Strange and wonderful cacti in the Majorelle gardens

Strange and wonderful cacti in the Majorelle gardens

The fashionable came to see and be seen, almost as worthy as the official pieces of art that lay bold but simultaneously unassuming around them. Chic supercilious women strolling arm in arm, hidden behind tinted glasses and wide-brimmed hats appeared charmingly en vogue here. Beyond the wall in the modern dusty street, their appearance would lose its luxurious grace, turning from Parisian eloquence to over-dressed pantomime. Le Jardin Majorelle’s existence was brought to life by the skilful fingers of French painter Jacque Majorelle nearly a century ago. The garden with its exotic plants set around daring acts of colour neither bowed nor bullied these artificial flourishes; instead, they shared a harmony where each emblazoned the other.

Deep blue fountain framed by ferns and cacti

Deep blue fountain framed by ferns and cacti

Where bizarre and beautiful cacti collected from all corners of the world lay shielded by a canopy of palms and umbrella plants, intercepted by strokes of heavy blue, the landscapers own creation that later took his name Majorelle-blue. The gardens raise numerous dualities to the thriving city beyond, segregated by a long, flora consumed wall -comfortable to baking, serene to obstreperous, spacious to confined and expressive to finalised. Perhaps Majorelle managed to capture the very essence he wanted to convey, the love and form of Moroccan romanticism. And maybe just, had timings and paths entwined, Burnett’s Secret Garden could have been radically different.

An array of cacti with the blue studio of Majorelles studio behind

An array of cacti with the blue studio of Majorelles studio behind

So, who was Jacque Majorelle?

Born on March 7th, 1886 in Nancy, Eastern France, Jacque grew up in a creative environment as his father Louis Majorelle was a well known art-nouveau furniture maker. Under Louis’s advice, Jacque initially took up studying architecture. However, after three years, realising this wasn’t his preferred vocation, he turned towards painting, a passion that would remain with him for life.

Before forwarding his education to the Académie Julian in Paris, he commenced his studies in Nancy’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, unveiling his first exhibition here by the age of twenty-two.

Up through the inner circle of a palm tree

Up through the inner circle of a palm tree

The influence of Moroccan culture which permeated through much of Jacques work developed from a visit to Marrakesh in 1917. On settling here in recouperation to heart trouble, the cities vibrancy, certainly noticed within colours and patterns manifested an intense devotion to his creative temperament. An artistic personality that would see, after brief stints of visiting Europe, Jacque permanently relocate to Marrakesh.

His paintings reflected Moroccan behaviours, captured in everyday street life, from locals beavering away in the dimly-lit souks to the high towered courtyard of the kasbah. In this way, he effectively encouraged Moroccan tourism, bolstered by a series of travel artworks rolled out from his city workshop.

Blue and green tiled steps a striking feature of Le Jardin Majorelle

Blue and green tiled steps a striking feature of Le Jardin Majorelle

By 1919, having married Andrée Longueville, the couple moved away from the narrow alleyways of the Medina. Purchasing instead a four-acre plot adjacent to the palm groves in the cities north. The generous piece of land must have been a breath of fresh air in comparison to the gloomy high walls and tightly packed buildings crammed around their old place. Here Jacque gradually set to work fashioning an exotic garden. While Paul Sinoir commissioned a bold cubist villa, eventually painting it in a deep azure-blue, a colour Jacque devised from the cities blue tiles. This colour, later to be titled Majorelle-blue, continued its presence throughout the garden, enveloping vases, walls, tiles, broad steps and modest fountains. A shade of blue at once incongruous but confident enough to bind the different themes to a single appeasing conclusion. Like any art, you needed to pay it several visits, seen from different angles and at other times, perhaps accompanied by somebody whose insight could throw extra light upon it.

The gardens life-long love affair had taken nearly forty years to complete. But the increasing costs of maintaining such a place forced Jacque to open its doors to the public in 1947. However, by the 1950s he had sold off both the house and garden and without the continuous attention it needed, the place fell into disrepair.

The memorial of Yves Saint Laurent

The memorial of Yves Saint Laurent

In 1962, Jacque Majorelle returned to France for medical treatment after suffering severe injuries in a car accident. Unable to make a full recovery, he died later that year with his body interned alongside his father in their home-town Nancy.

His Marrakesh legacy, in serious decline by the ’80s, stood earmarked for destruction in favour of a hotel complex. Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé managed to make an eleventh-hour purchase, securing the garden’s survival.

 

..and Yves Saint-Laurent.

Born in Algeria’s coastal city of Oran in 1936, Yves Henri Donat Matthieu Saint-Laurent grew up in comfortable surroundings, benefitting from his father Charles, a lawyer, insurance-broker proprietor of a chain of cinemas.

The Majorelle blue studio balanced with exotic plants

The Majorelle blue studio balanced with exotic plants

Yves found comfort in fashion from an early age, an antidote to enduring a tough bullish school life. First examples of Yves’s creative talent appeared in dress designs he made for his mother Lucienne, and his two younger sisters Michelle and Brigitte. Seeing Yves’s potential Lucinenne arranged a meeting with Michael de Brunhoff, editor of French Vogue in Paris. Shortly after and still in his teens, the shy boy from Oran enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in Paris. De Brunhoff introduced Yves to Christian Dior, a highly successful designer and colossal powerhouse within the fashion industry. Impressed with Yves’s ideas, Dior guided him through the fundamental elements of design from which Yves’s blossoming incited ever more notice.

