a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Marrakech gardens old & new

My previous post featured a 19th century Moroccan palace of small rooms and many courtyards, with intricate patterned surfaces, scented plants, trickling fountains and a sense of intimate ease. This post now describes two very different gardens in the same city – one a vast ruin and the other a modern icon.

A drawing of the Badi palace in its heyday, by Adriaen Matham, 1640.

The Badi palace was a sixteenth century extravaganza, built by a Moroccan king in Italian marble and gold. With its vast and sumptuous design, and reputation for lavish feasts and debauchery, it barely survived its creator, being soon destroyed by a subsequent ruler.


Today it remains in the heart of Marrakech, a ruin shored up by the Culture Ministry – and an Ozymandian warning of the dangers of pride and excess. It is difficult to appreciate how splendid it once was, but the ruins give a sense of its vastness, with a main courtyard measuring almost 1.5 hectares (about 3.7 acres), centred around a monumental rectangular pool and four sunken gardens of roses and orange trees.

Where once were huge fountains and gold-topped pavilions, orchards and silver sculptures, now there are just the remnants of walls, and glimpses of old tiled paths and carved stonework amid the rubble. Storks nest on the crumbling ramparts.

In contrast, the Majorelle gardens in the new town are meticulously maintained. Created in the 1930s, the gardens are probably now the best known in Marrakech.

Plan of gardens

Plan of Majorelle gardens, from leaflet available at site.

The central features – an art deco studio, fountain, and pavilion, joined together by a rill – are famously cobalt blue. Around them, winding paths lead you through gardens of bamboo, palms and cactus.

Created by painter Jacques Majorelle, and restored in the 1980s by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, the gardens are a visual feast, with coloured pots of succulents, water features, architectural planting and carefully crafted views.


These gardens are far from typically Moroccan, but they both have their own, very different, magic.

Postscript: I am entering the image above in Gardening Gone Wild’s April photo competition. The theme is matching the right light to the right subject, and this seems to me a fun example of an image that actually thrives in the dazzlingly bright noonday sun. As a painter, Jacques Majorelle understood how to use intense colours, spiky plants, and dramatic shadows to create a garden perfectly suited to the harsh North African light. I hope my image captures something of his theatrical design. It was certainly a change for me from photographing gardens in the soft light of northern Europe.

16 comments on “Marrakech gardens old & new

  1. Dirty Girl Gardening
    February 25, 2011

    that blue is incredible.. what a perfect garden color. and those fruit trees with the water channels are really cool. nice post.

  2. mleighly
    February 25, 2011

    Beautiful photographs of the gardens and plants. I also like the channels around the orchard trees, and the view out from the cobalt archway.

  3. Kerry Hand
    February 25, 2011

    Whats with those channels around the trees at the Badi palace. Is that a replanting project ?

  4. Elephant's Eye
    February 25, 2011

    Those channels must be for flood irrigation. What I find daunting is, if those are orange trees, the gardens are indeed HUGE. And the holes in the walls around the orange trees?

    • landscapelover
      February 26, 2011

      You’re right – the rather beautiful curving trenches are for irrigation. And, yes, the courtyard is indeed huge: those are scores of full-grown orange trees in the sunken gardens. In the picture top right, with the large palm tree, the little specks in the distance are people.
      Walls throughout the city are made from pisé, a mixture of straw, lime and the local reddish clay. We were variously told that the ubiquitous holes were created when the wooden form work was removed; or that they were there as filters for the wind. Whichever is true (and I guess they both could be), today they are full of roosting pigeons!

  5. jandev
    February 25, 2011

    A feast for the eyes! Cambridge has been buried in several feet of grimy snow all winter and Fresh Pond is still icy.

    • landscapelover
      February 26, 2011

      Hi, thanks for calling by again. It is at this time of year that I do not miss New England one bit! It is mild and almost Spring-like in Paris, and we have crocuses in full flower.

  6. Malinda
    February 26, 2011

    The colors are amazing and I can almost feel the heat. Walled gardens hold so much intrigue! But I love the storks the most. What an amazing sight. Thank you for sharing…..

  7. andrea
    February 27, 2011

    the undulating irrigation channels at the badi really caught my eye… do you know if they are ever full, with ripe oranges floating on its surface…? did you feel as if you were in a different time, seeing those prehistoric-looking storks flying about? i’m glad someone seems to enjoy inhabiting the place.

    i also find the image of the cobalt archway looking toward the bamboo and palms beyond to be quite striking.

    • landscapelover
      February 27, 2011

      Hi – I guess the channels do get filled to overflowing from time to time but sadly we did not see it.
      The storks were splendid – they apparently have no voice box and so have developed a way of calling to each other through rapid clicking of their bills. It was a strange but rather endearing sound.
      And yes the view from the pavilion along the rill to the fountain and artist’s studio is striking. That cobalt blue colour briefly became popular in England as a result of its use at Majorelle, but in the thin British light and frequent drizzle just looked rather ludicrous…

  8. Garden Walk Garden Talk
    February 28, 2011

    What a gorgeous place. The image of the storks is iconic.

  9. Lula (onbotanicalphotography.blogspot.com)
    February 28, 2011

    Colour, everywhere, and that indigo covering walls, fountains, …, reminiscens of ancient times, though it may not have been the real gardens.

  10. Elena
    March 1, 2011

    I hope to have some good news for you! I’ve come across your blog and really I like it: I enjoy your posts a lot, they’re always very interesting.
    Therefore, I have selected you for the Stylish Blogger Award. You can learn more about it and the other award winners (and claim your award) on my blog.
    Check it out at http://giardiniribelli.blogspot.com/

    PS: Have you taken all these pictures? They’re gorgeous!

    • landscapelover
      March 1, 2011

      Thanks for the comments and the award, which I won’t collect, but I am grateful to you for thinking of me. And yes, unless otherwise stated, the pictures here are all mine.

  11. Andrew Petcher
    March 23, 2011

    It rained the day that I visited Majorelle gardens but I this didn’t spoil it and gave the gardens and the pots a different colour dimension.

  12. Aerie-el
    April 15, 2011

    Your photos are a feast for the eyes. Good luck with your entry!

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This entry was posted on February 25, 2011 by in Gardens, Morocco and tagged , , .

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