Generally, I ‘don’t do’ the touristy stuff, but occasionally there are places which one finds attractive for more than a single reason.
Such is the attraction of the Jardin Majorelle for me. I love gardening and growing plants. Places such as this inspire my own artistic creativity and, as a writer, my muse is awakened by the ambience.
Besides, I had a new camera at the time and wanted to try it out. So, we called our driver and set off to the Rue Yves Saint Laurent.
The Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech is one of the most visited sites in Morocco. It took French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) forty years of passion and dedication to create this enchanting garden in the heart of the “Ochre City”.
A bit of history…
Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886 in Nancy, France, the son of the famous furniture designer, Louis Majorelle, who, with Emile Gallé, founded the Nancy School.
He grew up in an ideal artistic universe, among draftsmen, cabinetmakers and marquetry inlayers from the workshops of his father, at a time when the Art Nouveau movement, largely inspired by shapes found in nature, was in full swing.
In 1923, Jacques Majorelle bought a four-acre land plot, situated on the border of a palm
grove in Marrakech. The spot was planted partly with poplars, revealing the presence of water and inspired the artist with a name for his new property, Bou Saf Saf.
Around his dwelling, Jacques Majorelle, a passionate amateur botanist, created a luxuriant garden which would become his most dazzling work. For almost forty years, he continued to enrich it with new varieties of plants from all five continents, fashioning a “cathedral of shapes and colours,” an “impressive garden.”
This magic spot is also a “voracious ogre garden,” whose costly maintenance forced the artist to open it to the public in 1947 for the price of an entrance fee and to divide it up following his divorce in 1956.
Majorelle was the victim of a serious car accident in 1955. Numerous operations and the eventual amputation of his left leg exacerbated his financial situation to the point where he was forced, in 1961, to sell his portion of the garden and the villa-studio. Following a second accident some months later, Jacques Majorelle was sent to France, for medical treatment. He died in Paris in October 1962, without even having bid farewell to Marrakech. His grave is in Nancy, next to that of his father.
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé discovered the Jardin Majorelle in 1966, during their first stay in Marrakech.
“We quickly became very familiar with this garden and went there every day. It was open to the public yet almost empty. We were seduced by this oasis where colours used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature. » … « And when we heard that the garden was to be sold and replaced by a hotel, we did everything we could to stop that project from happening. This is how we eventually became owners of the garden and of the villa. And we have brought life back to the garden through the years.”
Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent, “Une passion marocaine”
Éditions de la Martinière, 2010
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the Jardin Majorelle in 1980 and saved it from falling victim to a real estate project and becoming a hotel complex. The new owners decided to live in the Villa Bou Saf Saf, which they renamed Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle.”
Automatic irrigation systems were installed, adjusting the distribution of water according to hours during the day and to the specific needs of each plant. New plant species have been added since 1999, increasing the total number from 135 to 300. A team of 20 gardeners once again began working to maintain the garden, its ponds and fountains.
The painter’s studio has been transformed into a museum open to the public, dedicated to Berber culture, housing the personal Berber collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé
He passed away on June 1, 2008, in Paris. His ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the Villa Oasis; a memorial was built in the garden, designed around a Roman pillar which was brought from Tangier and set on a pedestal with a plate bearing his name so that visitors can remember him and his unique contribution to fashion. “It is a way for artists to live on…”
On November 27, 2010, the street in front of the Jardin Majorelle’s entrance was renamed the Rue Yves Saint Laurent in his honour. Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma unveiled the new street sign. On the same occasion, she inaugurated the Yves Saint Laurent and Morocco exhibition in the garden’s museum, which was seen by nearly 50,000 visitors.
The current garden, much reduced in size from Majorelle’s original, covers nearly two and a half acres. It holds a collection of cacti, exotic plants and trees which are landscaped to emphasize each one’s unique beauty.
The paths, adorned with brilliant blue, lemon-yellow, and pumpkin-orange clay pots, allow us to see how the architectural style of the villa-studio, now transformed into a museum, is set off by vibrant colours dominated by its “Majorelle blue”.
A mint-green pavilion with white carved stucco trim and benches provide intense pops of colour on a stroll past the many plants, pools and fountains create a haven of serenity. The delicate sound of trickling water accompanies the song of the bulbul in the gardens and the chirping of numerous other bird species who have found their Eden here: blackbirds, house sparrows, robins, blue tits, great tits, warblers, grey wagtails and turtledoves.
As I said at the start of this post, I rarely do the touristy thing, preferring to sample and experience the true values and cultures of the countries and peoples I encounter on my travels. However, I now know why the Jardin Majorelle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Morocco, let alone Marrakech.
It is not perfect, but that is also something which adds to its charm.
Many of my travels inspire scenes, characters and events in my storybooks and novels which you can find on my website HERE.
Why not grab yourself one or more to take on your next trip, some are paperbacks, some ebooks and some both, so you’ll not be stuck for choice 🙂