Imagine a place where you can leave the chaos, dirt, and noise of the medina behind and spend some time contemplating life. That place is Le Jardin Secret, the secret garden hidden behind a wall in the middle of the medina in Marrakech.
Why is there a secret garden in the medina?
This used to be a riad, a residence with a garden at its centre that is typical of Morocco. The last known owner was the Chamberlain to the Sultan. When he died, the land was divided among his heirs and descendants. But archaeologists dated the complex to the second half of the 16th century.
The palace and garden fell into disrepair and ruin towards 1930. The original buildings began to crumble, the trees all but disappeared, the irrigation system that brought water from the Atlas Mountains was ruined, illegal shanties sprung up every which way.
The rebirth of Le Jardin Secret
In 2006, a group of entrepreneurs began to buy the different plots into which the palace and grounds had been divided. They wanted to restore it to its former glory. The extensive restoration work involved masons, craftsmen, archaeologists, landscapers, surveyors, and architects. They had to secure, restore, and, in some cases, complete existing structures, reactivate the hydraulic system, and replant the gardens.
Secret garden or gardens?
The garden is divided into two sections. The exotic garden, which you see when you come in, displays species that come from around the world and that are rare in North Africa. I thought it was pretty, but nothing spectacular.
The Islamic garden blew my mind with its colours and aromas. On looking back, I’m not sure whether I could actually smell the lavender and orange blossoms, or if I was so taken by the idea of their wonderful scent that I could smell it.
The Islamic garden
The Islamic garden is divided into four quadrants by two intersecting paths, with a marble bowl, or khossa, in the middle surrounded by seats. This design is typical of Middle Eastern gardens and is an earthly reflection of the paradise described in the Qur’an, which is divided into four sections by two rivers.
The garden’s layout makes irrigation easier. You can see the open pipes that transport the water from the main basin. There are two sources of water: that which flows down from the Atlas Mountains and the rainwater collected from the roofs.
The Islamic garden is a place for contemplation, a shelter of peace from the chaos outside, the gurgling of water is very relaxing, and the colours and scents of the plants and trees cheer your soul. However, since this is a touristy spot, there are visitors milling around and Instagrammers in flowing skirts and straw hats looking for the perfect shot. A study in contradictions, like the rest of the city.
The Oud el Ward pavilion contains information about the history and architecture of the garden. The Hbiqa pavilion houses an exhibition of photographs that document the restoration process. The tower, a symbol of the power and influence of the original owners, carries an extra charge. We didn’t go up but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra expense. The terrace commands fantastic views of the garden anyway. There is also a café and a gift shop.
Your visit to Le Jardin Secret will be as long or as short as you make. You can go in and out in ten minutes or take a lot longer to appreciate everything.
The Secret Garden is open every day.
Rue Mouassine, 121
Admission: 50 dirhams, tower: 30 dirhams
Opening hours vary throughout the year.