All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco

Color changes our emotions. Color can change our lives. Color schemes that create fame for artists in other countries are a familiar way for Moroccans to communicate

Scarlet, burgundy, cherry, coral, terracotta, dark pink – carpets of all shades of red are stacked in two-meter piles along the walls in Fayyad Lahbi shop in the center of the Marrakesh medina. The floor is covered with crimson fleecy carpets with tassels and outlandish symbols woven in black and light yellow wool. Thinner rugs, with white and blue zigzags at the edges, hang from the vaulted ceiling.

All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco

“I sell Berber carpets, which are woven by women of the Oulad-Besseba tribe from the province of Shishaoua, which is 60 kilometers from Marrakesh,” the owner explains and gestures me to sit on a pouf at a low wooden table. “The background of these carpets is always red colors and shades. For ulyad-besseb, who migrated here from the Sahara 700 years ago, red symbolizes happiness and greatness, black – maturity and courage, white -purity, green -youth, yellow -sun, orange -spiritual wealth.

Fayyad famously lifts a silver teapot with a narrow spout a meter from the carved tabletop and pours mint tea into transparent glasses. Fayyad is wearing a brick-colored djellaba -a long Berber robe with a pointed hood pulled back, and yellow leather slippers-grandmothers without backs.

All the colors of life: how colors define geography and life in Morocco

“The color of the Moroccan’s clothes,” the merchant continues, pushing me a turquoise faience plate with dates, “tells me what tribe he is from. By the color and ornament of our dishes, fabrics, carpets, it is immediately clear where and who made them. But the color meanings are different in different parts of Morocco.

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Casa Branca (“white house”) – this is how the Portuguese called the port recaptured from pirates on the Atlantic coast of the Maghreb in the 16th century, because of the white house on the hill. Two hundred years later, the Arabs expelled the Portuguese and simply translated the name into Arabic: Ed-Darel-Beyda. But merchants from Spain called the city in their own way: Casa Blanca. The name stuck because Casablanca has always been more European than African. It was built up with white buildings, first with traditional dwellings in the old and new medinas, then multi-storey bank towers and Art Deco residential buildings.

The 210-meter minaret of the Hassan II mosque is decorated with a mosaic of sea-green, white, blue and yellow pieces. The mosque is built of cream, almost white stone, with a retractable roof covered with green tiles. The area in front of the mosque is blown by the wind from the ocean, the sun heats the wide steps, the colonnades create a shadow in which the Moroccans rest. Many are wearing white djellabas.

All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco

“White is the color of the Sunnis, the most numerous followers of Islam,” says Musa elMehdi, a professor at Hassan II University, who met me at the mosque and led me inside. “There is a lot of white in mosques, it symbolizes peace, wisdom, purity. And Sufi mystics, who are more numerous in Morocco than in other countries, associate the white color with sacred secrets. White clothes are worn during the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and in mourning. You will immediately notice a widow in the bazaar: a woman grieving for her husband wears a white djellaba and a head covering, white gloves, socks and shoes.

All the colors of life: how colors define geography and everyday life in Morocco

Inside the mosque, a fluffy carpet path leads through an empty prayer hall that is one and a half times the size of a football field. Daylight streams in through tall windows and highlights pink marble columns to the right and left. Above them are white arches with jagged edges and cells that look like broken pieces of a honeycomb.

The floor of the mosque is made of golden marble and green onyx. These are the two colors of Islam, – explains the professor. -Green – is the grace of paradise, and gold or yellow – spiritual wealth. The traditional symbolism of flowers in Morocco is associated with religion. For the decoration of mosques, in mosaics and murals, three more colors are used. Blue, which means calmness, black – the color of the night sky and red, which protects from evil. The repetition of ornaments symbolizes eternity.

According to various sources, from 3,300 to 6,000 Moroccan marble craftsmen, wood and alabaster carvers, and mosaic artists worked on the design of the Hassan II mosque. In Morocco, there is an opinion that the best artisans and color experts live in the city of Fez.

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Fes el Bali, Fes's thousand-year-old medina, the largest in Morocco, confuses outsiders in 9,400 lanes, almost a third of which end in dead ends. There is no entry for cars here, all burdens are transported on donkeys and mules.

There is no reliable map of Fes el Bali. The farther into the medina, the narrower and darker the passages between the peeling walls become. Akil, a guy in a sweatshirt and jeans, with a bag of multi-colored smalt in his hands, appears on my way in time and shows the way to the workshops where the traditional geometric zellige mosaic is made. This craft came to Morocco from Moorish Andalusia 11 centuries ago, and the Fez masters brought it to the level of art.

— One fragment of the zellige mosaic, —Akil draws a square meter by meter on the earthen floor of the workshop,  – consists of about 15 thousand small pieces. It takes three months to make it.

