The architectural styles of Morocco are revered for their extraordinary beauty, and reflect a diverse, cosmopolitan cultural fusion. The indigenous people of Morocco are the Berbers, who have lived in the land since at least 200 B.C. Yet, Morocco has also been occupied and ruled by other countries, including the Portuguese, the Arabians, the Spanish, and the French. As a result, Morocco’s art and architecture have been influenced by the artistic trends of various cultures.
In many Moroccan cities, including Fez and Tangier, there is a quarter called the medina, or the old city. This area of the city is characterized by its Moorish and Arab-style architecture. Right next to the medina is the ville nouvelle, or French colonial city; the French colonizers built this section as part of an effort to develop the Moroccan cityscape in the early twentieth century. The two sections contrast each other in both city planning and architectural style. In the medina, one might see narrow passages and streets that seem unplanned. These narrow streets extend in almost every direction. Interestingly enough, the medina strongly reflects Islamic architecture.
Since 685 C.E., Morocco has been an Islamic state, and thus has been transformed at the architectural and artistic level. The Islamic architectural influence is apparent in the wide use of horseshoe arches, decorative mosques, and tall minarets. A key concept of Islamic architecture is the enclosed space for living and dining; derived from desert life, the idea was that one would be protected from a potentially hostile climate. As a result, one will find the fountains, gardens, and decorative elements within the confines of the building, rather than surrounding the building (as one might observe with European architecture). In Islamic architecture, the building is considered a part of the environment. As a result, private gardens and homes in the medina, called riads, usually have enclosed courtyards with gardens and pools. Because the medinas have their roots as virtual city-states that were built throughout Moroccan history, towers and crenellated walls typically surround them. These architectural elements protected against invasion, and are still present within the Medinas today. The ville nouvelle has a very different architectural style to it; wide boulevards and grid-like streets characterize this part of the Moroccan city.
Moroccan Visual Arts
Moroccan visual arts reflect a deep commitment to complex geometry, floral patterns, and calligraphic designs of simple, pastel colors. Because Islam prohibits the representation of people and animals in art, the use of abstract patterns and calligraphy are popular, and help focus the viewers mind. At any medersa (Islamic universities), one will find calligraphic patterns carved in wood and stone, most of them taken from the Koran. The backgrounds of these carvings are of incredible geometric complexity. Walking through the Medina, one might also find complex tiles, called zellij mosaics, covering public spaces and furniture. The riads, gardens and palaces, and medersas (Islamic universities) have inspired many artists, including western artist Delacroix and Henri Matisse. Moroccan artists today, such as Ahmed Cherkaoui and Hassan Slaoui, have seen a flourishing international status.