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Tuesday, 4 August 2015 12:00 AM

Courtyard in Riad Fez, Fez

Moroccan Architecture

Morocco has a rich architectural history and one of the great pleasures of a holiday in Morocco is staying in or visiting an historical building.

Morocco has a huge range of such properties including riads & dars, kasbahs & ksars, agadirs and foudouks – these short articles are written to help understand the differences between these.

We end this mini series with the most common terms - riad and dar.

What is a Riad and a Dar?

As described in our Frequently Asked Questions riads and dars have the same form and function, but have one significant difference, which we note below.

The History of Riads and Dars

Riads (or ryads) and dars are traditional Moroccan family houses usually found in the medinas of the major towns and cities - such as Marrakech, Essaouira, Rabat, Meknes and Fez.

They were designed to provide privacy for the family, with the often richly decorated interior accessed through a single door from the street, and no windows on to the street at street level.

Their Typical Structure

Riads and dars are normally a few stories high and typically have a roof terrace. The garden (for a riad) or courtyard (for a dar) is normally in the center of the house but sometimes the house is U-shaped with the garden/courtyard on the fourth side.

They typically have two salons downstairs facing each other across the central open area, and a room without doors opening onto the courtyard for entertaining guests.

The salons are narrow and with very high ceilings, sometimes carved and painted, and were historically used as a living room, dining room and bedroom.  In older houses there would be no windows in the salons only two large doors with smaller doors within them – kept open in summer with a curtain for privacy.

There would normally be a second floor with more salons and several small rooms with low ceilings in-between the main floors for storage. In older houses there is a balcony overlooking the courtyard. Sometimes there would be a small room with a discreet window from which women could look when there were male strangers in the house. 

On the roof level is a terrace and sometimes another large pavilion for entertaining special guests. From the terrace there is often a panoramic view, but in older houses there would be high walls to provide privacy, since this was the domain only of women until very recently. The terrace was historically not a place to sit, but rather a place for women to dry grain and clothing or for the family to sleep on the hottest nights.

Their Recent Renovation for Tourists

A number of riads and dars have been renovated in recent years into boutique hotels, particularly in significant tourist cities – e.g. Marrakech, Fez, Essaouira and Rabat. These now offer visitors the chance to stay in authentic and often luxurious Moroccan accommodation hidden away behind unassuming front doors.

Typically they have 4 to 8 bedrooms but sometimes are interlinked with neighbouring properties to form larger maze-like accommodations, and many now offer a plunge pool and other facilities, e.g. hammam.

The Difference Between a Riad and a Dar

As noted above, there is one significant difference between the two buildings – riads have a garden (the Arabic word riad means garden), often with orange and lemon trees and sometimes with a fountain; whilst dars have a courtyard (rather than a garden) typically with a fountain in the center. 

Dars are also often a little larger than a riad but the two terms are often a little confused nowdays.

And Finally – What is a Dwira?

A dirwa is a diminutive version of a dar, often with only one salon downstairs and one upstairs and a small courtyard and usually no pillars. The term dwira is rarely used, but useful to include here for completeness.


With thanks to Jane Bayley, owner of La Maison Anglaise (in Taroudant) and expert on Moroccan culture and history.