From Islamic to Art Deco: Discover Moroccan Architecture

Morocco might not be ranked high on most travelers’ bucket lists, but once you learn about the country and its jaw-dropping architecture, it will surely shoot straight to the top of your must-visit destinations! Thanks to its unique location, many cultures have left traces of their influence all over Morocco through the years.

For the past centuries, the blend of European colonizers, Islamic traditions from its Arab neighbors, and African tribes from the other part of the Sahara Desert helped shape and form the country into what it has become today.

All these influences resulted in a one-of-a-kind culture, which is most evidently seen in the unique architectural style of Morocco.

Aside from Islamic influence, another type of architecture took root in the country throughout the Almoravid dynasty. This is the Hispano-Moorish architecture characteristic of the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. To this day, the mixture of these two specific styles can now be seen in the majority of buildings all over the country.

With all the different varieties of buildings found in Morocco, with their diverse architectural elements and styles, it is all too easy to feel overwhelmed. Continue reading below and step into the one-of-a-kind world of Moroccan architecture:

Design Elements of Moroccan Architecture

The country of Morocco is usually described as a nation of beauty, allure, and mystery, and this is partly because of its distinct architecture. Despite the country’s often turbulent history, most of Morocco’s artistic heritage stands tall and strong to this day.

From Islamic to Art Deco: Discover Moroccan Architecture

A strong Islamic influence is also very apparent in Moroccan architecture and its design elements. These include ornamental Islamic calligraphy of verses from the Quran, colorful ceramic-tile mosaics called zellij, and intricate geometric patterns. Open courtyards that feature lavish gardens are also found at the heart of many buildings in the country. These gardens were developed as places for both relaxation and privacy.

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Moroccan architecture is also characterized by Hispano-Moroccan elements. Its key design elements include huge domes, stucco roofs with arches, and sharp white walls. What makes Moroccan architecture even more beautiful is that the elements are often combined with Islamic-style buildings like mosques and Quranic schools, or medersas.

Different Designs for Different Structures

What truly sets Moroccan architecture apart is not just its unique combination of various design elements but also the distinct features of every traditional building.

Mosques, medersas, Kasbahs, ramparts, souks, riads, and palaces are the different kinds of buildings seen all over Morocco. Each of these buildings has different purposes and exceptional architectural designs.

  • Kasbahs 

The Kasbah is a type of medina. It is a type of fortified city constructed for defensive purposes. Aside from their astonishing size, the Kasbahs are also quite impressive and often designed in harmony with the environment.

From Islamic to Art Deco: Discover Moroccan Architecture

The huge outer walls and the different buildings inside blend seamlessly with the background thanks to their tan exteriors. The simple materials used for construction helped keep the interiors cold during the summer and warm during the winter months. One particular Kasbah in Morocco that is an amazing sight to behold is the Kasbah des Udayas.

  • Medersas 

Medersas are not only schools of religious teachings because they also serve as thriving centers for the studies of philosophy, law, and astrology. The architectural design of medersas is distinctive in that it depicts a striking disparity.

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From Islamic to Art Deco: Discover Moroccan Architecture

A great contrast to the extremely simple and small wooden dorm rooms of students is the intricately adorned gate and a spacious courtyard at the center lined with marvelously decorated arches featuring meticulous stucco work.

The mosque nestled inside the soaring school walls also boasts exquisite decorations in complex geometrical motifs and sweeping Islamic calligraphy on shining white and green zellij. The incredible décor contrast of these schools is difficult to put into words, so don’t miss the opportunity to visit and explore Medersa Bou Inania in Fez to get a good idea of what they are.

  • Mosques

Mosques are without a doubt the most important structures in Morocco. It doesn’t matter how small a town, village, or city might be, you can expect to find at least one mosque that features a tall minaret that towers over the place.

From Islamic to Art Deco: Discover Moroccan Architecture

With fountains and walls covered in white and green zellij and a wonderfully decorated mirhab, a niche that indicates Mecca’s direction, in marble and stucco, it is not surprising that tourists consider the mosques as the perfect epitome of Moroccan architecture.

If you wish to see the most superb examples of mosques in Morocco, be sure to visit the famous spiritual city of Fez, where you can find the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque. Take note that only Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque and the Tin Mal Mosque located in the High Atlas Mountains open their doors to non-Muslims to take a tour within the buildings.

  • Riads

Riads are traditional Moroccan palaces and homes. These were constructed as private residences with seclusion in mind. The structures are focused inward, featuring a courtyard right in the center to offer protection from the weather and ensure privacy for the family.

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From Islamic to Art Deco: Discover Moroccan Architecture

Every room in the building opens to the courtyard and features windows only toward the central area. Courtyards are typically adorned with lemon or orange trees and a fountain. Depending on the wealth of the family, the riad might also be adorned with magnificent stucco work and zellij.

Most of the ancient riads in Essaouira and Marrakesh have undergone renovation recently, and many of them have also been repurposed as restaurants and hotels today.

Other Places to Visit in Morocco

Aside from the specific spots mentioned earlier, there are still many areas and cities in Morocco where you can see the attractive architectural style of the country in all its splendor.

The cities of Fez and Marrakesh are often the main areas where visitors go because the two cities provide the most variety within a contained space. Some of the most noteworthy buildings you might want to check out include the Museum of Moroccan Arts and Andalous Mosque in Fez and the Saadian Tombs and Bahia Palace in Marrakesh.

Morocco is home to numerous exquisite architectural gems that reflect the country’s intriguing history that continuously welcomes and absorbs various beautiful designs, lifestyles, and cultures.


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