Friday, January 24, 2014

86. Palais de la Bahia and Palais el Badi

Today I visited two very imposing - but quite different - palaces in the Medina; the first is from the 19th century and the second from the 16th century.

So first up was the grand Palais de la Bahia ... A very simple street doorway leading into a long courtyard at the end of which was another very simple doorway opening into the palace reception rooms.

Commissioned by Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s and embellished by black slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed from 1894 to 1900, the palace architects used Morocco’s top artisans who worked on the amazingly beautiful floor-to-ceiling decorations.
The painted, gilded, inlaid woodwork ceilings in the Grand Court had the intended effect of subduing crowds of dignitaries waiting for an audience with the vizier. But the Bahia proved too beguiling: in 1908, warlord Pasha Glaoui claimed the palace as a suitable venue to entertain French guests, who were so impressed that they booted out their host in 1911, and installed the protectorate’s résident-généraux here.

Through the harem, a doorway leads to a beautiful planted courtyard surrounded by a collanaded verandah. 

Though only a portion of the palace’s 8 hectares and 150 rooms is open to the public, you can see the unfurnished, opulently ornamented harem that once housed Bou Ahmed’s four wives and 24 concubines. The quarters of his favourite, Lalla Zineb, are the most spectacular, with original woven-silk panels, stained-glass windows, intricate marquetry and ceilings painted with rose bouquets.


Then just around the corner are the ruins of the Badi Palace. This grand example of 16th century architecture is the work of the Saadian king Ahmed El Mansour Dahbi-Ed (1578-1603) and it was commissioned to commemorate his victory over the Portuguese army at the Battle of the Three Kings in 1578.

The palace consists of a large rectangular courtyard of 135 m by 110 m, the middle of which was laid a pool of 90 m by 20 m and in the center of which stood a monumental fountain with two superimposed basins surmounted by a water jet. On either side of this central basin, two depressions were covered with orange trees and flowers arranged in a pattern and separated by paved walkways with tiled squares. Around the outer walls of the huge courtyard are the imposing ruins of old houses that accommodated the king’s courtiers as well as guest lodges for visiting dignitaries.

Unfortunately the palace was all but destroyed in the seventeenth century by order of Sultan Moulay Ismail Alawi (1672-1727). Begun around 1696, the demolition lasted a decade. Much of the materials were sent to Meknes to be reused in the construction of the royal city of Moulay Ismail.

Today there is not much left of the decor of the palace, except for some fragments of columns, stucco and tiles. According to the accounts of travelers and ambassadors, the scenery was a magnificent symbol of elegance and refinement of the Saadian dynasty. Now we can only imagine the grandeur of this complex.

To build this great work, the ruler choose the northeast corner of the Kasbah ( the ancient city ), close to his private apartments. Construction lasted from 1578 to 1603, thus covering the entire reign of the sovereign. The palace was for festivals and formal sittings during which the sovereign could to show-off his pomp to foreign embassies. 

These two pots lying in the middle of the orchard caught my eye - mother and child maybe ...

The only king in residence nowadays - enjoying the sun ...

The Sacred Stork

In a previous blog - #84 - I mentioned the Stork. This bird is protected by law in Morocco - offenders receive a jail sentence if caught harming the bird or its nest. 

Here at the Palais el Badi, dozens of nesting storks were perched atop the ruined walls. Storks mate for life and use the same nest - renovated from time to time I'm sure ... 

Storks are commonly believed to bring good fortune. To kill a stork will cause one to have bad luck. The arrival of clean, white storks in the spring heralds a good summer but dirty storks are portents of a bad year. Storks, hurriedly abandoning their nests, are omens of great misfortune, pestilence, and war.

A pretty magnificent piece of real estate for any stork - 
with the stunning snow-covered Atlas Mountains way in the distance ...


Next posting we'll do a bit of people watching ...