Location: Marrakech, Morocco
An adventure searching for the perfect derelict Riad, through the constuction itself, to the end result (insha'Allah!)

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A logo for Riad Romm'an

Our very good and talented friend Samuel Sparrow of Sparrow & Co, kindly created this lovely logo for Riad Romm'an.  The inspiration came from the ancient pomegranate (romm'an in arabic) tree which lived in the original courtyard of the old riad.  

The pomegranate has offered significant cultural and religious symbolism throughout history.  In Islam, according to the Qur'an, pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise.  The Qur'an also mentions pomegranates three times, as examples of good things God creates.  In Judaism, it is traditional to consume pomegranates on Rosh Hashana because the pomegranate, with its numerous seeds, symbolises fruitfulness.  Also, it is said to have 613 seeds, which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah.  In Christianity, pomegranates are found in Christian religious decoration.  They are often woven into the fabric of vestments and liturgical hangings or wrought in metalwork.  Pomegranates figure in many religious paintings by the likes of Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo Da Vinci, often in the hands of the Virgin Mary or the infant Jesus.  The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus suffering and resurrection.

The original pomegranate tree in the old riad sadly did not survive the renovations, but it is nice to remember it with an image which will be associated with Riad Romm'an for a long time to come.  We will of course be planting a new pomegranate tree in the courtyard as soon as it is practical to do so.  Thank you Samuel. x

Weeks 10 and 11 - Meet the Dream Team!

Hard hats for photographic purposes only!
It is still a little hard to believe that Riad Romm'an exists.  That a team of moroccan builders are toiling away in the sun, 6 days a week turning a dream into reality.  Even having met the boys, taken cans of coke for them each day we visited, practiced our Arabic and French with them and generally given them lots of encouragement, its still hard to believe.  It is particularly difficult upon returning to a cold and foggy February in Scotland!  Were we really there and did we really meet them?  It seems like another universe.  Perhaps the photo above of the team gathered together on the roof terrace will help us accept that its not just a dream.

Looking down into the courtyard from the roof terrace
Instead of some tied together branches, a winding staircase now gives access to all floors including the roof terrace.  Wandering around, its now possible to get a feel for the room sizes.  It actually seems like a real house now, solid and tangible, even as the cement is still drying out!  Dramatically different from the crumbling ruin it replaced.  Room sizes have worked out well, some even better and bigger than we dared hope.  With the adjacent neighbours walls getting thinner as they go upwards, gains have been made with some additional width to the master bedroom suite on the first floor and even more on the roof terrace. 

balcony in front of Master Suite
We had been warned by others who have gone before us, that the foreigner's dream of restoring a Moroccan Riad can so easily become a nightmare!  But so far, everything is going well.  Being in Marrkech at this key stage enabled the opportunity to review window positions and sizes and internal walls too.  Just as the first row of bricks were being laid of the wall between the kitchen and dining room, we quickly stopped the construction and instead opted for an open archway between the two, which was not on the plans.  Sometimes its just easier to work these things out on site once the rooms take shape.  Something which is less easy to do from more than 1682 miles away!  Also we enlarged the windows for the en-suites to bedroom suite 2 and 3 and moved them slightly to the side so that they would not interfere with the shower and bath arrangements.  Our foreman Shef, was very accommodating and between us and Grant we managed to steer things in what we hope is the right (but constantly changing) direction!

Shef and Grant, discussing the built in wardrobe positions in the Master Suite

Week 9 - Meet the Neighbours!

Now that Riad Romma'n is really taking shape, word spreads quickly and everyone in the derb (street) seems to know about it (how could they not notice the dust and banging, etc).  Fortunately, the neighbours are all very positive about a newly built riad appearing in their derb.  On our first morning site visit, we had brought boxes of Scottish shortbread from home to give as gifts for the neighbours to apologise for the disruption they have been suffering.  Its not much, but we wanted to give a peace offering.  The shortbread was very well received (we think?!) and it gave us a chance to have a quick chat and meet the neighbours.  To the left lives Fatima Zahra and her family (we have not met them all yet), to the right lives Fatima and her family and across the derb lives Fatiah and her family, who came out to welcome us (see picture below).

Fatiah, one of the friendly neighbours

The derb kids are particularly friendly, often trying to sneak into Riad Romm'an for a nosy when the builders are not looking.  Their ring leader Maria is the most persistent.  Maria is 9, her English is good and she loves chatting to us and asking questions.  We took the kids some 'Sherbet Dibdabs' from the UK, as an exotic treat.  But although they liked the boiled sweet lollipop, the sherbet was less popular.  Not sweet enough.  In Morocco, sweets need to be Sweet!

Maria with Laura on the roof (trying Sherbet Dibdab)
When we arrive now, the kids come up to us and want to hold our hands while crying Monsieur and Madamme Romm'an!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Le Royal Mansour, Marrakech

It has been said that in Morocco, the most interesting news is not what is spread by the newspapers or seen on the TV, but comes softly, is revealed slowly, as if carried by whispers on the wind.

