L’art des jardins au Maroc : entre tradition et modernité by Mounia BENNANI – ONLINE

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L’art des jardins au Maroc : entre tradition et modernité by Mounia BENNANI – ONLINE

Garden art in Morocco: from tradition to modernity

‘It is truly said that the Italians construct their gardens, the English plant them and the French draw them. We can add that the Moroccans live in them,’ Irène Menjily-de Corny, ‘Jardins du Maroc’, published by Le Temps Apprivoisé, Paris, 1991.

In Morocco, since its very first human occupation, the garden, and more generally nature, have always been closely linked with life in the traditional city.  The medinas, genuine garden-towns, developed around a multitude of planted areas of varying dimensions, built around water, from the riads within private properties to the vast outer orchards (jnan), via the agdal, enclosed irrigated orchards and arsa, located within the medina walls. Each of these Arabic words, signifying ‘garden’, refers to a specific typology, form, size and purpose.
Some fine examples of Moroccan landscaping tradition can still be admired today, including the typical ancestral gardens that continue to draw tourists from across the globe. The Dar el-Batha garden in Fez, an enlarged replica of the Palacio de Generalife in Granada, is a beautiful example of a traditional 19th-century Moroccan riad. Within the city, the Agdal Gardens in Marrakesh, created under the Almohad dynasty in the 12th century, are worthy of note. A vast productive and ornamental orchard protected by walls, the Agdal Gardens, covering a surface area of 500 hectares – practically the surface of the medina itself – are typical of the Almohad style, a landscaped creation at town and regional level, magnified by the exceptional views they offer across the southern Atlas Mountains on the horizon.
With the arrival of the French Protectorate in 1912, together with the development of new European towns outside the medinas, a new garden model emerged: the urban ‘public park’. Through the work of the landscaper J.C.N. Forestier and his French landscaper and architect disciples, a new form of garden art was experimented in Morocco: inspired by Moresque tradition, these reproductions of French formal gardens – the very expression of colonial power – these ‘hybrid gardens’, offered a harmonious medley of French tradition and Andalusian know-how. This colonial period was totally obscured from the history of garden art in Morocco, hence the publication of my book, ‘Villes-paysages du Maroc’ (Town-landscapes of Morocco), by La Découverte in 2017.
As from the end of the French Protectorate in 1956, garden creation declined, and no new public parks were developed, with the exception of a few, designed by foreign landscapers.
Today, only a handful of landscapers, most of whom qualified at the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Sciences (IAV) in Rabat, and from foreign landscaping schools, practice in Morocco with no legal framework. Whilst the IAV is the only Moroccan school to qualify landscapers, the teaching of garden art and landscaping projects there is insufficient. In this early 21st century, new needs and new constraints (urban densification, climatic change, water shortages, declining biodiversity, new usages, etc.) are changing our outlook on gardens and on how we design them.

So, how do we design the modern Moroccan garden?

The current trend is towards western gardens with Moroccan motifs, in order to offer them a ‘Moroccan’ identity, a trend signifying the loss of the typical Morrocan garden identity, and the absence of a shared landscaping vision. This lack of reference translates, not only as a need for roots and for transmission of the history of Morocco’s landscaping creation, but also a need to ‘re’ find more intuitive creation tools, inspired by the site itself and drawing inspiration from complementary disciplines (ecology, history, sociology, philosophy).

Mounia Bennani 

Mounia Bennani is a landscape architect, graduated from the ENSP (National Graduate School of Landscape) in Versailles, and a doctor in geography, graduated from the Graduate School in Social Sciences in Paris.
In 2006, Mounia Bennani created her own landscaping agency, MBpaysage, in Rabat. Her agency specialises in the design of public areas.
In December 2010, she founded the AAPM (Association des Architecte-paysagistes du Maroc / Association of Landscape Architects of Morocco), the first North-African association to reunite professionals from the world of landscape architecture, and acknowledged by the IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects).
Mounia Bennani militates in favour of the conservation of Morocco’s landscaped heritage and the creation of quality public areas. She teaches (at the Rabat National School of Architecture) and shares her expertise on the history of Moroccan landscape and 20th-century urban parks via a host of colloquiums and encounters, both in Morocco and abroad.
In November 2017, she wrote a book based on her PhD research, entitled, ‘Ville-paysages du Maroc’ (Town landscapes of Morocco), published by La Découverte. This fine book, equally historic and scientific, focuses on the history of landscape within the context of the 20th-century new town development under the French Protectorate in Morocco. It is the first book to unveil this part of Morocco’s 20th-century history of landscape and public parks, which was hitherto unknown.
In June 2018, the book was awarded the famous REDOUTE ‘special jury prize’ in France.