IFor the majority of nowadays visitors the medina is a “bustling maze” with an overwhelming activity in narrow spaces. In fact, these urban centers have been designed in tune with what the way of life was like centuries ago. Modern life introduced activities and elements that disrupted the balances ensured a peaceful comfortable and healthy way of life.
There are thirty medinas in Morocco. Only a few of them are known. Four are listed as World Heritage: Rabat, Meknes, Fes; and Marrakesh. The latter two are globally known, massively visited and well preserved. Fes medina is actually the largest and one of the oldest of its peers around the Mediterranean basin.
The historical contexts during which medinas were founded made safety a prime concern. This was guaranteed by building massive ramparts and monumental gates that showcased their political power and economic strength. Besides natural riches-the soil fertility and the abundance of surface and underground waters-economic and military strategies determined the medinas locations.
The urban organization of a medina follows a concentric pattern consisting of a number of interrelated though autonomous neighborhoods, in addition to the main markets or commercial center. Each neighborhood has a worship place-the mosque- as a cornerstone. Contiguous to the mosque are public service buildings: a drinkable water fountain, a hammam (public steam bath) public toilets, a communal oven, a school, and a plaza. Main street is lined up with convenience businesses related to food and serving the daily needs of the inhabitants. This street is also the socializing space where community members would meet on a daily basis while shopping for fresh food and get one another’s news and share different community matters and issues. The houses are tucked away from these busy and noisy streets in very quiet lanes of which the majority are dead ends.
Because of the constantly dry, usually dusty and either extremely hot or cold whether the house had to be more than a place to live in. It was designed for storage, for sheltering people when in adverse conditions and to cater for their leisure time and festive moments. It was both the indoor and outdoor space for families.
Architects and master builders unleashed their creativity to achieve a smooth combination of functionality, comfort, aesthetics, and user friendliness.
To secure coolness they built houses below the street level with a courtyard giving direct access to the beauty of the sky. The patio hosted an inner garden with a central fountain and basin where the sound of dripping water dispensed a soothing sound that enhanced relaxation. Large high ceiling rooms with low windows allowed both guests and hosts to enjoy the coolness of the interior and the beauty and scents of the garden. The polychromatic dazzling patterns of glazed tiles on the floors, the lace like plasterwork on the walls, the intricately carved and painted doors, windows and ceilings added to the magic of a Dar or Riad.