Returning from an exemption on health grounds from his wish to fight in Algeria’s war for independence, Yves discovered his position with Dior no longer existed. Fuelling a sense of betrayal from where the relationship on Dior’s side had soured, Yves Saint-Laurent decided to take legal proceedings for a breach of contract.

Large pool with lillies surrounded by tropical foliage

Large pool with lillies surrounded by tropical foliage

Using the £48,000 settlement won from Dior allowed Yves alongside his business partner and lover, Pierre Bergè to establish their own fashion house. This newly acquired independence saw Yves Saint-Laurent on a continued rise over the next two decades, emblazoned by a prominent demand from the rich, famous, and elite.

On a personal level, the ’80s became a see-saw for Saint-Laurent, an era fraught with highs and lows. Though the brand maintained its vogue, elevating Saint-Laurent’s reputation to iconic, the man himself initiated a free-fall into a darker world, engulfed by several addictions which continued until the early 90s. Close to the Millenium, Saint-Laurent and Bergè sold their company to Gucci, and by 2002 now fully retired, Saint-Laurent returns to his Villa Oasis at Majorelle.

Though Vyes Saint-Laurent passed away in Paris on June 1st, 2008, it was the Majorelle gardens that claimed his ashes. A slim single pillared shrine honours his life.

 

Pierre Bergé and The Berber Museum

Since that first interaction with Morocco back in the ’60s, Pierre Bergé acquired an immediate attraction to Berber culture. Building a substantial collection of over six hundred artefacts drawn from several countries.

He understood them as a proud, defiant race of people who retained their traditions and integrity through numerous, often stronger, more forceful occupations. One of the oldest peoples of North Africa whose lineage journeyed back nine-thousand years. One that has forged their distinct identity finally came under protection in the 2011 constitution legalised by his majesty, King Muhammed VI. In the same year, Pierre Bergé donated the entire collection to his museum, unveiling a display that would inform and celebrate the telling originality of Berber culture -projected through textiles, pottery, carpets, jewellery, and tools. For his long-standing position in encouraging Moroccan culture, Bergé received the Grand Cordon du Wissam Alaouite by the very King himself.

 

 

A 2019 survey declared Le Jardin Marjorelle to be Morocco’s most visited tourist attraction with 900,000 entries. A chartered course to its present popularity stems from an English horticultural show of 1997. Yves Saint-Laurent co-designed with New York designer Madison Cox the ‘Yvresse – Rapture of the Senses’ garden, transporting Le Jardin Majorelle’s exotic concept to the Chelsea Flower Show. Visitors stood captivated by unassuming fountains and pergolas wearing Majorelles trademarked blue, peering through of cacti and groves of bamboo.

The international media attention the Royal Horticultural Show attracted, helped gain far wider interest towards the original garden in Marrakesh.

 

Jacque Majorelle’s long term love survived the concrete and cement thanks to a like-minded visionary whose path also trailed around one of growing creativity. Befitting the Majorelle’s root to survival, the estate recently opened the gardens around the private Villa Oasis. Considered more engrossing and lavish than its main counterpart with giant cacti rising between green-tiled water features. However, like haute-couture, entry will be exclusive and available only to small privileged groups, operated by a selected number of elite hotels and tour operators.

 

Facts:

For entry into Morocco, the government currently require a ‘negative’ PCR test not older than 72 hours before granting permission to board the flight/ferry. The British government have categorised Morocco as ‘all but essential travel’ meaning you will have to self-isolate on return and consider the risks of travel without insurance.

Gardens and museum  Wed-Sun – 09:00 – 18:00 – Last admission 17:30.

Tickets: The garden 100Dhs /20Dhs visitors/ Moroccan citizens & foreign residents.

Berber museum 50Dhs. Reduced price for Moroccans & foreign residents. Accompanied children under 12 years of age go free for both attractions.

The cafe set in a pleasant canopy shielded courtyard keeps the same hours. Serving breakfast/lunch and refreshments. Disabled access, certainly for the museum is possible.

Influenced by Berber culture and Islamic art, the on-site boutique sells a range of locally made crafts such as shoes, bags, wallets, textiles, and woodwork. Operating as a non-profit business in support of several social and cultural projects.

In 2019, to help reduce the queues that frequently surpassed an hour waiting time, La Jardin Majorelle launched an online e-ticketing service—allowing visitors to pre-book a timed entry. It’s possible to buy tickets for individual attractions or a combination ticket which covers The Yves Saint Laurent Museum just around the corner. www.jardinmajorelle.com email:info@jardinmajorelle.com phone: +212 24 29 86 86.

La Jardin Majorelle lays just off Ave Yacoub el Mansour on Rue Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh’s ville nouvelle. From the gare routière (bus station) head northwest up Ave Moulay Abdallah, turning right at the main intersection onto Ave Yacoub el Mansour. Follow the signs and take the first right for Rue Yves Saint Laurent.

Avoid the overpriced taxis out front by returning to the intersection instead, and hail a vehicle from there.