AnaYela – Marrakesh
By: Ruth Arad | Architect and Interior Designer specializing in hotel design
Hotel design is a blend of spaces of commercial, personal and domestic character, which are both public and private at the same time. It’s a space in which a personal and distinctive story can be woven into a total hospitality experience and as such it is of interest to everybody, whether guest or host, and the chain of people involved in making every guest’s stay a perfect one.
This is the third blog in a series written in my travels around the world in the wake of hotels that excel through unusual design. Hotel and hospitality design has been my discipline and business for about a decade, and I invite you to come along to wonderful, faraway places. In each blog, we’ll take a short trip together toward extraordinary experiences that will be etched into your memory; each trip will be accompanied by professional explanations to add meaning to the hospitality experience.
Morocco, 2011, a connecting flight from Casablanca to Marrakesh and the fairy tale begins. I appear to have arrived in this enchanted world on a magic carpet. I had gone to Casablanca to work, to design a restaurant, and was greeted with the honour usually reserved for a queen, or so I felt. Two representatives awaited me with a sign bearing my name, and accompanied me through ‘borderless’ border control. The visit continued in a way that was different to anything I’d ever experienced before, as was the planning and design experience.
While in Marrakesh, I stayed in its historical town and to experience it in the best possible way, I chose to stay in a riad, which is a traditional Moroccan house. Riads are built around an internal courtyard, their windows face inward toward a courtyard, usually with a pool of water for decoration and leisure at its centre. Several of Marrakesh’s riads have been restored and converted to boutique hotels, as was the case with the riad where I stayed – the AnaYela Hotel. The name means ‘I am Yela’ where Yela is the name of the girl around whom the Hotel’s story is woven. When the riad was undergoing restoration work in 2007, its owner discovered a hidden room that he had not known about. The room was hidden in a wall that had probably been built as a late addition to
the original building. A small wooden casket, inlaid with jewel-like silver, was found in the room. And in the little casket there was a sheet of paper, both sides of which were covered in calligraphic script in Arabic, telling the following story:
“My name is Yela, and I am a 16-year-old girl. Today is my last day in the wonderful house that my grandfather built many years ago. I am going to marry the man who captured my heart, whom I love with all my heart.
View of the city from the Flying Carpet Terrace Credit: Bernd Kolb
“On our terrace there is a small tower from where you can see the whole world – the rooftops of Marrakesh, the huge snow-topped Atlas Mountains, the palm trees in the oasis, and the endless desert that surrounds us. At night, when the world is asleep, I would often sneak out onto the roof of the little tower, sit on the carpet, and gaze at the moon and the stars twinkling brightly over the red city.
“A boy whom I liked very much lived a few houses from mine. One night, he climbed over the rooftops between our houses and clambered up to my little tower, and that night he divulged the secret of the carpet we were sitting on. He told me it was a flying carpet and asked if I’d like to go on it for a ride. His invitation came with a price – he wanted a kiss, and I hardly dared answer him. My heart was pounding and I don’t know whether I was more excited at the prospect of my first kiss, or the idea of a nocturnal flight over the houses. At first, I declined – I doubted that he could make this old carpet fly, but he persisted in his offer during our secret nightly meetings.
“One night, the sky was overcast and the lights of the city glowed in a red halo. In a moment of weakness, I gave in to him, my passion overcame me, and so my lips touched those of a man for the first time. The world around me began to spin and I almost passed out and then, suddenly, the carpet began to fly. We were weightless and flew over the rooftops of the red city. It was the most beautiful moment of my life. When the kiss ended, we landed back safely on the roof of the little tower, and I slowly came to my senses. I often think about that night and the flying carpet, and I hope that many more after me fly on it and find love...”
The small tower looking out onto the snow-capped Atlas MountainsCredit: Bernd Kolb
Needless to say, after such a romantic find, the architecture and the design of the Hotel tell the story of the young girl Yela who, as we now know, once lived in this house.
The restoration work continued over a period of several months and the artisans performed the work using only traditional Moroccan craftsmanship, without modern tools and technology. About one hundred artisans participated in the restoration.
One of the design jewels in the project is the calligraphic use made of Yela’s texts. A calligraphic artist created silver reliefs of the texts for the doors to the rooms, with each door presenting a paragraph from Yela’s story.
Moroccan calligraphic artists hammered out the story in silver on the imposing doors Credit: Bernd Kolb
Every individual piece of furniture, the lighting and decorative elements, and even the tableware, were all designed by Yannick Hervy and Bernd Kolb, and finished by local artisans. As a result, the entire project is in itself an all-embracing work of art, awakening all the senses and creating illusion and inspiration, while triggering new emotions thanks to the extraordinary experience.
View of the swimming pool from the rooftop Credit: Bernd Kolb
All the rooms face the central courtyard, while their exquisitely decorated doors theatrically face onto the central space. The rooms themselves are magical, with high arched ceilings and walls finished in Tadelakt, an[MOU1] ancient Moroccan waterproof plaster that gives a marble-like surface. Beds here comprise a vast mattress resting on a raised concrete dais and, in some of the rooms, I was thrilled to see large floor jars inscribed in Hebrew with words of love, sanctity, and unity. I asked to stay in such a room since for me it created a connection between worlds – the story and calligraphy in Arabic juxtaposed against the Jewish values, all expressed in words and letters, offering profound meaning
[MOU1]Info sourced from: http://www.tadelaktlondon.co.uk
A hotel room and a floor jar with Hebrew script Credit: Bernd Kolb
A hotel room Credit: Bernd Kolb
If you are tempted to enjoy a cultural experience with an ancient heritage that blends reality and fantasy, start planning your next holiday. For me too, after writing this blog, I feel the desire to go back for a return visit so as to entirely give myself up to this very special experience.