A riad or ryad is a typical Moroccan house or palace centered around an open courtyard.

You can find riads in the major cities and towns of inland Morocco, such as Fez, Meknes and Marrakech.

The courtyard house

The desert shaped the style of the courtyard house.

The heat and glare of the sun, and the threat of sandstorms made it impractical to have a dwelling opening to the surroundings.

The courtyard house evolved over a thousand years ago, and was applied by successive generations in Arab cities.

The living quarters were planned with the courtyard in the middle, often with alcoves—known in Morocco as the 'b'hou'—or a loggia leading off it. These allowed the occupants to sit in shade under the open sky, as their ancestors had sat in the doorway of a tent.

A riad is an enclosed world of its own. The rooms usually form a square around a courtyard, one long chamber on each side, with their windows looking inward.

Open to the sky, and traditionally with a fountain or pool in the centre of the courtyard, the form is symbolic. It represents the four cardinal directions, the four elements, and with the sky as a dome and a spring at its depths it is a representation of the paradise found in the Koran.

The privacy

The courtyard also offers absolute privacy to the family.

It provides a safe area for young children to play.

It becomes an extension of the house, adding to the total space for daily activities—and even for sleeping under the stars on hot summer nights.

For this reason you will often find that riad guesthouses do not have a TV in their bedrooms: you are a guest of the family and it spoils the tranquillity.

The micro-climate

The courtyard creates a micro-climate.

At night, cool damp air is formed at ground level, slowly seeping into the rooms and making them fresh for part of the next day.

In daytime the sun heats the walls and helps make the rooms slightly warmer at night.

And it helps keep reduce the impact of sand storms, which flow over, rather than into the house.

A b'hou

The difference between a RIAD and a DAR

The houses in the medina are built around courtyrads. However, the Dar has a simple patio, maybe with a few plants or a fountain.

By contrast a riad has a courtyard large enough to have a garden or at least be planted with a tree.

Dars are more common in coastal cities or towns from Tangier to Casablanca, as here the climate is not so ideal for a riad. It is more usual to find riads in the major cities and towns of inland Morocco.

How old is a riad?

We can only talk for our own Riad which, quite unusual for Marrakech, can be dated back to 1760 or earlier.

Stepping through its doorway, it’s necessary to descend several steps into the courtyard. Not only is this extremely unusual in Marrakech, but an indication of how old a riad is.

Traditionally, when a riad needed to be demolished and rebuilt, Marrakchis pounded down the debris to make the foundations for the new house. This saved the time and expense of taking cart-loads of rubble by donkey and cart through the sometimes intricate, narrow streets of the medina.

Over the years the roads began to rise in height to accommodate piped water and sanitation and also to keep level with the front doors of rebuilt riads. Therefore, the newer the riad, the nearer its courtyard is to the road surface.

Floor plan of Riad Porte Royale

Ground floor plan of Riad Porte Royale