Monday, October 24, 2005

What is a riad?

A RIAD: house with a garden in the center, usually with orange and lemon trees (the Arabic word riad means garden). The garden is sometimes in the center of the house, and sometimes the house is U-shaped with the garden on the fourth side (ours has the garden in the centre). Many riads have salons only on one level, to provide more light for the garden. Our riad has a salon on both floors and two large terrace courtyards on the roof.

An update on the news from Morocco. Yes it is true we bought a Riad in the fabulous old city of Fès.

The picture shows the entrance to the first salon off the courtyard. The hand carved ceder doors are about three metres tall and when closed have smaller keyhole doors to allow entrance in winter. Most people don't associate Morocco with winter. But in Fès in January I have experienced temperatures as low as minus three degrees celsius. Last year it snowed in mid-January. Finding and purchasing the riad was a year long saga of frustration and confusion at the end of which, in one day, we dumped one riad and found another. At the moment it has the working title of Riad Zany - but we will come up with something more suitable as the extreme rennovations continue.Even the act of paying for the place was a hassle. The owners had no bank account and so we had to produce cash!

The walls of houses in Fès are made of lime (jeer), sand, (raml), and bricks (liyajoor beldi). Cement was never used in traditional building. The lime and sand mixture needs to cure for some time to be strong (it used to be that you would prepare the lime and sand before going on pilgrimage to Mecca, and it would be ready when you got back), which is part of the reason many people no longer want to use these materials. The advantage of using lime is that the walls "breathe", which makes the houses cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In addition, cracks in walls made with lime are said to be able to "heal" themselves in time.
The outer walls of houses were finished with medluk, made of extremely fine sand, lime (jeer), egg white, and sabon beldi (traditional soft soap made from olive by-products). Medluk develops a beautiful marbled effect over time. Simple geometric patterns are sometimes pressed or carved into the medluk. In Marrakech this mixture is called tadlakt, which is slightly finer and shinier due to the difference in the sand and lime from the two cities. These days tadlakt is often colored and has become very fashionable on interior walls. Good examples of new medluk are the inner walls of the Nejjarine Museum, and the outside walls of Dar Adiyel and the Bou Inania Medersa. The bathrooms in many recent maison d'hotes in Fès are done in tadlakt.

The support beams for all ceilings, as well as doors and windows, are made of cedar (ilerz). Cedar planks are placed on the beams and then around 40 cm. of sand and rubble is added for insulation, then a sand and lime mixture is added, and then zellij mosaic tile on top. Sometimes a second set of beams is added below the roof, to which a carved and painted ceiling is attached. There is a space between the two sets of beams to provide extra insulation. All interior floors and the rooftop have a slight slope that leads into a drain. The drain pipes in older houses are made of ceramic cylinders joined together.

More adventures involving extreme renovation at a later date.


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