The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden, Arabic: رياض, ryad. Morocco has a rich architectural history and one of the great pleasures of a holiday in Morocco is staying in or visiting a historical building.
When the Almoravids conquered Spain in the 11th century they sent Muslim, Christian and Jewish artisans from Spain to Morocco to work on monuments.
Riads and dars are traditional Moroccan family houses usually found in the medinas of the major towns and cities – such as Marrakech, Essaouira, Rabat, Meknes and Fez.
They were designed to provide privacy for the family, with the often richly decorated interior accessed through a single door from the street, and no windows onto the street at street level. This design principle found support in Islamic notions of privacy, and hijab for women. The walls of the riads are adorned with plaster and tiles, usually with Arabic calligraphy of quotes from the Quran.
Their Typical Structure
Riads and dars are normally a few stories high and typically have a roof terrace. The Andalusian-style garden (for a riad) or courtyard (for a dar) is normally in the center of the house but sometimes the house is U-shaped with the garden/courtyard on the fourth side.
They typically have two salons downstairs facing each other across the central open area, and a room without doors opening onto the courtyard for entertaining guests. The salons are narrow and with very high ceilings, sometimes carved and painted, and were historically used as a living room, dining room, and bedroom. In older houses, there would be no windows in the salons only two large doors with smaller doors within them – kept open in summer with a curtain for privacy.
There would normally be the second floor with more salons and several small rooms with low ceilings in-between the main floors for storage. In older houses, there is a balcony overlooking the courtyard. Sometimes there would be a small room with a discreet window from which women could look when there were male strangers in the house.
On the roof, the level is a terrace and sometimes another large pavilion for entertaining special guests. From the terrace, there is often a panoramic view, but in older houses, there would be high walls to provide privacy since this was the domain only of women until very recently. The terrace was historically not a place to sit, but rather a place for women to dry grain and clothing or for the family to sleep on the hottest nights.
A number of riads and dars have been renovated in recent years into boutique hotels, particularly in significant tourist cities – e.g. Marrakech, Fez, Essaouira, and Rabat. These now offer visitors the chance to stay in authentic and often luxurious Moroccan accommodation hidden away behind unassuming front doors.
Typically they have 4 to 8 bedrooms but sometimes are interlinked with neighboring properties to form larger maze-like accommodations, and many now offer a plunge pool and other facilities, e.g. hammam.