Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Palais Salam, Taroudant, Morocco

For all of my traveling life I have been an avid photographer and documentarian of the places I've visited.  I do it in part because I know that if I live to a ripe old age I will not necessarily have the physical fitness to roam the planet like I have been for so many years.  I used to take slides, and give shows with a projector and screen.  I have a library of many thousands of slides.  Being something of a luddite I was hesitant to enter the digital photography world but it was a game changer for me when I did.  I can go over the images in the evening after a day of wandering and shooting, and edit out the duds.  I can take multiple images of a subject if it warrents the attention and pick the best to file away.  Now I have a pile of disks and zip drives and back up hard drives full of images from many years of adventures.  So now the lockdown necessitated by the pandemic of the Corona Virus has presented me with the time and opportunity to revisit my vast library of photographs, and to write about places that bring back wonderful memories.

In winter, North African  men wear traditional hooded robes called djellabas
In 2012 I made my second trip to Morocco, having been entranced by the beauty of the country the year before.  I returned to many of the same places but also ventured further afield to explore some lesser known parts of the country.  I was back in Marrakesh and had read alluring reviews of a high mountain pass called the Tizi n'Test in the Atlas Mountains connecting the tourist capital of the country with the walled city of Taroudannt in the Souss region of the Sahara and the Mediterranean coast at Agadir.  The winding, sometimes hair raising road, built by colonial French engineers between 1926 and 1932 crosses a pass at 6,867 feet (2,092 meters) above sea level after passing through breathtaking mountain landscapes and mudbrick villages.  The almond trees were in bloom and I was the only foriegner on the funky old bus that plies the route.  If I ever go back I will rent a car as I could have easily pulled over a hundred times to take in the views.

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We passed the impressive mud brick Almohad era Tin Mal mosque in the town of the same name, which was built in 1156.  Tin Mal was the capital of the Almohad kingdom which at one time covered a vast area from Spain to Tunisia and Mali.  Little remains of the ancient fortress but for the mosque, blending in to the mountain slopes.

Tin Mal Mosque
The pass, carved out of the steep mountain side was shrouded in fog when we crossed.  We descended on multiple switchbacks in to the desert, which made a number of passengers nauseous.  The road flattens out before arriving at the walled city of Taroudant.  It is the extensive intact crennalated walls and towers that make the city famous.  I had reserved a room in a strange little Riad where I was the only guest.  I spent my days there wandering the lanes and souks of this relatively quiet market town and the desert outside the walls.

6 kilometers of crennalated mud brick walls surround the city.
By far the most alluring place for me in Taroudant was the Palais Salam, a hotel set in verdant gardens that once was the Kasbah palace of the resident Pacha, a high ranking governing official.  Originally built in the 16th Century, the palace is now a hotel with over 100 rooms.  At the time of my visit, it had the time warp appearance of a relic of colonial times.  Very few people seemed to be staying here and I was able to wander the various courtyards and public rooms of this marvelous faded grand dame.

Moroccan decor is one of the great architectural styles of the world, elegant in its rich details and arched doorways.  Tooled iron lanterns set with colored glass cast the most beautiful patterns when illuminated at night.  The finely rendered doorways frame their views in the most inviting way.  I wish my budget could have afforded a stay here.  There were some Moroccan business men and one well traveled looking foriegn couple who may have made this a pit stop over the years, nostalgically reconnecting to a bygone era.

A perforated Moroccan lantern hanging in the entrance arch
Inside, a verdant garden fills a series of beautifully paved courtyards, draped in vines and luxurient foliage.  Towering bananas plants dangle their lantern like blossoms from pendulous stalks.

The entrance to the reception area of the hotel

The interiors have maintained their original decor, with splendid tile work and carved plaster, elegant windows and traditional furnishings.  Salons cater to conversation, smoking and drinking tea.  Moroccan men can be heavy smokers, as are many Europeans so there were plenty of ash trays.

A beautifully furnished lounge area with an intricate tile zellige fireplace
Fine Moroccan homes usually feature a wainscoating of hand cut tile, called zellige.  The floors here, and some garden paths are also paved in tile.  The glazed tiles are cut using a flat bladed hammer.  The clay in the thick tiles is soft enough that precise cuts can be made.  Handsome handloomed Moroccan carpets in rich colors embellish the rooms.  Brocade chairs and small tables create intimate places to have tea and take in views of the gardens.

Tile zellige and carved plaster decorate the wall surfaces.  
An elegant polished plaster fireplace to warm a room on a cold winter evening.
Moroccan doors are some of the most handsome in the world.  Carved plaster is a lavish but inexpensive material for creating extraordinarily detailed frames for exquisite doorways.  Wood is frequently carved in relief and painted, often with floral motifs that bring the garden in to the building.  In Islam, it is frowned upon to depict people in decorative art, which inspires the use of stylized plant imagery, tessalated geometric patterns, and calligraphy.

This door frame can be opened to make the entrance to this hallway larger.
The arched doors and windows on exterior walls frame views of the garden.  A hallway can continue out in to the garden using the same tile to connect the interior seemlessly to the outdoors.

A succession of doors creates a marvelous frame for a view of the garden
Tiled paths lead around the perimeter of the courtyards, and dissect them, forming a four part garden called a Chahar Bagh.  This was a Persian innovation alluding to the Four Rivers of Paradise referenced in the Koran and the Old Testiment in the Bible.  Where the two paths intersect, there is often a fountain, representing the well spring of life from which the rivers flow.  Traditionally this would have been a source for collecting water to irrigate the four surrounding beds.