That is how we learned of the Royal Mansour, the latest in top-end luxury in Marrakech.  Someone heard it from their maid who had heard from her cousin, and he from his brother's wife, that a palace was being built, one that would surpass almost anything else ever created by Moroccan artisans.  Time passed and the rumour was quite forgotten.  Then, one day the whisper came again:
'It's finished,' said a quiet voice.
'What has?'
'A palace fit for a king.'

Well we just had to experience it for ourselves.  If it really was this good, perhaps it could provide some design inspiration for Riad Romm'an?

In a city that's not short of luxury hotels, the Royal Mansour stands out by attaining a whole other level of quality.  Turning off Boulevard Al Yarmouk the chauffeur driven car passed through Bab Sidi Ghrib with its manned guard post (Bab Sidi Ghrib is one of 20 arched gates within the ancient rose-coloured walls of the Marrakech medina, built in the AD1120s).  Now within the medina and on the private road of Rue Abou Abbas El Sebti which leads to  the entrance to the Royal Mansour,  the car approached and two huge bronze gates opened ceremonially lifting the veil on an Arabian Nights fantasy, one that's usually off limits to mere mortals like us.

Spa reception

Upon arrival, it seems like you are the only guests.  Staff glide up without making any noise at all and greet you in whispers.  They lead you to your quarters, through a labyrinth of jaw-dropping extravagance.  Wherever you look, every inch of every surface is adorned with exquisite workmanship and textures - miles of intricate zellij mosaics, hand-sculpted plasterwork, cedar ceilings and geometric painted wood.
At the heart of the hotel is a central courtyard open to the sky.  Fabulous bronze lamps suspended, each one in itself a work of art.  The huge bronze lantern below was designed by the famous British/Moroccan designer Yahya and took 6 months to make.  All around there are handcrafted Andalucian cabinets, fantastic mosaics, marble fountains and banquettes inlaid with mother of pearl.

Yahya lantern

Sculpted plasterwork and zellij mosaics
What is most surprising though is that the whole Moroccan fantasy is shrouded in the kind of peacefulness that seems impossible within the walls of the Marrakech Medina.
This being the Royal Mansour, on arrival you are greeted by the hotel's smart manager, who escorts you himself.  We tried to suppress all delusions of grandeur and followed him into a courtyard filled with the sound of trickling water and with fragrant trees bearing ripe pomegranates, oranges and dates.  Eventually you enter a Medina, a mirror of the old city in miniature.

Entrance to our riad
There are no rooms or suites here, instead you are taken to your very own riad, a three storey building set around a colonnaded courtyard.  On entering, your personal butler anticipates  every need and offers vintage Champagne.

As if by magic, your luggage has been transported to your bedroom, signaling what is particularly extraordinary about the Royal Mansour, how your butler, and everyone else, comes and goes invisibly, without ever stepping in or out through the door.  This is because the Royal Mansour is a creation of wizardry conjured up by the King of Morocco himself.  The great secret that makes its illusion possible is that beneath the entire property - laid out over eight acres - is a vast labyrinth of secret tunnels, a small town itself housing vast kitchens and warehouses, laundries and staff quarters.  And according to our butler, along the tunnels run a fleet of new golf carts ferrying staff, luggage, and room service, etc from place to place, all without guests being disturbed, or even aware.

King Mohammed VI himself envisaged the Royal Mansour and directly oversaw every detail of the project.  No budget was fixed for all this, just a royal edict that the Royal Mansour should take as much time and money as was necessary.  Twelve hundred mouslems or master craftsmen worked on the project and were instructed to make it the best work of their lives.  After all, they were working directly for the King.  This is the key to why the Royal Mansour is not just another smart place to stay in Marrakech, but is a work of art which will stand the test of time.
I asked our butler if he had met many celebrities staying here?  He paused, looked serious before thoughtfully answering, "No....mostly just presidents and princes."

With thanks to Tahir Shah for making us aware of the Royal Mansour and for inspiring this post.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Week 8 - The View!

The close of 2011 saw week eight draw to a dramatic conclusion with the laying of the roof terrace of Riad Romm'an  By Monday 2nd Jan, the concrete had set sufficiently for our project manager Grant Rawlings of Chic Marrakech to get up there and take some photos of our view.  Remember, the original house was much lower than its surroundings as it only had one storey, so it was not possible to see what the view from the new roof terrace would look like.  But we were optimistic that given the location, the view would be of the Atlas mountains. 

We have not been disappointed!

The boys have been working very hard and mixed this massive pile of cement (photo above) to lay the concrete for the roof terrace (photo below).

Also, they are working on the front part of the house, to get it complete and have put in the lintel above the main door.

It won't be long before the front of the house has a lovely new front door, which will be more welcoming than a plank of wood and a number on a stick!