All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco

Next to the workshop there are samples of work – tabletops, frames for mirrors, mosaic fragments of various sizes, on which small triangles and stars add up to circles and flowers. Akil is a real fassi, that is, a representative of an educated and non-poor family that has lived in Fes since its foundation, and knows the history of the mosaic:

– At first, zellige was in two colors, black and white. Then blue, green and honey yellow were added to them. In the 17th century, red appeared. Now masters use more than 20 shades, including orange, lemon, burgundy, turquoise, purple, brown. All colors are obtained from four basic ones: white, red, blue and green, adding tin, lead, minerals and other substances to them at high temperature. Although now zellige is also being made in other cities of Morocco – in Meknes, Tetouan – the mosaic from Fez is easily recognizable by its light shade of green. In Tetouan, craftsmen use dark green.

Is light green the color of Fez? – I clarify.

“No, the color of Fez is blue,” Fassi objects and takes me on a tour. From the Blue Gate of Bab BouJelud, finished with glazed indigo tiles, to the tapping of hammers of chasers in Seffarin Square, to the tannery quarter, to the tanneries and dye-works of Shuar.

All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco

The terraces of the shops surrounding the vats for leather processing are allowed on as observation platforms. Peppermint helps to kill the killer smell. From above, round vats look like a box with cans of paints. With a dozen blue and blue shades, a lot of red, brown, purple, yellow. A quarter of the vats are completely white.

“There is quicklime,” says Akil. “The skins are kept in it for 20 days to get rid of wool. Then for softness – 2-3 days in water with pigeon droppings. Then for a few more days the skins are sprinkled with bran, wetted and crumpled with their feet. Then they paint. These technologies are hundreds of years old.

After the colorful tanneries, the fabric bazaar at the Gzam ben Skoum bridge and the brocade shops on Mohammed V Boulevard, it is full of eyes. In the potter's quarter, the master shows how to correctly apply dark blue patterns on white faience with a thin brush. A triangle here, curlicues there – nothing complicated. However, the brush slips out of my hand and draws a sloppy squiggle on the plate on its own. Akil laughs, the master shrugs his shoulders: “She’s not fassi”, — and allows me to try again, introducing me to something ancient, large-scale, magical.

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The wonders of the play of color and light take place early in the morning at the Bahia Palace in Marrakech, as groups of tourists move through the halls, past fountains and orange trees. In the 1860s, the palace was built by Grand Vizier Si Moussa for his beloved wife, three more wives and 24 concubines. To decorate the chambers, he invited a thousand craftsmen from Fez. They decorated 150 rooms, and colored stained-glass windows were installed on the windows in the chambers of the main beauty.

The front yard, lined with white marble, floods the sun in the morning. The rays fall directly on the stained-glass windows, from which large clear reflections of multi-colored rhombuses form on the outer wall of the chambers, on the floor by the door and on the ceiling.

– Look, Harlequin climbed into the harem! – one tourist admires.

In the garden of the Bahia Palace lives an eternally dormant tortoise. Someone painted her shell in the same colors as on the stained-glass windows. As the 14th-century Moroccan sultan Abu Inan Faris said about the values ​​​​of Moroccans, “because it is beautiful and pleasing to the eye.”

All the colors of life: how colors determine the geography and life of Morocco

The feeling of happiness that arises when seeing the colors of Morocco was captured by our contemporary, Austrian artist Andre Heller. 30 kilometers from Marrakech, he created Anima Garden. In the garden, Heller collected exotic plants from all over the planet and placed sculptures, ritual masks, fountains, gazebos and a house of mirrors. Among the palm trees and bamboo thickets, one comes across Rodin's The Thinker, then high cones, similar to wigwams, painted in colors that the artist spied on in the Marrakesh medina.

Anima Garden Andre Heller provokes, prompts, – says the decorator from Marrakech Elena Beauchamp. – The designer does not even need to think. I came to the garden, saw the color – and here is a new haute couture collection for you. Majorelle Garden inspires, creates an atmosphere in which it is easy to create.

In the 1920s, French artist Jacques Majorelle was recovering from tuberculosis in Marrakesh, making genre sketches and painting the ceiling of the city's legendary La Mamounia hotel. Majorelle bought a piece of land, laid out a tropical garden there, built a villa and a studio. The artist designed the buildings in bright cornflower blue, which is now called “majorelle blue” in his honor. Later, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent bought the villa and garden, claiming that Marrakesh taught him how to color.

“The blue color in the Majorelle garden is relaxing,” Elena continues. “Together with yellow, it creates a feeling of serenity and happiness. Green plants set you up for creativity.

