Saturday, March 05, 2011

A Pasha's palace in Fez

When Michel Biehn first came to Fez, he knew immediately that this was where he wanted to live. There was one caveat: he had to have a garden. This was no easy task, as houses in the Fez medina are built hard up against each other and there are few properties with gardens.

However, Michel and his wife Catherine were fortunate to find the summer palace of Pasha Tayeb el Mokri in Douh. While it took six months to buy the property, several more to find alternative accommodation for those living there, and two years of renovation, the result is a fabulous concoction of whimsy and fantasy. Adorned with treasures that Michel has collected all his life, the house surrounds the large garden planted with roses, citrus trees, olives, herbs and vegetables.

"We never lost confidence", reports Michel, "and the result is magical!"

Si Tayeb el Mokri was the son of Grand Vizier Mohammed el Mokri, and Minister of Finance under the reign of Moulay Hafid until 1912. Once Mohamed V came to power, Si Tayeb became Pasha of Casablanca from 1927 until his death in Fez in 1949.

Si Tayeb el Mokri

Si Tayeb was an interesting figure, and to this day local people have stories to tell about him. He was a powerful man, and even the coinage bore his image. But he was also a man of great taste and refinement. He was a traveller, a pianist and great lover of music. He was the first to import a grand piano to Morocco. Entranced by anything new, Si Tayeb was the first to have electricity in the medina, and installed a costly hydraulic sound system in his palace so that all rooms were supplied with the sound of musicians playing. His four wives, too, played violin and oud, and often gave concerts for their husband.

El Mokri had his own photographic studio. People say that he photographed everything around him, all his life, even the most intimate moments. But unfortunately, shortly before his death, he destroyed all the plates.

But for all this, Si Tayeb had to get away sometimes from the formality of the Mokri Palace. So in 1906 he built himself a summer palace in an ancient garden full of olive and citrus trees. Here our Pasha would be able to relax, far from worldly cares, and surround himself with entertaining friends.

Over time, other buildings were erected around the garden to house his black servants - he only ever had black servants - and, so it's said, his numerous illegitimate children.

Today the estate has been beautifully restored as a guesthouse called Le Jardin des Biehn. The largest suite was once Si Tayeb's quarters - a sumptuous bedroom with its own halka (roof opening to the sky), two salons, a large bathroom, a poolroom with one hot and one cold tub, and its own entrance to the ancient hammam. One of the guest salons contains several photographs of the Mokris, as a family member living nearby gave them to the Biehns to adorn the house. The estate also houses the Fez Cafe, open to the public for lunch and dinner.

part of the Pasha Suite

Fez Cafe: tel 0660 669 479

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