A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace surrounded by an Andalusian-style courtyard containing a fountain.
The typical riad is also a few stories high with a rooftop terrace. Riads were originally designed to provide privacy for the families that owned them. Access is through a single door from the street that opens to richly decorated interiors. There are no windows to the street from the main level. Riads have gained recent popularity with many converted to boutique hotels and guesthomes in major Moroccan cities. In the old medina of Fes, many buildings are in various states of disrepair, including former riads.
Discovering the Remains of a Former Mansion
After a day of seeing the sights within the medina, Idris was walking me back to my riad when we stopped at a particularly elaborate door. Idris explained to me that one of the King’s ministers used to reside here more than 20 years ago. His children moved out to the newer part of Fes so like many buildings in the old medina, the riad has fallen into major disrepair.
Naturally, I asked to see the inside. Idris knocked on the door and eventually a young man appeared. I waited at the entrance while Idris spoke with him. This young man appeared to both be watching the property and squatting there with his dog, a mixed Lab that seemed to have a penchant for furniture foam. A few minutes later Idris came back and said it was okay for me to walk around.
I literally gasped once I reached the courtyard. The former mansion was three stories of rotting wood, crumbling plaster and broken glass. In some parts of the riad, large gaping holes stood in place of the ceiling. All that was left in place of ornate chandeliers was bare electrical wiring. Yet, a sturdy tree still produced oranges, the zellij tile work was exquisite, and when the afternoon sun beamed through the riad it was hauntingly beautiful.
Riad in Ruins Photo Gallery
From hearing the call to prayer to smelling the spices in the souks, Fes el Bali is an assault on your senses. Stepping inside this former oasis turned out to be my most enjoyable experience in the medina. As I walked through all of the rooms, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone would come along someday and restore this beauty because it certainly has great bones. I took photos of the surrounding landmarks in hopes I remember its location so that I can return someday.