Probably my favourite place in Marrakesh was Jardin Marjorelle – an oasis of foliage in the busy city. Jacques Majorelle, born in 1886 the son of a famous cabinetmaker, arrived in Marrakesh in 1917. Jacques was keen to scrupulously transcribe the everyday scenes he saw across the city in his paintings, as society began to ‘modernise’ under the frequently strong French influence.
Jacques fascinated by Marrakesh, never left and eventually bought a patch of land in 1922 outside the walls of the medina on the edge of a palm grove. Poplars grew across the property where the artist built his house, which became known as Bou Saf Saf or the Villa Poplar.
In 1928, Jacques extended the property to include an almighty garden and a few years later his artist’s studio. A long waterway, narrow and shallow, was built connecting the studio and villa, filled with water lilies and bordered with giant cacti.
In 1937, Majorelle decided to paint his white modernist studio in the bright colours he used in his paintings – reds of mudbrick buildings, green marble of Agadir, turquoise pergolas, orange trees and luscious green palms. Jacques covered the doors, windows, balustrades and planting pots in yellow ochre, deep blue and lemon yellow.
By 1980, long after Majorelle’s passing, the house fell into disrepair and was to be demolished to build a new hotel. Yves Saint Laurent, who equally fell in love with Marrakesh like fellow artist Majorelle, bought the exotic garden with partner Pierre Berge.
Every winter Yves Saint Laurent would return to Marrakesh to immerse himself in the colourful culture, returning with armfuls of sketches.
Following YSL’s death in 2008, the Jardin Majorelle has become one of Marrakesh’s chief visitor spots. The electric blue studio is now home to the Musee Berbere which showcases the rich panorama of Morocco’s indigenous peoples across 600 different artefacts including regional costumes. I’m reliably informed it is one of the best-curated collections in Marrakesh.
The blue used abundantly throughout the garden is now known as Majorelle blue – according to legend it was mixed by Jacques to match the shade of overalls used by French workmen. The Galerie Love also displays YSL ‘Love Posters’ which favoured clients of the fashion house received every New Year. In the eastern garden section, a memorial to the man himself was created with his ashes scattered here after his death.
The garden spills out with cacti, pink creepers from Florida, bougainvillaea from India, yellow daturas and white yuccas from Mexico, alongside tall Washingtonia palms, dwarf varieties of Canaries, decorative Sabal Palmetto with banana trees and giant ferns – all things Jacques grew and acclimatised here.
At the end, the Cafe Majorelle offers an excellent spot amongst the shady palms to try a plate of Moroccan pancakes, or baghrir, served with honey and butter or one of the fresh detox smoothies – to take in all the colour surrounding you.