What is a Moroccan Riad?

If you’ve ever been on travel blogs reading about traveling to Morocco and what that would entail, then you must have come across the word Riad quite often. But what is a Riad? Is it just the Moroccan word for hotel? Is it a structure that is unique to Morocco? Well either way they look gorgeous in photos? Are places like that real, or are the just a tourist trap?

In this article, you will get to learn more about Moroccan Riads, their history, their architectural aspect, and their cultural significance. This is your chance to discover these magical palace-like structures and plan your next stay in one of them.

The history of a Moroccan Riad

A Riad is a type of traditional Moroccan and Andalusi house and palace architecture. The term Riad originates from the Arabic term for garden, and it is used to refer to this type of architecture since it is centered around an inner courtyard or garden. Historically, the term referred to a type of interior garden common to historic Moorish architecture in Al-Andalus and North Africa, specifically Morocco. There is no denying that Riad architecture ultimately has ancient roots in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern domestic architecture. Houses centered around inner courtyards existed across multiple different ancient civilizations. However, almost none of these ancient civilizations retained this type of architecture and still celebrates it to this day the way Morocco does.

Interior gardens were a popular feature of architecture in the Islamic world back then because water and greenery were associated with images of paradise. The concept resonated with the different cultures that the Muslims came in contact with, which contributed to its widespread in the Mediterranean region, North Africa, and the Andalusi world.

The architecture and design of a Moroccan Riad

The Riad is one of two main types of traditional Moroccan houses (the other one being traditional Kasbahs). It is often divided into two or more stories around an interior symmetrical garden. Sometimes the garden itself is centered around a fountain. Riads were historically considered the homes of the wealthier citizens, such as merchants and courtiers who were able to afford to build such architecture which included interior gardens. Riads are generally comprised of private rooms that open either on each other, on a corridor or hallway, or on the base floor’s courtyard.

The style of traditional riads has changed over the years, but the basic form is still used in designs today. Moroccan houses were inward focused, which allowed for family privacy and great protection from the weather. This inward focus was expressed with a centrally placed interior garden or courtyard, and a significant lack of large windows on the exterior walls of the Riad. This design principle was also greatly supported among the locals, since Islamic society placed great value on privacy and encouraged a separation between private family spaces (where women notably lived and worked) and semi-public spaces where outside guests were received.

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The cultural significance of a Moroccan Riad

Now that you know a bit more what a Moroccan is, what it came, and what it looks like, you might be wondering: What does it mean to be inside a Moroccan Riad? Or spend the night at one?

If you are a foreigner who wants to visit Morocco, chances are, you want to experience this country’s culture in an authentic way, right? Well, the closest you can get to that is by staying at a Moroccan Riad. Traditional Riads have been the main type of architecture that Moroccans used to build their homes for centuries now. They capture perfectly the spirit of a Moroccan home, in their structure, in their design, and in their artisanal touch. Riads are genuinely a staple of Moroccan culture, so staying at one means that you’ll be able to experience that authenticity for yourself first-hand.

Moroccan Riads are icons of architecture. With their mix of Berber, Moorish, Andalusian and Islamic architecture, they look like they came straight out of an “Arabian nights” tale. Sure, the idea of staying at a regular, modern hotel might sound appealing because of the comfort from familiarity attached to it. However, when visiting a new country, especially one as unique and full of culture as Morocco, it is much more compelling to try out new things that are authentic to that culture. This is where the cultural significance of a Moroccan Riad stems from.


Traditional Riads today

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in restoring traditional Moroccan Riads as part of Morocco’s tourism industry. In this context, the term “Riad” has become a common term to signify traditional Moroccan houses converted into tourist accommodation and guest houses. Although many Riads underwent renovations during the last decade, they never lost any of their authenticity and cultural value. All what changed is that now Riad rooms are more divided and private, modern toilets and baths have been added, and they are not able to offer room service. In some cases, Riads also come with a swimming pool, a terrace and other luxury amenities,

This interest has led to a wave of renovations of Riads across the entire kingdoms, but mainly in towns such as Marrakesh and Fes. Many of the old and often-crumbling Riads have been restored and converted to hotels, guesthouses, or restaurants attracting tourist activity. Today, Riads have become the most important type of accommodation for Morocco’s tourist industry. This goes back to the fact that Riads are a part of local history and culture, which is an appealing idea to visitors and tourists. 

Where to find a Moroccan Riad?

Today, is it a simple task to find a Moroccan Riad to stay at during your visit to Morocco, no matter what city you’re in. Because most Moroccan cities and towns have an Old Medina quarter, you are most likely to find multiple Riad guest houses that you can stay at. Marrakech, Fes, Rabat, Essaouira, Chefchaouen, and pretty much any other Moroccan destination will have Riads that accommodate visitors.

Another thing to note is that Riads can also exist outside of Old Medinas. That doesn’t make them any less authentic or genuine. In fact, that probably means that they will have more room to accommodate visitors and more modern amenities such as a swimming pool, bath tubs, parking space, etc… If you are looking for a Moroccan Riad to spend the night, a quick google search will show you the ones that are closest to you, with some help in price comparing too.