Marrakech’s ancient medina is an intoxicating place to stay. During our time there the endless winding alleys, colourful souks and frenetic Jemaa el-Fna became hypnotic and it was tempting to spend our entire visit to Marrakech behind it’s high red walls. Despite this, one morning we were lured out of the medina into the new part of the city to visit the famous Jardin Majorelle. Although it’s located only minutes away, the garden provides a dramatic change from the bustle and intensity bursting within the medina. I felt an immediate relief from the morning heat upon entering. Very easy to sink into a state of quiet relaxation under the shady trees and with the sound of the trickling fountain at the entrance.
Covering over 2 acres, the garden was originally known as Bou Saf Saf and was created by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s as he recovered from illness in Marrakech. He lovingly cultivated the garden for years but unfortunate circumstances allowed the garden to be parceled off and become an untended mess.
After Majorelle’s death the garden was saved from redevelopment by famed fashion designer Yves St. Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge. They added more foliage from all over the world, introduced new methods of irrigation and had the property immaculately maintained by a team of skilled gardeners. The decades long work of caretakers resulted in a painted blue haven in the center of Marrakech. It was the original French owner who trademarked the shade – known as Majorelle Blue – inspired by Moroccon tiling and the woolen cloaks of Berbers. The blue is a constant throughout the garden, often contrasted directly with bright yellow. These intense colours make the green plants seem even more vivid and add a surreal quality to the experience. I saw many photos before my visit to the the garden, but I was still unprepared for how blue it really was. You can even take the blue home with you as small tins of paint are available in the gift shop.
Paths lead through a small bamboo grove and a past a variety of cactus – which were one of Marjorelle’s favorite plants to collect. There are hundreds of species of cacti here! We arrived early in the morning and beat the crowds so it was still quite empty as we wandered around admiring the geraniums and bougainvillea. The large pond was full of yellow lotus blooms, and I loved the way the tall palms were positioned to perfectly reflect onto the surface of the water. We also stopped at the Yves Saint Laurent memorial near the bamboo grove. The simple monument is made from a section of column from his home in Tangier. It was surrounded by singing bulbuls when we paused there…a sweetly tranquil spot. It certainly felt far removed from the large city right outside. I often visit gardens when I travel, and this one had an unique vibe and a clear affection for Morocco in every detail.
The striking blue villa stands next to the ponds. It’s Deco style perfectly compliments the wild plant life surrounding, and it’s easy to see why both Majorelle and YSL used it as an artist studio. The dreamy setting is certainly inspiring and makes a great backdrop for photo opportunities. We even met a friendly cat hanging out and enjoying the sun. Always a bonus for me.
In 2011 the main floor of the villa was transformed into a small but beautiful museum dedicated to the Berber culture, and it absolutely should not be missed. The long and layered history of the Berbers (or Imazighen) spans back over 9000 years and still permeates many parts of life in Morocco. YSL and Berge were passionate about the preservation of this history and spent many years collecting the handcrafted goods, jewelry and garments that are artfully displayed here. The atmosphere inside the museum is hushed and respectful and no photography is allowed. This collection is one of the most important parts of YSL’s legacy and it left me with a desire to know more about the Berbers and their determination to maintain their own traditions and unity throughout the radically changing history of North Africa. Their story is fascinating, and the textiles and jewelry displayed (over 600 items) are stunning.
Another feature of the garden also not to be missed is the display of Love Cards. Yves Saint Laurent collaged these works between 1970-2000. These simple colorful handmade works of art were sent to family and friends to celebrate the New Year, all carrying the declaration of Love.
They are all beautiful, but of particular interest is the 1991 card featuring reproductions of silkscreens by Andy Warhol of YSL’s bulldog Moujik. Warhol – who died in 1987 – was a close friend of YSL, and this card is an homage to the late great artist as well as a reaffirming of creativity. The statement on the card is written in French, translating: “This is Moujik, my dog, painted by Andy Warhol. Me I am Yves Saint Laurent.” Reproductions of the Love Cards are available for very reasonable prices in the bookstore on site. Trust me, these are fantastic souvenirs. I wish I had picked up more!
Keep in mind that Jardin Majorelle is a tourist destination featured in most travel guides. Though it can offer serene refuge it is also known to get rather crowded. I would suggest going as early in the morning as possible but sometimes even taking a few steps down another pathway in the garden can make the presence of other visitors seem distant. There are definitely peaceful moments to be found here, and the combination of horticulture, art and history make it a place not to be overlooked on anyone’s travels to Marrakech.