Marrakech is proud of its reputation as a chaotic and intense city. But there are moments of silence even in the most thunderous score. There are also islands of calm in the red pearl of Marrakech.
In one of these places, the swarms of motorcycles and pedestrians metamorphosize into plants, rising in search of sunlight, and the pounding rhythms of Gnaoua music passes the baton to the refreshing murmur of fountains: the Majorelle Garden.
Jacques Majorelle’s father was a top-end furniture designer and co-founder of an Art Nouveau school, a meeting point for artists of all kinds. So, no one was surprised when young Jacques chose to walk the same path, first studying architecture then finally focusing on painting.
After a sojourn to Egypt, he developed an interest in Islamic culture. Later, he came to Marrakech both to recover from some heart problems and to pursue his interest in the unique blend of bold colors that make up the African continent. Over the next three years he would fall in love with this place, buy a plot on the outskirts of the hustle and bustle of the medina and build a house and workshop.
Collecting mementos is human nature. It helps us to reach out and touch our own past and tell our story. Jaques Majorelle was passionate about botany, and made a garden on his property with a collection of species he accumulated on his travels around the world.
As usually happens, he went overboard with his collecting, and had to find a way to pay for his garden. In the end, he had no choice but to open it to the public. Financial, personal and health problems forced him to gradually give up parts of it little by little. After a bad car accident, he moved to Paris to recover. By the time he died from his injuries he had completely sold off all interests in his beloved garden.
Abandoned and overgrown, prospective buyers were salivating at the prime location of the property, planning to demolish the villa and garden and put up a hotel. Fortunately, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé rescued it and injected their own creativity into the work Majorelle started, increasing the number of plant species and redefining its design but not its essence.
After Yves died in Paris, his ashes were scattered in the garden and a memorial was set up in his honor, on which a Roman column brought from Tangier is erected on a base in the characteristic color of Marrakech. Finally, Pierre Bergé arranged for the garden to be managed by a foundation that bears the names of both men.
Layout of the garden (click to enlarge)
In the Majorelle garden, tree species were brought from around the world and laid out in a beautiful but methodical way around decorative elements and modern buildings with vivid hues. Basically, the atmosphere has little or nothing to do with Morocco, except for a few winks in the form of roof tiles, pergolas and Arab tile borders.
But this work of art draws as much from the place where it was built as from the author who created it. It is Jacques Majorelle’s particular pictorial vision of the country, where the monolithic and repetitive geometry of the kasbahs and medinas contrasts with the vibrant colors that spring from nature, from ceramics and above all from the clothing of the Amazigh people, a true cultural heritage of the country.
This is obvious as we stroll around. Rather than going from one space to another, we seem to parade through an infinite succession of paintings. Impressionist scenes formed by infinite shades of green with bamboo stalks, cactus plants and water lilies as the main protagonists, in clear contrast and yet dialoguing with strokes of yellow, orange and, above all, shades of purplish and intense blue in the pottery and architecture.
Among these buildings, the irrigation canal stands out. It crosses the villa from side to side, connecting at one end with a pavilion and at the other with a fountain on the right edge of the site with the rest of the buildings, the final culmination of a circular visit.
A pond with water lilies, a café, a bookstore, a poster gallery and a boutique are also part of this tour, the latter two dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent.
The most notable feature of the last section is the Berber Museum, which is housed in the old workshop. In its three rooms, the museum itself houses objects from Amazigh daily life in the first room, and examples of traditional dress from different regions of the country in the second, which also has beautiful displays and a collection of carpets arranged in a cascade.
The third room―jewelry and accessories―deserves a special mention. These objects not only serve an aesthetic function. They also show social status and tribal identity, and are a convenient way of keeping your savings close to you. Spread out in a semicircular display that draws us in. There are also six equidistant busts that, together with a calculated system of mirrors and a ceiling simulating a starry sky, create an environment that is both mystical and down-to-earth.
When we visit the garden we absorb a complex and lively work of art, an exquisitely timeless design with details and care put into every inch. As we leave the quiet harmony of the garden, we appreciate its unique role in the complex, contradictory and always surprising city that is Marrakesh.
Coordinates: 31°38′N 8°00′W (see location)
Size: 10 acres (40,000 m2) approx.
Construction date: Designed in 1924, built in 1931, opened to the public in 1947. Refurbished and expanded in 1980. Although it is not part of the site, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum was opened in 2017. It has temporary and permanent exhibition rooms, an auditorium and a library.
Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM (opened every day except for Wednesday). Ramadan hours: 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.
Entrance fee: Majorelle Garden: 70 dirhams; Berber Museum 30 dirhams; Yves Saint Laurent Museum 100 dirhams; Joint price for all three: 180 dirhams. It is best to visit early in the morning to avoid the large influx of people. It’s also a good idea to buy your tickets online at least 24 hours before, since long lines form at the box office.
How to get there: The garden is near the palm grove, in the Gueliz neighborhood. It is best to take a taxi from Marrakesh at a cost (depending on the haggling skill) between 20 and 35 dirhams or by horse-drawn buggy, between 120 and 300 dirhams.
Where to eat: There is a restaurant and a coffe shop inside the garden.
Images of the layout and inside the Berber museum owned by Majorelle Garden and published with permission.
If you want to know more about the city, check out our visit Marrakesh guide.