Inside the walls of Marrakech’s medina lies dirt and mud, the noise of mopeds beeping and revving their engines to get past the narrow-walled passageways and the hustle and bustle of people in the souks (markets) and the vendors shouting to get your attention.
I’ll make no pretense that I have struggled with the chaotic, sensory overload that Marrakesh has presented us with. In pleasant contrast, this little garden reveals an oasis of tranquility with the gentle sounds of running water and tweeting birds.
As the crow flies we’re actually staying in a riad less than 500m away but… there’s always a but… having to cross the tangled maze of back alleys and souks it took us about 30 minutes to walk there. Navigating your way around the medina is a challenge but thanks to google maps it is much easier.
The garden is located to the north-west of the city and from the outside it advertises itself as an open air museum rather than a gardens. We walked past it several times without realising what it was.
The entrance fee for adults (over 12 years) is 50 dirhams (about £4 – Feb 2017) and free for kids under 12. You also have the option of paying to go up the tower which is 30 dirhams for adults (over 12 years) and 20 dirhams for kids aged 6-12 years.
In total we paid 280 dirhams, the equivalent to about £22. We thought this was quite expensive and we wouldn’t recommend the tower as for those people less than 1.5m you’ll not see much! However, the secret gardens are a true gem and you could easily take a book and order a mint tea (thé a la menthe) and spend hours here.
Upon payment you’ll receive a map, either in French or English, and you can help yourself to other pamphlets abut the gardens too.
The staff are all really nice, very helpful and multi-lingual.
Miam miam… (Yum Yum)
For those who want to spend longer here, there is a cafe upstairs on a sun terrace. Prices were about 50 dirhams for a slice of cake and approximately 70 dirhams for a sandwich or salad. In comparison to most Moroccan cafes this is extremely expensive but I should imagine that the quality is high.
With roots from the 16th century these gardens were previously ruined and left for disrepair. They were resurrected between 2008 and 2016 and opened to the public in March 2016.
Once dominated with a palace, it was destroyed after the Saadian dynasty. A new palace was built in its place in the mid nineteenth century but in 1934 the death of its current owner (one of a long line) led to its abandonment and disrepair.
Arriving into the exotic garden
You enter the complex into a tiled courtyard with running water and fountains. It is immensely surreal to stand in the foyer looking at the serenity of the gardens and have the noise of mopeds just behind you.
The exotic gardens have plants from all over the world. Some are easily identifiable as cactus but others less so. Thank goodness all the plants have labels! We even saw a cracked birds egg that had fallen from a tree in this area. Wonderful to think of new life here.
Water water everywhere…
The Muslim civilisation considers water to be a symbol of life, existence and power. The Quran describes heaven as a “garden in which streams flow” and I guess the gardens are a pretty accurate description and reflection of this.
Water is an essential part of life and a vital essence of the gardens. Water flows around the gardens using a system that was created in the eleventh century! The Khettara is a drainage system which distributes water around the city. A privilege for only the wealthy including Le Jardin Secret.
You can still see the vestiges of the riad’s original water system, made up of pipes, reservoirs and canals linked together.
All through the gardens are signs explaining how the water system works.
walking through to the Islamic garden
Islamic walled gardens are often referred to as ‘an oasis in the desert’. A symbolic metaphor for peace and open air where you can allow yourself time to indulge under the shades of the trees.
The garden has been designed around the typical four-part layout which is laid out according to rigid geometric rules where order supposedly asserts itself over the wild disorder of nature.
Water continues to play a dominate role as you can see with the frequent fountains and running passages.
The Hbiqua pavillion currently houses a photography exhibition showing the renovations of the gardens. It is a large and breezy room but don’t forget to look up as the ceiling is spectacular.
Oud el Ward Pavilion
The two pavilions stand opposite each other, at each end of the gardens. The Oud el ward pavilion is an education centre teaching about the architecture, the significance of the gardens and water system as well as holding artifact that was found during the renovations.
The Hammam was not restored however you can see the original design and some of the water pipes through the walls. It is quite dark in there but if you have a torch on your phone you should be able to see.
Hammams are to Morocco what steam baths are to Turkey. They form an essential part of Moroccan life with an emphasis on water rather than steam. Cleansing is an important part of Islamic life and many Moroccans still have one a week.
Climbing the tower
For this you pay an extra 20-30 Dirhams and honestly it isn’t worth it, especially for those of us on the small side. The view is quite limited and the guard who accompanies you is rather over diligent with ensuring you do not take photos of the ‘neighbours’.
For an uninterupted view over the gardens you’d be far better sitting up on the sun terrace and ordering tea. Mint tea (thé a la menthe) costs little but is incredibly refreshing to combat the day’s heat and grime. Here, you can have great views and take photos!
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