Marrakesh’s Ville Nouvelle radiates out from Guéliz, its commercial centre. Though it’s hardly chock-a-block with attractions, it does have one must-see: the Majorelle Garden. South of Guéliz, the Hivernage district, built as a garden suburb, is where most of the city’s newer tourist hotels are located. Further afield, on the northeastern edge of town, is Marrakesh’s palmery.
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The heart of modern Marrakesh, Guéliz has a certain buzz that the sleepy old Medina rather lacks. Its main thoroughfare, Avenue Mohammed V, runs all the way down to the Koutoubia, and it’s on and around this boulevard that you’ll find the city’s main concentration of upmarket shops, restaurants and smart pavement cafés. Its junctions form the Ville Nouvelle’s main centres of activity: Place de la Liberté, with its modern fountain; Place 16 Novembre, by the main post office; and Place Abdelmoumen Ben Ali, epicentre of Marrakesh’s modern shopping zone. Looking back along Avenue Mohammed V from Guéliz to the Medina, on a clear day at least, you should see the Koutoubia rising in the distance, with the Atlas mountains behind.
The Majorelle Garden
The Majorelle Garden
The Majorelle Garden, or Jardin Bou Saf, is a meticulously planned twelve-acre botanical garden, created in the 1920s and 1930s by French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886–1962), and subsequently owned by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. When Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the garden, which contains a memorial to him, while the street the entrance is in was renamed after him.
The feeling of tranquillity in the garden is enhanced by verdant groves of bamboo, dwarf palm and agave, the cactus garden and lily-covered pools. The Art Deco pavilion at the heart of the garden is painted in a striking cobalt blue – the colour of French workmen’s overalls, so Majorelle claimed, though it seems to have improved in the Moroccan light. This brilliantly offsets both the plants – multicoloured bougainvillea, rows of bright orange nasturtiums and pink geraniums – and also the strong colours of the pergolas and concrete paths – pinks, lemon yellows and apple greens. The enduring sound is the chatter of the common bulbuls, flitting among the leaves of the date palms, and the pools also attract other bird residents such as turtle doves and house buntings. The garden became better known abroad when it was featured by Yves Saint Laurent in a brilliant reproduction at London’s 1997 Chelsea Flower Show. Pierre Bergé and Madison Cox’s Majorelle, A Moroccan Oasis is a superbly photographed coffee table book on the garden, sometimes available at Librairie d’Art.
When leaving the garden, ignore the taxi drivers waiting outside, who run a cartel and will not take you unless you pay well over the odds. The answer is simply to walk down to the main road and hail a cab there.
In Majorelle’s former studio, housed within the pavilion, the Berber Museum kicks off with an exhibition about Morocco’s Berbers, their culture and languages, and where in the country they live, before launching (in the next room) into a display of traditional Berber crafts, including textiles and carpet-making, and showing the tools used in making them, as well as the finished articles. There’s even a beautiful but slightly rickety wooden minbar (mosque pulpit) from the Middle Atlas, decorated with Berber designs. The next room is dedicated to jewellery, all of it silver, as gold is considered unlucky in Berber tradition. The last room contains a display of Berber costumes from different regions of the country.