The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden, Arabic: رياض, ryad. The ancient Roman city of Volubilis provided a reference for the beginnings of riad architecture during the Idrisid Dynasty.
The Riad is the Moroccan traditional house, normally with two or more storeys around an Andalusian-style courtyard that contained a fountain. Riads were the stately city homes of the wealthiest citizens such as merchants and courtiers.
The riads were inward focused, which allowed for family privacy and protection from the weather in Morocco. This inward focus was expressed with a centrally placed interior garden or courtyard, and the lack of large windows on the exterior walls of clay or mud brick. This design principle found support in Islamic notions of privacy, and hijab for women. Entrance to these houses encourages reflection because all of the rooms open into the central atrium space. In the central garden of traditional riads there are often four orange or lemon trees and often a fountain. The walls of the riads are adorned with tadelakt plaster and zellige tiles, usually with Arabic calligraphy of quotes from the Quran.
The style of these riads has changed over the years, but the basic form is still used in designs today. Recently there has been a surge in interest in this form of house with a wave of renovation in towns such as Marrakech and Essaouira, where many of these often-crumbling buildings have been restored to their former glory as hotels or restaurants. Many of the crumbling or ruined properties in Marrakech have been bought by foreigners. This foreign interest has brought new challenges but the investment has helped with the restoration of the UNESCO site and has helped revive many of the handcrafts and artisan trades that were gradually being lost before this trend. Many of the restored riads in the districts of Mouassine and Lakssour offer the finest examples of restoration as historically these areas contained many of the grand palaces from Marrakech's Saadian period.
Notes and references
- Blaser, Werner. (2004). Courtyards in Marrakech. Basel, Switzerland: Publishers for Architecture.
- Boele, Vincent. Ed. (2005). Morocco: 5000 years of Culture. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers.
- Parker, R. (1981). A Practical Guide to Islamic Monuments in Morocco. Charlottesville, Virginia: Baraka Press. p.14
- Wilbaux, Quentin; Lebrun, Michel; McElhearn, Kirk (2008). Marrakesh: The Secret of Courtyard Houses. ACR. p. 380. ISBN 978-2-86770-130-6.
- Messier, Ronald A. (2010) The Almoravids and the Meanings of Jihad. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p.126
- Listri, Massimo; Rey, Daniel (2005). Marrakech: Living on the Edge of the Desert. Images Publishing. pp. 16–71, 88–103, 138–145, 176–181. ISBN 978-1-86470-152-4.. The book provides photographs of several of the most elegantly-restored Marrakech Riads.
- Gigio, Anthony (2010). The sustainability of Urban Heritage Preservation: The case of Marrakech. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTCHD/Resources/430063-1287519198659/Marrakesh.pdf: Inter-American Development Bank.