The Spirit of Morocco

Our daughter recently encountered her first Crembo. When asked to rate the treat, she responded with shining eyes, “from Morocco!”

She cannot be blamed for this inaccuracy. In her three years of life, she has come to understand that all the best things in life are from Morocco. Perfect weather year-round? In Morocco. Best music? Moroccan. Mom’s coveted saffron that she is never ever allowed to touch? From Morocco.

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Perhaps the elegant treat is also somewhat reminiscent of the proud and celebratory forms that are characteristic of Moroccan architecture. This similarity brings to mind adventures amongst the receding horseshoe arches, beneath the soaring Moorish domes. These have a grand scale that is artfully balanced with careful details. Their craft is unique in its manipulation of light and space. It is not mere decoration but rather adds depth and warmth. Long before parametric design belched forth, Islamic architecture created forms and patterns rooted in nature. The experience of ceilings structured like a seeded pomegranate, of blossoming mosaics and pools reflecting shadows and sky, has a natural authenticity that is beyond the reach of contemporary architects, despite their superior technologies. This architecture explores the hierarchies that are inherent in the natural world. Deconstructivism is blind to their value.

The Slat Al Azama Synagogue, Marrakesh, Morocco. (courtesy)

Alongside these grand structures, thrives the elaborate and dynamic system of the souk. Organic in its evolution, the souk provides the armature that sustains cities that are simultaneously modern and traditional. The introspective riad is a pleasant escape from the busy alleyways. It is a place of such functionality, for architects to note well. Each dwelling turns away from the street to celebrate the family (often extended) that thrives around a central courtyard. Even synagogues in Casablanca and Marrakech face inward to bright courtyards, inspiring stillness and focus. In Essaouira, the synagogues are painted bright blue, evocative of the sea, and sky.

The strength of spirit evident in Moroccan architecture reverberates with the spirit of its people. The recent developments in the relationship between Morocco and Israel are evidence of that strength. Many Israelis consider Morocco to be an important part of their identity and traditions despite generations of difficulty in the land and their ultimate departure under duress. Such a history would impede progress in other cases, but collaboration between Morocco and Israel seems natural. The flourishing of this relationship is cause for celebration.

Would we be Moroccan if we didn’t celebrate at every opportunity?

About the Author
Liba grew up in New York, thinking of Jerusalem as a far-off place to visit in prayer. Today, she practices architecture in what she now knows is a very real, contemporary city, with all the potential in the world. Liba encourages discussion about architecture in Jerusalem @Building.Jerusalem on Instagram.
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