Just a little way outside the colorful chaos of Marrakech’s bustling medina – where children dart along dusty tracks, the cries of vendors clash with the bellow of donkeys and the intoxicating fragrance of spices fills the air – is the tranquil oasis of the Majorelle Gardens. A sapphire in North Africa’s scorching ‘ochre city’, Majorelle is a refreshing retreat for the flustered tourist.
Flora and architecture exist in beautiful harmony here. The Majorelle Gardens comprise 12 acres of wonderfully colorful and beautifully-kept plant life, among which are a number of fountains, pagodas, canopied walkways and even a small museum.
All of these constructions are painted a striking cobalt hue – a color which has since come to be known as Majorelle blue – which is the Gardens’ most iconic feature.
The garden was founded by and named after French artist Jacques Majorelle, who was born in Nancy in 1886. Having immediately fallen in love with Marrakech following his first visit in 1917, the Frenchman purchased a small plot of land on the border of a palm grove just outside the city walls, to which he introduced various plant species from all over the world. He later expanded the garden and commissioned the construction of a small villa on its grounds, which would be used as his workshop.
Financial difficulties later befalling him, Majorelle decided to take this as an opportunity to open his idyllic haven to visitors in 1947 for a small entrance fee. Henceforth, the Gardens became a public attraction.
Tragedy struck just a few years later, when an accident resulting in the amputation of his leg was followed in quick succession by yet another. Jacques Majorelle sadly passed away in Paris in October 1962. He hailed the Moroccan gardens his most beautiful work, to which he had given all his love.
It was French designer Yves Saint Laurent who was to become the Gardens’ unlikely savior. Along with his partner Pierre Bergé, with whom he frequently visited Morocco (and indeed, Majorelle), Saint Laurent quickly purchased the late artist’s plot, which had been threatened with re-possession amid plans to build a hotel on its grounds.
The Frenchmen devoted themselves to the restoration and development of Majorelle’s vision. They introduced a more effective irrigation system, a further 150 plant species and employed a dedicated team of gardeners and landscape designers who would ensure the Gardens’ continual maintenance. The couple chose to reside in the restored villa, which they renamed Villa Oasis.
After Saint Laurent passed away in the summer of 2008, his ashes were scattered in Majorelle’s rose garden and a monument was erected in his honor. The road which passes adjacent to the gardens was also renamed in his memory – and in memory of all that he had done for the preservation of his fellow Frenchmen’s architectural vision.
By Hannah Bergin