Qantara Qantara

The garden and the pavilion of the Menara

  • Name : The garden and the pavilion of the Menara
  • Place : The province of Marrakech, Morocco
  • Construction date/period :

    The garden and the lake: AD 1157; the pavilion: AD 1869–1870

  • Construction materials : Brick, stone, cob, and lime mortar
  • Architectural pattern : Paint on plaster, paint on wood, and ceramic mosaics
  • Dimensions : Garden: 1200m x 800 m

 

The garden of the Menara is one of the oldest gardens in the Muslim West. The ancient authors attributed its first improvements to the Almohad sultan ‘Abd al-Mu’min ibn ‘Alī (reigned 1130–1163). According to al-Baydhaq, when the founder of the Almohad dynasty entered Salé in 1157, he had the bouhaira planted at Marrakech. This was a vast enclosed orchard with a large lake for storing great quantities of water that were intended to irrigate the fruit and vegetables inside the enclosure. The author of al-Istibsar indicates that ‘Abd al-Mu’min had a garden planted in the west of the city in the direction of Neffis, and was intended to be close to the palace which is almost opposite to the Menara lake, which may correspond to the lake inside the caliph’s garden.

The water required to irrigate these open spaces was supplied by underground drainage tunnels (Khettara)[1] that were dug using a technique introduced by the Almoravids in the eleventh century and adopted by the Almohads, who added superficial channels to the network. The creation of these gardens, according to Ibn Sahib Assalate, was attributed to Hajj ibn Yaich, a scientist and legislator in the Almohad Empire. Apart from its more utilitarian functions, this lake was also used to train Almohad soldiers to swim, in preparation for the crossing of the Mediterranean to Andalusia.

The garden of the Menara was recorded under the Saadians by the authors in 1579. The princes reused it, turning it into a pied-à-terre. The Alaouite sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallāh had a pavilion constructed there, and it was given a belvedere that was used a square for strolling and resting. A high, cob wall surrounds the building and its little garden. Its thick, stone walls have cornerstones made from false bricks. It is covered with a classic pyramidical roof with green tiles. The building has two storeys. A ground floor used for domestic purposes has four sturdy pillars and is preceded by a projection with three arches that opens onto the lake; the upper storeys are reached by a straight, steep stairway. On the north face of the first floor is a large balcony with balusters sitting on the projection and has a low, square door set into a blind arch. The arch keystone is decorated with a stone motif within a frame whose band bears an inscription bearing a famous quotation proclaiming the glory of the Prophet Muhammad and the date of the foundation, AH 1286 (AD 1869–70).

The ground-floor rooms like those on the first floor look out to the south onto antechambers fitted with windows that provide panoramic views onto the surrounding area and the Atlas Mountains. The pavilion’s internal and external decorations were composed of friezes comprising repetitive geometric designs in ochre on plaster, roof structures in painted wood, and revetments of polychrome ceramic mosaics. The interior is also adorned with painted lines that run over the groins of the vaults and enormous, coloured semi-circular motifs.

The Menara is the classical archetype of the imperial Moroccan garden, and similar examples exist, like the gardens of Agdal that also have a lake and a pavilion in the same style. The garden of Sahrij Souani, created during the reign of Mawlāy Ismā‘īl (1672–1727), shares similarities with the Menara, with its intra-muros lake that was used as a water reservoir. It is, however, difficult to compare them with the famous Aghlabid Reservoirs of Kairouan that are different in their layout and construction techniques. Maybe their source of inspiration is to be found more in the major hydraulic constructions in Granada and Córdoba.

NOTE

[1] The khettara: these are traditional systems for conveying and supplying water in arid and semi-arid regions. Like the qanāt, these long underground galleries drain the water in the phreatic (underground) water and convey it to the irrigable surface along a slope. Every 10 to 20 metres is a series of wells, whose depth varies according to the level of the phreatic water (it sometimes attains 40m). The water flows along the bottom of the channel, which is transformed, once ground level is reached, into an open irrigation channel; and inside the medina, it flows into masonry conduits or interconnected earthenware pipes.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Deverdun, G., Marrakech des origines à 1912, 2 tomes, Rabat, éd. Techniques nord-africaines, 1959.

Sites et monuments de Marrakech, Direction du patrimoine culturel, 1999.



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