[sep height=”30″]To begin with, it is important to point out that there aren’t many differences between the historical Moroccan houses of different Moroccan cities such as Meknes, Rabat, Sale, Marrakesh, Tetouan and Tangier. As a matter of fact, even the architecture of the royal palaces does not greatly differ from that of historical Moroccan houses, except in size. In this article, I am going to focus on the Fassi house because Fes is the historical capital of Morocco and home to the largest medieval city in the world as well as to Ibn Ghazi Arabic Institute; the city which hosts beautiful houses that bear witness to a harmonious fusion of many cultures.
The first features of the Fassi house started to develop with the Idrissid dynasty (The first Arab dynasty in Morocco 788-923); these features became well-developed during the Merenid dynasty (1248-1465) and reached its full- development during the Alaouite dynasty (1669-present).
The Fassi house opens on a rectangular corridor referred to as ‘stwan which leads to the sufli, which literally means the lower part or the ground floor. This latter constitutes of a large and spacious space called wustadar which represents the courtyard of the house. The courtyard is usually embellished by a central and a wall fountain and surrounded by many rooms: The biggest room is reserved for guests and the smallest one, called lbertal, can be used for many purposes.  lbertal is one of the smallest architectural components of big historical houses in Morocco, especially those in Fez. It is a pseudo-room because it is open and has no door. lbertal is multifunctional and occupies an important position of the house’s courtyard. It is used as a space where women and especially girls celebrate the 27th night of Ramadan when they decorate their hands with beautiful henna patterns. Additionally, it can be a good place to have some peace of mind for worship or writing in case a member of the family is a scholar, writer or a poet. Furthermore, lbertal functions as a stage in wedding parties, where the bride and the groom sit and the members of the family come to take pictures with them. The multi-functionality of lbertal necessitates a special decoration, especially its ceiling which is usually covered with profligate carved and painted wood as well as its walls which are carved with zellij.
In addition to lbertal, There is a living room and a dining room. In one of the corners, we find the kitchen or what is referred to as kuchina. Near the kitchen, there is a space called algurna, a slaughter house, where the family slaughters chickens, sheep and cows during special religious holidays such as eids, wedding parties or when naming a new baby. In another corner of the sufli, there is a traditional steam bath, called hammam, and a restroom.
To get to lfouqi, the upper part or the first floor, one needs to take the stairs which get light through an opening called lmenkash. lfouqi comprises of many rooms facing each other and they all look down into the sufli. These rooms are linked together by a circular corridor referred to as lmedwez or enbah which is surrounded by a wooden fence called ederbouz. In addition to the big rooms, there are smaller ones located in different angles of lfouqi, around the corners of the bigger rooms or between the stairs. One can get to these rooms through lemgaz and they are commonly referred to as lemnafaa, essala, lebsat, lebnika, lkawss, tarma, sheklabiya, or eddekana. These rooms were mainly used to store precious furniture such as brass trays or food such as wheat, barley, raisins, almond, olives, olive oil, dates, honey, ghee and pulses. The stored stuff becomes useful when the family receives unexpected guests or when there is a shortage of vegetables and meat in the market.
There might also be a second floor or a second fouqi which contains, like the first floor, many rooms and lemnafaa. Just like there is a bertal in the center of sufli, there is a bhou that centers lfouqi. Lebhou is a bedroom for the parents; it resembles lbertal except the fact that it is located inside the rooms and covered by a silk curtain or an embroidered cloth.
The upper floor is called lmenzeh, the house’s highest room whose windows look down into beautiful views of gardens, orchards or a panoramic view of the city. The roof of the house constitutes of a small room for laundry and smaller roof called stiha which remains the highest point in the house.
Most of the historical Fassi houses are annexed by a small apartment called lmesria which has its own entrance. It might be used to accommodate young single men of the family, host guests who attend big family parties or store many stuff if the house is small. Reserving lmesria for single men or guests is not to be considered as a way of isolating them; rather, it is meant to provide them with a space where they can enjoy their privacy. lmesria is usually built above errwa, a stable where the donkeys and horses of the members of the family, guests and visitors are kept. Errwa is the equivalent of nowadays garage where vehicles are parked.
It is important to point out that Fes is one of the oldest cities whose architecture paid a particular attention to the environment. First, the city is built on rivers, which allows an easy connection to the sewerage system. Second, the profusion of water in Fes has contributed to the spread of many green spaces both in the city and inside the houses. In fact, there is hardly an old Fassi house without beautiful trees such as orange, lemon, grapes, citron, berries or linden. This is in addition to a wide variety of roses and flowers that provide fragrant and refreshing smell, especially in the spring. Furthermore, Fassi people has benefited from the abundance of springs in Fes to install beautiful fountains in the middle of their courtyards. These fountains do not only maximize the beauty of the house, but they can also be used by children for swimming. The floor of the corridors is usually embellished by Fassi zellij and the ceilings are decorated by wood or what Fassi people call elmamouni. It is also possible to build a covered place called eddekana using green brick, in which the family can enjoy the garden in the winter. Last but not least, it is important to mention that the historical Fassi house is usually open on the sky from the garden, allowing enough air and light to get in. Additionally, historical Fassi houses are designed in a way that preserves women’s privacy and at the same time allows them to discover the outside world through lmenzah.
The architecture of the historical Fassi house deserves further research to decipher the significance of its multifarious aspects such as the environmental, the social, the cultural, the aesthetical and the architectural. In fact, it should be part of the main curriculum of the schools of architecture and civil engineering both in Morocco and abroad.
Wonderful post and splendid photos 🙂
Thanks bro. I appreciate it