A shallow tiled fountain on a pedastal would attract birds to the courtyard.
Brightly colored tile mosaic embellishes the basin of this fountain.
Light casts dappled patterns through banana leaves on to stucco walls painted in rich pigments.
The hotel rooms opening on to the courtyards have brightly painted doors and handsome sculpted awnings to protect them from rain.

The doors to hotel rooms are sheltered by interesting stucco canopies.
One of the courtyards is filled with banana plants, and is thus named the Court of the Bananas.  The large leaves create a lush tropical look in this desert environment.  Banana leaves are so large that they capture light and shadow in the most wonderful way.

A doorway leading to the Banana Court
The bananas and trees in the courtyards create shade from the intense desert sun.  When the bananas bloom, the flowers can be quite spectacular, hanging like organic lanterns from a long arched stalk.  The rubbery bracts open in pairs, revealing fragrant male flowers which fertilize the female flowers further up the stalk, which grow in to bananas.  As the bracts drop off, another layer unfolds.  This process continues and the flower stalk can grow quite long.  The entire flower bud is edible.

A view of the Court of the Bananas
 More public areas contain a swimming pool that mirrors the shape of the doors on the palace.  The soaring walls of the ramparts makes a dramatic enclosure to the pool area.  Everywhere there are clusters of tables and chairs for socializing and drinking tea or a beer.  Palais Salam is the only accomodation in Taroudant that served beer.

The pool is shaped like a classic Moroccan door.

A pool side bar on a slow day
Mediterranean Fan Palms tower above the ramparts by the pool.
Romantic dining rooms open on to the main garden court adjacent to the pool.  In its heydey this may have been a wonderful place to feast.  It seems that a downturn in the quality of the food and maintenance of the rooms has driven the tour groups away.  But this made the ambience very peaceful, just birdsong, and, if the fountains were operating, I can imagine the splash of water.  Nobody questioned my presence as I wandered all over the place, trying not to look like a spy.

Turtles lounge on the rocks at the base of a fountain in this octagonal tiled pool
I found the gardens to be beautifully maintained.  The paths were swept, and the pool was clean.  Reading reviews from people who have stayed here since then, many have complained that things have gone downhill.  The pool in some accounts has turned green.  Such a large space would require a great deal of labor to maintain in running order.  Wouldn't this be a wonderful place to have a grand celebration!

I love the arches and pillars on this dining pavilion.
The bar is no doubt much better than the wine.
Intimate nooks with tiled tables and comfortable chairs are tucked in to shady nooks of the gardens.  Moroccan craftmanship is so refined that all of the details are beautifully executed.  The brick columns on railings have ziggurat like caps.  Tile strips are inset in to the low brick walls.  Iron work is hand wrought.  There are no drab concrete slabs, or tacky manufactured components.

Conversation nooks make for charming places to relax in the garden.

A handsome canvas canopy shades a table and chairs
There are such a variety of spaces here in this labyrinthine complex that there are constant wonderful discoveries.

A delicate vine trailing on a cactus frames this beautiful door.
A beautiful wrought iron screen 
Another magical corridor
and another...
I felt like I had spent the day in a fantasy realm wandering the halls and courtyards of the Palais Salam.  The word Salam, or Salaam in Arabic means peace, and the traditional greeting, Salaam Alaikum means Peace be with you.  It certainly conveys that serenity.  I wish I was staying here, but I eventually tore myself away and passed through the gate back into the outside world.

Leaving Palias Salam
A Caléche awaits outside the gates to take guests on a tour of the city
The Pacha of Taroudant clearly liked beautiful surroundings and the park outside the walls of his Kasbah are nothing to complain about.  Groves of fan palms soar above the ochre walls, and rows of date palms reflect in long canals in a well maintained park.

Mediterranean Fan Palms line a canal in the park with the Palais Salam in the background
The ramparts outside Palais Salam
I'm obviously enamoured with Moroccan style.  I have several coffee table books in my library, and I sleep with a silk velvet tent door panel on the wall over my bed that I purchased from my friend Majid at his wonderful treasure filled shop in Tangier.  A lantern with colored glass panes illuminates the room to recreate the ambience I fell in love with traveling here.

A silk velvet Moroccan tent door in my bedroom.
My kitchen is tiled in zellige I cut myself. I later tiled a bathroom as well.  I wanted to be transported back to this beautiful country, and to practice first hand some of the fine crafts I studied there.

A tile zellige I cut for my kitchen backsplash
A tile tray in my garden
 I live alone, and honoring lockdown during this Covid outbreak has been a very introspective time for me.  But I have known for a long time that life on Earth is at a turning point and that dramatic changes to the way we live await us as we alter our planet in destructive ways.  I know that I will not always be able to wander freely about the world, and for this reason I have brought elements of those places that have filled me with joy in to my home, to keep the memory alive.  It seems to be working!

Thanks for reading, Jeffrey

The minaret of the Great Mosque of Taroudant reflects in a canal.


  1. Thank you Jeffery. Absolutely beautiful

  2. Your story uplifts the mind and spirit in these difficult times.

  3. Very interesting Moroccan garden today which led to your bio... Saw your facebook post and wrote a comment but it was removed. It started when I said 'Salaam...

  4. Inspiring. Lush but spare at the same time, wonderful colors.

  5. WHOA!!! My mind is blown..., these images are so dreamlike. Amazing to see such shapes and colors honoring our eyes, water, life force, birds, turtles, etc...,
    ~beauty~ like I have never experienced, those doorways! seeing the capability of humans and beauty.., wow, speechless