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Maison Arabes au Maroc: Fez and French Colonial Architecture

Abstract of paper to be presented by Patricia Morton, University of California, Riverside at the conference "Fez, Morocco, Crossroads of Knowledge and Power: Celebrating 1,200 Years of Urban Life"

This paper will examine the depiction of Fez at the 1931 Colonial Exposition and in Jean Gallotti’s book, Le Jardin et la maison arabes au Maroc. As is well known, the Moroccan section at the 1931 Colonial Exposition was the culmination of Maréchal Lyautey's program to develop a French colonial style appropriate for Morocco. One of its architects, Albert Laprade, worked for Lyautey during his Moroccan governorship and helped design two of its best known monuments: the Residence General in Rabat and the New Medina in Casablanca. In a review of the Moroccan section at the 1931 Exposition, Jean Gallotti saw a particular inspiration from Fez:

One senses that the architects Fournez and Laprade have thought of the eminent dignity of the Hispano-Moorish art of Fez, among the Muslim arts, the least marred by elements foreign to its ancient formulas, the most geometric, the gravest, and, one wants to say, the most serious….  To those who have visited Fez, the general disposition of the plan will recall Bab Dekaken.

The Morrocan section featured a long promenade along a basin of water, beginning at the Place de l'Afrique du Nord and lined with souks on either side, culminated in a hexagonal cupola attached to the main building. Laprade and Fornez modeled this hexagonal structure, the crenelated towers, and the picturesque massing of the main pavilion after the "reception" building at Dar-El-Beida in Marrakech, for which Gallotti's book includes a plan and several photographs. In the main exhibition room, the ceiling constructed of wooden slats was strongly reminiscent of the ceiling in a "Berchla" type residence illustrated in Le Jardin et maison.
Laprade also collaborated with Gallotti on Le Jardin et la maison arabes au Maroc. Gallotti contributed the text, Laprade the line drawings, and Lucien Vogel the photographs which depicted an array of traditional Moroccan residences.  According to Gallotti, the two volumes provided a primer of Moroccan domestic architecture as interpreted by sympathetic, observant Frenchmen, and gave a guide for foreigners on methods for designing houses in the traditional manner. The volumes are organized by formal elements and typologies, from small to large scale – plan, windows, stairs, decoration, kiosks, palaces, etc. – in houses across Morocco.  The specificities of each locale are suppressed in favor of overarching formal categories, with the exception of brief sections on houses in Rabat and Marakkesh.  The houses are interchangeable, exemplars of a synthetic “Arab” architecture invented by Gallotti and his collaborators. Laprade and Fornez followed this model, recombining elements into a unified amalgam, a true hybrid architecture. As this paper will show, Gallotti and Laprade viewed Fez as a primary source of “traditional” Moroccan architecture, by contrast with the new capital of Rabat or the new Medina of Casablanca.  While the architecture of Fez was absorbed into the eclectic synthesis of “Arab” houses created by Gallotti, Laprade and others, it remained an important touchstone for “authentic” Moroccan culture.

Center for Near Eastern Studies