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Posts tagged ‘Islamic’

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 3: Palaces of Gold

Not everything in Marrakech is pink. Masterpieces are carved out of a rich ochre stone with such intricate geometric embellishment that the stone itself seems to resemble sparkling, resplendent gold. This is the side of Marrakech from Sultans past, when the excesses of power and wealth produced some of the masterpieces of the world’s historical architecture.  The Daily Norm is no stranger to some of Islam’s most stunning architectural inventions, having indulged last summer in the jaw-droopingly extravagant craftsmanship of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. But in Marrakech, the journey continued, as ancient masterpieces unveiled themselves within narrow doorways in the crowded Souk, and from amongst the crumbling remains of former palaces. These are places both preceding and inspired by Granada’s famous gem, and no less beautiful in their masterful conception. Some are now in a very bad state indeed. The Badii Palace is a mere shadow of its former self. But across them all one common thread remains: the colour of ochre, butterscotch, Gold.

The Medersa Ben Youssef


The photos on this page are dedicated to three such buildings which we explored during our trip to Marrakech. The Medersa Ben Youssef is perhaps the most extensively and impressively decorated, especially when you consider that it was an Islamic College rather than a palace. Its walls literally weep with honeycomb-like carvings and elaborated horseshoe arches, while perfection in symmetry imbues the space with a finessed tranquility spoilt only by the tourist hoards which inevitably occupy the space.

The Saadian Tombs


Packed with tourists was likewise the trend exhibited by the Saadian Tombs, a complex of some 66 royal tombs which sounded like it was going to be substantial in the guidebook, but was actually little more than a single room preceded by a huge queue and whose entrance was forbidden. Rather tourists were granted a brief glimpse at the tomb room through a very narrow roped off doorway, and the brevity of their indulgence was kept carefully in check by a security guard who looked none too pleased by any such attempt to linger beyond a couple of photographs hastily composed. But it was worth the ill treatment: the tombs were stunning. I have never seen such a highly decorated space so compacted within a small area.

The Badii Palace 


But perhaps our favourite of these golden palaces was the Badii Palace, which is funny really since it was also the least attractive in terms of decoration or embellishment. What took some 25 years to complete and was said to have been one of the most magnificent palaces ever constructed is today a mere skeleton of its former self, having had its riches brutally scrapped by a conquering sultan when he decided to move his centre of power elsewhere. Nonetheless there is a definite poetry in what remains, and an impressive sense of the scale of the original gauged from what is left behind. Best of all are the elegant storks who love to nest on the crumbling site, and probably made for the best photos of them all.

The Badii Storks 


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Granada Sketchbook: Alhambra Aniconism

Andalucia, perhaps the most iconic region of Spain – the land of flamenco and polka dots, sun-scarred landscapes and toreros – owes a huge bulk of its entire identity to the cultural and aesthetic character of the Nasrid dynasty of Al Andalus, the islamic rule which gives the area its name. Despite having been flushed out by the reconquering Catholics, the arabic influence lives strong in the region, from the wailing arabesque of the flamenco cry, to the geometric imagery which characterises the multi-coloured ceramic tiles lining the walls of traditional patio gardens in practically every Spanish house.

The predominance of geometric patterns in Arabic art resulted as a cleverly constructed, beautifully executed solution to the rule of aniconism, that is the proscription in Islam against the creation of images of sentient beings. The most absolute proscription is of images of God in Islam, followed by depictions of Muhammad, and then Islamic prophets and the relatives of Muhammad, but the depiction of all humans and non-human animals is likewise discouraged. The result, especially in the times of Al Andalus when the style was still finding its feet, was to decorate palaces not only with geometric patterns, but also with calligraphy and the barely representational foliage patterns of the arabesque.

The palace of the Alhambra in Granada is renowned for boasting some of, if not the best examples of early Islamic wall decoration in the world, and it is the plethora of incredibly intricate wall calligraphy there, surrounded by delicate renderings of foliage patterns, which inspired my next Granada sketch.

Granada Motif Alhambra

Alhambra wall detail (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Spelling out what I believe inscribes the Nasrid motto “There is no victor but Allah” (but correct me if I’m wrong) – this is a pattern which can be found repeated endlessly around the palace as a kind of freeze above and below relentlessly repeated geometric constructs in the most splendid and mind-bogglingly calculated patterns. When I came to sketch just this tiny portion, it made me fully realise the astonishing detail with which the Alhambra decoration has been created. No wonder it is today the most visited of all attractions in Spain.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at