Once a famous travel photographer of National Geographic magazine was asked about his favorite places for travel photography in the World. With a bright sparkle in his eyes, he exclaimed »Morocco, Cuba, and India! You discover so many colors!«.
Traveling in those countries makes you feel like eating a big bowl of colorful ice-cream (if you like ice-cream). And you are enchanted by the presence of color on every step around the country. In Morocco, it is from Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, Atlas mountains, Sahara desert, and Marrakech, to smaller towns (especially at the Atlantic coast), or the southern parts with Tafraout, Taroudant, Agadir, Sidi Ifni, Tiznit and others.
The idea of this blog is to bring your attention to some of the most prominent Moroccan colors, and explain their sometimes deep meanings and the culture behind them.
Morocco surprises you instantly, but charms you slowly, layer after layer, and when it happens, it is for good!
One of the reasons why so many visitors fall in love with Morocco annually are many, but an obvious one is also the diversity and richness of colors. In Morocco, you are constantly surrounded by color, on every step of the way across this beautiful country of mountains, deserts, and fertile fields, its ocean shores.
It feels like the whole country has been created with a careful designer's hand!
The contours of the cities are thoughtful, the shapes of nature spectacular, textures are rich and diverse, and the typography, well is there anything more beautiful than the Arabic calligraphy (or interesting than the Berber letters)? Then there are the colors... oh, all those colors... keep reading!
The nature of Morocco comes in many colors. If you love the fresh green of the spring, you will not be disappointed with the Moroccan Mezeta plain in the winter (February and March). If you are a bigger fan of pinks and whites, you have to visit the cities, where the bougainvilleas, jasmine, and orange trees (just imagine all that gorgeous smell!) are in full blossom, the Sahara desert will astonish you with its gold- brownish sandy dunes. But it is in certain parts of the High Atlas that you will truly experience the forces and creativity of nature observing the mountains where green, yellow, red, black, and grey rocks show off in a rainbow-like arrangement. And while crossing the mountains you will be approached by road sellers trying to tempt you into buying Crystals and spectacular Geodes in many different colors, some made by nature, others not.
THE NATIONAL FLAG
One thing is for sure, that the first thing you get to know in Morocco, are the colors of the national flag. Moroccans are very proud of their country, and rightfully so. Hence with pride, their national flag is omnipresent at every step of the visit. When the king, Mohammed VI. travels around the country (which he does very often), it seems that the whole country turns red and you can see the green pentagon everywhere. The facades, the bridges, the poles at the road, embellished with numerous flags, all dance in the rhythm of the wind and remind you that the king is not far.
The Moroccan flag is a powerful symbol in two contrasting colors of green and red. The majority of it is red. This is the color of the Prophet Mohamed's followers and many claim that it's evoking bravery and strength. The predominantly red surface has a pentagram in deep green color. The color green is a color of Islam and for Moroccans, it represents joy, peace, love, and hope. The pentagram's number 5 is very symbolic of the Muslims also. There are 5 pillars of Islam, 5 prayers every day, etc.
There is only one national flag, but in the country with more than half of the Berber population, you can sometimes (if you are a bit lucky) spot another flag.
THE BERBER FLAG and Azul
It is hard to understand what the official status of a Berber flag really is, but in my own experience whenever I was seen with it in the South or in the mountains (with predominantly Berber population), I was always greeted with big smiles and a warm Azul (a Berber Hello).
The Berber flag is somehow much more African if we dare to say so. It is of vivid bright colors, yellow, green, and blue and comes with its own symbol in the middle. The Berbers would explain the flag as a representation of all the natural environments where their ancestors lived. The upper part, the color blue is for the Mediterranean sea, the green in the middle represents Atlas mountains with (once vast, now slowly recovering) forests, and the color yellow is for the desert sand of the Sahara in the South of the country.
What a marvelous representation of Berber life and their natural habitat!
The red symbol in the middle, which almost resembles the old greek alphabet, is a Tifinagh letter Yaz (pronounced as Z), a sign of freedom. The Berbers call themselves Amazigh, the free people.
COLOR OF THE CITY
In Morocco, every city has its own signature color. The most famous of the colorful cities are the small town of Chefchauen in the North, which is all painted in blue, and the red city of the South, Marrakech.
Just imagine, every city of Morocco has its own color!
Hence Casablanca is white, Rabat blue and white (as well as most of the cities on the Atlantic coast), Fes' color is blue and the cities of the South come in many different hues of red. The identity of the city is rooted in its signature color.
You also notice that in every city and town, some buildings are proudly covered with green ceramic tiles and adorned with green mosaics. Green is the color of Islam and as such has always been reserved for the sacred and other most important buildings. Those tiled roofs are in a country with little rain (and no snow) an opulent feature. Most of the houses have flat roofs where people also socialize.