After soothing shady gardens and the “blue majorelle”, the hubbub of Jemaa el-Fna square and the view of the red-pink houses of the Marrakesh medina tone up. A girl in a djellaba with a lilac psychedelic print in the spirit of Italian designer Emilio Pucci buys turmeric from a counter with spices – yellow, orange, red, brown and green. The head is spinning from the carousel of color. Juice carts with big wheels sell juices. Orange pyramids of oranges and yellow-green grapefruits awaken thirst. I extend two dirhams to the seller, but my hand is intercepted.

– Want to drink? p>All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco

In front of me is an old man in red trousers and a long patterned jacket of the same color with wide sleeves and green fringe. His waist is intercepted by a wide leather belt with round iron plaques, polished to a mirror shine. Three talismans “Hand of Fatima” are fastened to the belt with a chain. The head is wrapped in a white veil, on which a hat is held – just like a huge red lampshade embroidered with multi-colored pompoms. On the shoulders are several copper bowls. In his hand, grandfather holds a shaggy waterskin, an attribute of the Marrakech water carrier.

– Why are you wearing a red suit? – I ask.

– For peace of mind, – the water carrier answers without hesitation . – Marrakesh stands in the desert. Jeans are here. The city is also red, genies and evil spirits are afraid of red.

— Calm gives the blue color, doesn't it?

– No-no! – the old man laughs and slaps his knees. – Blue drives away mosquitoes! Therefore, there are no mosquitoes in Chefchaouen (in the Russian tradition —Chaven).

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“Yes, we don’t have mosquitoes,” the owner of the cafe on Kasbah Square in Chefchaouen nods cheerfully. “We paint houses blue, mosquitoes take them for running water and fly away. They like stagnant water, but they don't like clean water. What will you drink? Looking for a relaxing four-handed Berber massage? Looking for a fringed leather bag? My son sells them. By the way, my wife is guessing. Show you the city?

Katya, my friend and volunteer guide in Chefchaouen, quickly suppresses intrusive suggestions. We are going for a walk around the Blue City, the longed-for goal of Instagrammers (an extremist organization banned in Russia) of the entire planet.

All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco

Between the bright turquoise and half-blue houses, light blue “icy” streets-stairways meander. In some places, multi-colored flower pots are fixed on the walls – a Spanish touch. Most of the doors and window openings are painted in deep blue. We are followed by two cats, red and gray tabby.

It is said that Jews who fled Andalusia in the 15th century began to paint houses in Chefchaouen blue. They believed that blue was the color of the sky and brought them closer to God.

– In the Middle Ages, people used precious stones as amulets, – says Katya. – The Jews who lived in Andalusia, turquoise was such a stone. In those days they practiced the magic of color. Blue or blue, as a symbol of the sky and heavenly waters, was advised to be used against the evil eye and to put evil forces to flight.

We delve into the residential part of the medina. Cats disappear somewhere, people are gone. Now all the surfaces around us are of the same, bright blue hue. The paint is laid so thickly that it is not clear where the horizontal plane ends – the path we are walking along – and the vertical – the wall of the house begins. Walking through the “other reality” is not scary at all. Inside the blue color, I feel comfortable, my thoughts are easy.

* * *

– Hey, you're back! – Fayyad comes out to meet me from a shop in Marrakesh's Rabiya market.

— Fayyad, do you know why water carriers wear red suits?

— It’s beautiful! — the merchant smiles.

— Why is Chefchaouen blue? To give people joy.

— How do the Moroccans get everything so clear?

— Look at the sky. Look at the peaks of the Atlas, at the mint tea, at the oranges, at the greenery of the courtyard gardens, and at my red carpets. All of these are the colors we see every day. Moroccans don't need to invent something that doesn't exist. We already have all the colors of life.

All the colors of life: how colors define the geography and life of Morocco


Square 446,550 km² (excluding the disputed territory of Western Sahara, 57th in the world)
Population 36,770,000 people (39th place)
Population density 78 people/km²

THE ATTRACTIONS Djemaael Fna Square, Hassan II Mosque, Fez Old Medina, Ben Yusuf Madrasah in Marrakech.
TRADITIONAL DISHES chickpea and lentil harira soup, tajine from meat and vegetables, meshui – lamb on a spit.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS mint tea, gray wine (vin gris).
SOUVENIRS carpets, spices, ceramics, Berber silver jewelry, black soap.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Rabat – 4150 km (6.5 hours flight excluding transfers)< br>TIME is 2 hours behind Moscow in summer, 3 hours in winter
VISA Russians do not need
CURRENCY Moroccan dirham < em>(10 MAD ~ 0.94 USD)


Material published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 11, November 2018, partially updated in November 2022

Marina Matvienk about

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