Located on a fertile plain, Marrakesh is one of Morocco's four imperial cities. Founded in eleventh-century as the African capital of Almoravid dynasty; it was conquered by the Almohads in 1147, and then to Marinids, only to be taken by the French in 1912.
Marrakesh was founded in 1062 by Yusif Ben Tashfin, the first ruler of the Almoravid dynasty. His son, Ali, built the Ben Yussef Mosque and the city wall. The Almohads (1146-1268) made Marrakesh the capital of their empire and it was during this period that the Koutoubia was built.
The Marinids (1268-1520) neglected Marrakesh but they were succeeded by the Saadians (1520-1668) who endowed the city with the Badi' palace, the Ben-Yussef madrasa and the Saadian mausoleum.
From 1668 onwards, the Alawites, who resided in Marrakesh only occasionally, erected numerous buildings such as the palace of Bahia and Dar Si Saod at the end of the nineteenth-century. Later, the modern town was to develop three kilometres from the Medina, with its wide avenues bordered with palm-trees, orange-trees and jacarandas.
When first created in the 11th century, Marrakesh was a link on the caravan route that joins the south and the north of Morocco by way of the valleys up the Upper Atlas. Routes from the Tafilelt region and the Draa valley also converged on Marrakesh. Later, as the capital of the Almoravid and subsequently the Almohad empires (eleventh and thirteenth centuries), it became the seat of the unique authority ruling the entire Muslim West, including Andalusia.
At that time, Marrakesh was a large metropolis, housing probably up to 100,000 inhabitants.
Between the thirteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Marrakesh experienced a period of decline due to the displacement further east (in Algeria, Tunisia and particularly Egypt) of roads used to transport African gold, and the relocation of Morocco's capital to Fez. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, under the Saadians, Marrakesh was revived and flourished thanks to the gold trade, and the conquest of Tombouctou by the Saadians.
The Majorelle gardens are named for their creator, Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962), a French painter who resided in Marrakech from 1919 to 1962. Majorelle was the son of famed French cabinet maker Louis Majorelle (1859-1926), a craftsman in the French Art Nouveau movement whose woodwork explored the re-articulation of architectural structure through an organic language of stylized vegetal forms. His son, known for his vibrant and impressionistic paintings of Moroccan people, cities, and landscapes, purchased a palm grove in the El Hassania district of Marrakech in 1924 and built a private residence and garden. In 1931, at the suggestion of the architect Paul Sinoir, he constructed an atelier on the site to serve as a painting studio. Sinoir also designed the building. Immediately following the construction of the atelier, Majorelle transformed the palm grove into a botanical garden showcasing plants from around the world. He opened the gardens to the public in 1947, while still in residence at the site.
The Majorelle Garden is located 850 meters to the west of the northern tip of the Marrakech Médina. The garden is accessed via a small street that runs along its eastern edge. This street originates 130 meters south of the garden at a T-junction with Avenue Yacoub el Mansour, between Boulevard Allal Al Fassi and Boulevard Prince Moulay Abdallah.
The garden occupies a small square area within the city block that measures approximately 135 meters long on each side. The square parcel is rotated twenty-nine degrees counter-clockwise from the north-south meridian to align with the street that it borders to the east. Along the north, south, and west sides of its perimeter, the garden is surrounded by private residences. One of the homes bordering the gardens is the winter residence of prominent businessman Omar Ben Jelloun, an architectural landmark which features traditional Moroccan construction and decorative techniques in a contemporary plan.
A dense fabric of mixed trees, flowers, and shrubs fills the majority of the site. Plantings in the botanical garden are classified into five categories: cacti, palms, bamboo, blooming potted plants, and aquatic plants. The plants are not isolated by type in orderly sub-gardens, as is the custom in traditional Islamic gardens; here all species are interspersed with one another in a picturesque, varied landscape. Specimens were imported from five continents to create a colorful, lush, and densely planted oasis. Several species of exotic birds frequent the garden due to the great variety of flowering plants.
The atelier is located in the northeast corner of the site, near the public entrance to the garden. Its footprint is a square approximately 17 meters to a side, rotated such that the east elevation is parallel to the street that it faces. A series of porches and overhangs projected orthogonally from a cubic core articulate a rigidly geometric building form that is characteristic of 1930s French modernism. However, Islamic decorative elements such as carved wooden screens and geometric tile mosaics are incorporated to evoke Moroccan architectural traditions. Almost every exterior surface of the building is painted Majorelle blue, a stunning shade of cobalt blue that was patented by Jacques Majorelle after his extensive use of the color on the architectural elements of the site.
Two linear pools create central axes within the dense planted landscape of the garden. Both pools are quite narrow, approximately two meters in width, and are edged by short walls painted Majorelle blue. The primary pool originates at the foot of the atelier and extends 45 meters towards the southwest. This pool terminates at a small stucco pavilion that is painted a bright mint green. Pale blue columns capped with white carved capitals stand next to large stucco corner pillars, together supporting a decorative white stucco entablature with geometric patterning and Islamic inscriptions. Bands of plain stucco painted red and green serve as a second cornice above the inscriptions. The square pavilion is covered by a pyramidal roof in green ceramic tile, a common roofing material for traditional buildings in Marrakech. The second pool is 35 meters long, and it is bisected by the first pool at a right angle, 18 meters southwest of the atelier. A small clearing and a stone fountain mark their crossing. Additional decorative pavilions are located at each end of the shorter channel.
In 1962, Jacques Majorelle was the victim of a serious car accident, and he died while recuperating in France shortly thereafter. In the wake of his death, the garden remained open to the public but deteriorated physically without Majorelle present to supervise its operation.
In 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé purchased the Majorelle Garden to ensure its continued operation as a public garden. The partners were frequent visitors to the gardens and together they restored the site to its original splendor. A Museum of Islamic Art was opened shortly there after, showcasing the personal art collections of Saint Laurent and Bergé One of the galleries displays a permanent exhibition of the paintings of Jacques Majorelle.
After the death of Yves Saint Laurent in 2008, Pierre Bergé donated the property to the Fondation Pierre Bergé -Yves Saint Laurent, and in 2011 the Berber Museum was opened in the studio of Jacques Majorelle.
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