaimeden Ski Golf Resort
Marrakech – Oukaimeden Ski Golf Resort (Copyright Emaar)


Atlas Nakhil Riads
Marrakech – Atlas Nakhil Riads


Marrakech – Housing (Copyright Kamelis)


Marrakech – Resort (Copyright TCM)


Updated: 19.10.2014 — 22:33