Art and design lovers find a bonanza of beauty in Morocco. Though the timeless art and architecture found in museums and on everyday streets is beautiful, Morocco’s present art scene gives visitors plenty of attractions. Galleries and artist colonies build on thousands of years of artistic traditions, and special getaways give working artists and hobbyists serenity and inspiration. Here are some of the best (and somewhat hidden) art retreats in the country brought to us by Journey Beyond Travel Morocco who currently collaborates with prominent artists and photographers for specialized itineraries.
The beach town Essaouira is a haven for artists, bohemians and laid-back hipsters, a stark contrast with the package-tourism resorts in nearby Marrakesh. Pinkish walls twist through the medina, abutting the blue waters of the port. Locals wile away the sunset hours on patio cafes and trendy rooftop bars, and beachcombers can enjoy stretches of sand without tourist-trap hassles. This easygoing town is also home to many galleries, showcasing local and international work, both well-known and up-and-coming. In the medina, a cluster of contemporary art galleries occupy a quarter near the clock tower. Two notable galleries are the Gallerie d’Art Fréderic Damgaard and the Espace Othello Gallerie d’Art. The colorful tribal art movement of Gnaoua has played a significant role in Essauira’s scene, and local artisans are also known for their continuation of Arabic calligraphy traditions.
Tangier & Asilah:
Tangier is another coastal town that has served up inspiration to western artists for decades—among them, Matisse, Degas, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs and fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The city’s bohemian reputation has led to a scene both nostalgic for centuries-old pieces and welcoming of contemporary talents. The city’s Museum of Contemporary Art houses notable works from present-day Moroccan painters. Various upscale galleries, mostly in the Ville Nouvelle, also specialize in new works. For a solid glimpse of more traditional arts, nearby Tétouan is home to the Museum of Moroccan Arts, housed in a former sultan’s fortress. While in town, check out the Artisan School, where craftsmen work on tiles and other long-established craft methods.
Also along the northern coastline, the beach town of Asilah is known for its many art and music festivals, most notably a mural-painting festival, which is part of the summer-long Asilah Arts Festival. Over the summer, the medina walls become part of a living exhibit as artists make their personal marks on newly-prepared whitewashed walls. The murals can stay on the walls for years, making them popular with photography enthusiasts. The Arts Festival, referred to as the International Cultural Moussem of Asilah, brings artists and musicians for the cultural gathering.
Marrakesh & Fez:
Inland, the popular and ever-growing cosmopolitan city of Marrakesh has a chic gallery scene that appeals to locals and visitors alike. Many galleries host openings and parties free of admission. Marrakesh has recently opened a location of the Tangier-based Lawrence Arnott Gallery, which attracts work from international fine artists. Other hot spots include the Matisse Art Gallery (focused on young Moroccan artists), Galerie 127 (only the third photography gallery in Africa, and a favorite of King Mohamed VI) and Dar Cherifa (contemporary work in a 16th-century home). Another site gaining influence is the Maison de la Photographie, which has local and international appeal for its exhibitions on photography from the Maghreb. Another secret getaway where one's work will blossom is at Peacock Pavilions located just outside of Marrakesh, founded by designer Maryam Montague and author of "Marrakesh by Design."
The city of Fez may seem like a living piece of art, and its creative community works hard to enrich its present-day arts scene. Café Clock, a cultural center set in a 250-year-old home, has become a gathering spot for innovators and creative thinkers. The venue hosts art exhibitions, musical performances and a variety of other events, such as cooking schools and yoga classes. “Clock Culture,” as the organization calls its programming, demonstrates the new interest this old town has in creative ideas and discovery.
For working artists and those who want to share in the scenery that inspires them, Tinejdad is an oasis getaway where artists make pilgrimages. There, they paint the scenery of palms, roses (blooming in May) and surrounding Todra Valley, site of stunning gorges. The fortified village of El Khorbat features residency options for artists wanting either serenity or outdoor inspiration.
Farther along the oasis routes, travelers can reach the Saharan dunes of Erg Chebbi where the landscape has unsurprisingly drawn many painters and photographers. To get the full outdoor experience, stay in a Bedouin (nomadic) campsite or relax in an auberge (guesthouse) on the edge of the dunes. In Rissani, artist guesthouse Café Tissardmine is one retreat that caters specifically to artists with various workshops and seminars throughout the year. The music and traditions of the people who still dwell in these regions can serve as inspiration just as much as the dramatic scenery.
Photos by Hasna Lahmini and alextorrenegra via Flickr Creative Commons