Sunday 24 March 2013

Majorelle Gardens: a Moroccan passion

The Jardin Majorelle was the creation of a French artist, Jacques Majorelle, who settled in Marrakech during the First World War. Majorelle acquired a 9 acre property of palm groves just outside of the city, and set about creating a botanical garden.

 With a painter's eye he designed it around walls, fountains and pots in bold primary blue and yellow ...

... its dominant feature this intense cobalt  blue which Jacques Majorelle developed and patented as Majorelle Blue

Majorelle lived and painted here, while opening his garden to the public ... 

which is how French coutourier Yves St Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé discovered it.

In his beautiful book Une Passion Marocaine, which I bought in the garden's bookshop, Pierre Bergé describes how he and Yves fell in love with Marrakech from the moment of their first visit there in 1966, which ended with them flying back to France with the signed deeds to their first property, the Dar (villa) El Hanch.

Image source: amazon, where the book is available

The book is  a treat - an intimate memoir of their years part-living in Morocco, hand-written by Bergé and illustrated with his personal photos of a young and very beautiful Yves and their circle of friends there, and Yves' drawings and paintings ...

Collage of images from Une Passion Marocaine by Pierre Bergé

Maybe partly because it reminded him of his birthplace in North Africa (he was born in Algeria), Morocco came to be a huge source of inspiration to St Laurent, who attributed its influence to his most beautiful collections. 

He and Bergé were frequent visitors to the Majorelle garden, and witnessed its gradual decline and neglect in the years following Jacques Majorelle's death. When they heard of plans to sell it to a property developer who intended to destroy the garden to build a large hotel, they embarked on the seemingly impossible - halting the scheme and becoming owners of the Majorelle garden.

The couple moved in to the Villa Oasis, Majorelle's villa adjacent to the gardens and set about restoring it to his original vision, redonner vie ...

Image source, from Une Passion Marocaine
Pierre Bergé describes this photo as having particular meaning for him as the only existing photo of himself and YSL together in the Majorelle Gardens

Yves in the Jardin Majorelle. Did he choose the colour of that jacket deliberately, I wonder, to contrast with the Majorelle blue?
Image source

Visually, the garden is unique ... the intense Majorelle blue and splashes of bright bougainvillea stand out against a lush background of multiple shades of green: the garden is planted with hundreds of species of palms, aloes, succulents - all plants that thrive in Marrakech's arid desert climate ...

Water features everywhere in the garden give it the feel of a cool oasis

The café in a shaded courtyard has more muted colours ...

... but it was that intense blue that I kept being drawn to ...

Majorelle's blue was inspired originally by his love of the colour of Moroccan tiles, windows and Berber clothing.

It has an intensity that might seem garish in grey northern climates but is stunning in sun-saturated North Africa ...

The artist's original studio was transformed by St Laurent and Bergé into a museum of Berber art and clothing

Yves loved this place so much that after his death in 2008, his ashes were scattered here -
 in the rose garden of the Villa Oasis  where the couple had lived - and Pierre had this simple memorial erected, tucked away in a secluded corner of the garden.

The Roman column was brought from their house in Tangier and mounted on stone painted in Moroccan ochre

Bergé has since donated the garden to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves St Laurent, a public institution that now looks after it.

For better photos than mine (and taken minus the crowds of tourists that flock here!), see Jeffrey Bale's post here


  1. Your photos are stunning! And such a romantic story to go with the garden! I'll have to put Marrakech on my 'to do' list after seeing how beautiful this garden is.

  2. Oh my, oh my! Love love love your photos :-) I didn't know that amazing garden in marocco - but it almost looks as incredible as Al hambra. I wanna go there :-)

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