The special buildings with green roofs are the mosques, the mausoleums of important people, and the king’s palaces (he has many). Nowadays also the better hotels and some nice restaurants wish to be as important, so you can notice they also use this old symbol of affluence.
Once I got a question from my group on what a typical Moroccan would look like. And after quite some thought, I realized that it is very hard to say. The country has always been on the crossroads of different cultures. Here, where the African continent meets Europe, is a land of the indigenous Berbers, and arriving Arabs, where Romans left their traces that were later enforced by the French and the Spanish... so how can one say how typical Moroccan looks like? For sure they have brown eyes and hair, but even that is not always the case! Sometimes you can meet a blonde lady that lives in a village in High, or the Middle Atlas, other times a black man with deep blue or green eyes.
Moroccans are an adorable mixture of colors, cultures, and races.
And of course, it is no wonder, that all this natural and racial diversity reflects in the local outfit.
THE DJELLABA, KAFTAN AND TAKCHITA, RICHES OF COLOR AND TEXTURES
Maybe it is due to the beauty of nature, or the old traditions, or else, that Moroccans (especially women) are dressed in fantastic color combinations! It is so very different from what you can observe when traveling to the more "orthodox" Muslim countries in the Arabic Peninsula.
Moroccan women possess an inborn good taste for combining color and texture, and they know how to wear all that beauty!
When you go to Morocco, be sure to visit the fabric's part of the Souk (the market) and take enough time, as you will not be able to leave it soon, especially if you like fabrics, silky threads, colors and all that creative ideas one gets from socializing with the exotic materials and welcoming craft people.
In the end, you will be buying yourself a handsome bouquet of silky threads in all different colors of the world (because they are so inspiring and because you love the embroideries they are made into, and because also they cost almost nothing). Of course, you will realize that you have no idea how to make use of them. But that will happen only later when your creativity and passion calm down. And then you will start observing elderly men, how they thread the silk to get it into the right thickness for making intricate decorations on the sleeves and hoods of the Djellabas and adding only later all those adorable buttons, beard, and sequins that Kaftans and Takchitas are so famous for. We will write more on Moroccan outfit and it's many forms in one of the following posts.
This is not only a ladies' world! The gentlemen also take great care of what clothes they wear (and how they polish their leather shoes- in the cities). Even though their everyday colors are more muted and fabrics more modest, you can still feel their innate passion for combining colors of their Djellabas with the leather slippers, called Babush as well as the undergarments.
THE MOROCCAN HOUSE
When visiting a private home, it depends a bit whether you are visiting a Berber house (more simple and with more colors), or an Arab one (more sober and traditional). It also depends on if you are in the city or in the countryside... but all of them share the same passion for colors. Either painting the walls in strong red, ochre, or blue colors, using vivid carpets, rugs, and pillows, covering walls in a colorful Zellige mosaic or in a plaster cover called Tadelakt. Moroccans seem to enjoy very much in the warm homey feel of the carved and painted wood, ornate mirror frames, and wrought iron objects, always adding colorful ceramics in good taste.
Something that you would probably never have combined in your house, looks fantastic in Morocco!
THE SIGNATURE MOROCCAN COLORS AND A ZELLIJ MOSAIC
The traditional colors of the Zellij mosaics slowly became characteristic colors of the country itself. Wherever you travel in Morocco, you notice that the historical mosaics always use the same six colors. White, black, green, blue, red, and ochre. Their meanings come from Islam and from Prophet Mohammed's preferences. The Ibn Ghazi Arabic Institute of Fes gives an insight into their meanings. White is a color of purity, dignity, and wisdom. White clothes are being worn in festive, happy, and joyful, yet also sad times. Black is associated with dark and satanic forces and it’s the color that Moroccans usually avoid in their lives and homes. Green has always been connected to fertility and as such with prosperity. It is a green cloth that they cover the shrines of the saints with and it comes as a cry for a blessing. Blue is the color of the sky, so it symbolizes the absolute and infinity, tranquillity, and peace of mind. Red is a color one sees little of on the Zellij, but it is a symbol of exorcising of evil spirits, and yellow (or ochre) represents the wilting of things and their near end.
It is such a beautiful thing to have all these colors surrounding you in life and giving a deeper meaning to everyday life, isn't it?!
But when you ask an average Moroccan about it, you get a beautifully Moroccan answer that combines the natural, the human, and the spiritual.
So for the many Moroccans the color ochre represents the sandy dunes of the Sahara desert, the green is a color of Islam, the blue is a color of reflection and introspection (and the color of the oldest city, Fes), black is supposed to be representing the black population of the country and white is a color of purity.
To leave the past in the past, nowadays with a diversity of styles, shapes, and decorations, Moroccan designers excel in a sublime use of more than twenty different colors in decorating.
THE COLORS OF THE SOUKS
Apart from the fabrics' section of the souk, you just can't get enough of the smells and the colors of the spices and herbs, that fill your nose and imprint deep into your soul. The dried rose petals share a shelf with the precious argan oil, incenses, accessories for the use in a Hammam (a Moroccan bath), and different smells and colors of flower oils. A real Oriental feast of scents awaits you at the Souks.
There is a special part of the souk, where they sell leather and another where they sell the woolen caps. Both come in such a variety of colors, that you think you will get a headache just looking at them.
In Marrakech, the souk is much more modern and you discover that the colors are intentional, that it is a certain hue in seasonal fashion, so all the sellers have it on offer. Hence, the souk gives an impression of harmony and a finer design than the rest of the souks in the country. Which is very convenient, especially if you visit Marrakesh every year… in Fes, for example, you choose the things you love, buy them and adore them upon your arrival home. When you return again next year, the offer is still the same in Fes, but on the other hand, in Marrakech, every time you visit, the collections change! And they do follow world fashion color trends. So when you notice that specific red woolen pillowcase, you are well aware of the fact that the color fill fit perfectly well to the vase you bought on your visit to France last week. And so it goes!
Marrakech and its souk, the biggest in the country, charm you and you can’t help it. You want to discover more and more… and you start to miss it when you are gone! Needless to say, that it is the same case with those adorable baskets, leather slippers, silk scarves, and purses in the same color, and incense, and oils, and dried florets, and cosmetics of all kind, and everything else they sell here.
THE THREE COLORS OF MOROCCO
You will be able, though to notice that Moroccan colors are actually three. First, it is the color of the red fertile soil that gives food to 35 million people. This soil gives birth to date palms, fruit trees, olive grooves, garden vegetables, and wheat for the daily Couscous. Without the rich soil live in the South of Morocco would have been impossible. Moroccans take good care of the earth in a constant fight with the nature over erosion and with irrigating it when needed. They live in a respectful love relationship with it.
Second is the color of the deep green Dates Palm Tree’s crowns, rising proudly high above the valleys. They give shade to the rest of the plants in the Palmeria and they soak in as much sun as they possibly can in order to give a rich harvest of Dates, Moroccan’s favorite sugar-fix. There are more than 65 different kinds of dates and in Morocco, most of the palm trees are date palms. It could easily be called a Moroccan national tree (which nobody calls like that).
The third color is the color of Moroccan blue sky with its yellow sun. The sun’s light in Morocco shines in bright yellow (as opposed to the light in the North, that for me has a white quality to it). The yellow light makes the sky look bluer than in other parts of the world. Sometimes all you need is to see the Moroccan sky and you can endure all the hardship of life. The bright sky and the warm sun both give the energy to the Moroccans and keep them happy at all times.
Actually, when you think of Moroccan colors, you always picture the trinity of red soil, green trees, and blue sky.
But probably everybody has their own Moroccan color combination.
A TRADEMARK BLUE
If you like beauty and art and design, then you might have heard of the one Moroccan color, called a Majorelle Blue. It is an intense blue used in the decorations of the Majorelle garden in Marrakech.
The color has been trademarked by a former owner of the garden, Jacques Majorelle. It is a deep and clear blue, resembling an Indigo dye, used by the Berbers of the desert, the Tuaregs to dye their scarves and clothes. Jacque Majorelle was a French Orientalist painter who bought a little public garden in Marrakesh in the 1920es and made his own heaven in it. Arranging his painting studio, he painted the walls, the flower pots, and other details in his favorite deep blue.
People claim that this paint has magical properties and it is believed to change the intensity during the day, depending on the angle and strength of the sun.
When you visit Majorelle garden you notice a charming souvenir shop that sells the best of the best of the artisan's works.
Do visit it!
And when you do, at the very opposite of the entrance, there is a blue (they all are blue anyway) bookshelf that offers the paint itself! The color is beautiful and they sell it in cans, so it is easy to take it home with you...
No matter if you like handwork, or not, as a beautiful reminder of your Moroccan colorful experiences, you might want to take a small can of paint home with you.
Because you never know: what if it really has a magic to it?!
We put a lot of thought into writing and would love to hear from you. If you like our ideas, or if you have any thoughts, do write a comment.
What you think of this post, have you had any experiences traveling in Morocco already, have we forgotten of anything that you find important?
We will be happy to read your comments.
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