Posts Tagged ‘Yves Saint Laurent’

The Marrakesh Express, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015
The Marrakech Express Train

The Marrakech Express Train

Tourism is not a new phenomenon for Marrakesh. Morocco as a whole has long attracted explorers and adventurers, artists and their muses and those in search of the mystic and exotic. From 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys to 20th century author George Orwell; from Winston Churchill to Franklin D. Roosevelt; from Yves Saint-Laurent to the Rolling Stones. All have sought out the particular charms of Marrakesh and the city undoubtedly cast its special spell on them as it has on many millions of visitors since.

In the 1960s, Morocco’s accessibility – just a short ferry journey across the Straits of Gibraltar on a ferry in a psychedelic painted VW Beetle or Camper Van (and the accessibility of its notorious cannabis) put Morocco firmly on the hippie trail. Morocco then became the inspiration and bolthole of a number of icons of the era. Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards came here to escape media attention ahead of their infamous drugs trial and hang out with the likes of Paul and Talitha Getty. One of the most famous photographs of Patrick Litchfield’s career is of the Gettys on their Marrakesh terrace, taken in 1969. Their contemporary, Yves Saint-Laurent recalled that other era of excess, the Roaring 20s, when he said of the Gettys:

I knew the youthfulness of the Sixties (…) Talitha and Paul Getty lying on a starlit terrace in Marrakesh, beautiful and damned, and a whole generation assembled as if for eternity where curtain of the past seemed to lift before an extraordinary future.” 

1969 was undoubtedly the peak of this very special era. In the early morning of 18 August 1969, in a field in New York, Crosby, Stills and Nash played the first concert performance of Marrakesh Express at the Woodstock Festival. In the way that Woodstock defined an era and a cultural movement, the song defined an image of Marrakesh which persists today. Graham Nash was inspired to write the song by a train journey he took between Casablanca and Marrakesh in 1966. He claims that on finding his first class carriage “boring”, he went to explore second class, which he found fascinating and full of “ducks and pigs and chickens,” according to the lyrics. (Although pigs are unlikely in a Muslim country – poetic licence, perhaps?)

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I’ve been saving all my money just to take you there.

I smell the garden in your hair.

Take the train from Casablanca going south,

blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth.

Colored cottons hang in the air,

charming cobras in the square.

Striped djellebas we can wear at home.

Well, let me hear ya now.

The colored cottons are probably a reference to the kelims and carpets Nash observed hanging on buildings and shops as he approached the centre of Marrakesh, where, just as today (and for centuries previously), he found snake charmers in Place Jmaa el Fna. Djellabas, the typical hooded robes of Moroccans, are a practical garment and a popular souvenir. There are many archive photos of 60s icons dressed in this costume.

Ruined Sultan Palace Diabat

Ruined Sultan Palace Diabat

Incidentally, it was also in 1969 that Jimi Hendrix, another icon of the period, visited the boho-chic coastal resort of Essaouira. Much is made of this connection in the town and it is said that the ruined Sultan’s Palace in the nearby village of Diabat inspired his hit, Castles in the Sand. A brief fact-check reveals that the song was released two years previously, but facts never stand in the way of a good Moroccan legend!

It is still possible to take the Marrakesh Express train, although ducks, pigs and chickens are a rare sight nowadays. You might begin your journey – as thousands of hippies did – at Tangiers following your ferry crossing from Spain. You can even start your train adventure further back in former Al Andalus – in Seville or Granada. Or, like Graham Nash your journey may begin in Casablanca, the location of Morocco’s largest international airport. Your journey will pass through arid plains, past low hills and through villages and towns. Typically, Moroccan passengers are friendly and generous. Moroccan trains are comfortable, although not luxurious. As a slow-paced introduction to the landscape and culture of Morocco, the modern day Marrakesh Express takes some beating!

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about the Marrakech Express or a Marrakech Tour

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Abderrazzak Benchaabane Ethnobotanist & Marrakech Garden Designer, Your Morocco Travel Guide

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Abderrazal Benchaabane, Ethnobotanist & Garden Designer

Jeanette Lowdon gets up close with Abderrazzak Benchaabane, an Ethnobotanist & Morocco’s leading Garden Designer.  On a chilly Saturday morning in winter Lowdon had the fortuitous opportunity to  interview Abderrazzak Benchaabane at his private estate in the Palmeraie of Marrakech. The setting was Abderrazzak’s expansive gardens and contemporary museum located on one-hectare within the luxurious Marrakech palmerie.

Abderrazzak Benchaabane is a Marrakech legend. Quiet and soft spoken, this renowned Garden Designer, Ethnobotanist, Perfumer, Teacher, Photographer, Writer, Garden Restorer and Publisher has created a landmark place for himself within the world of the “red hamra” city. An academic who gained his doctorate in botanical ecology from Semlalia Faculty of Sciences at Marrakech’s Cadi Ayyad University, Benchaabane is currently a Botany and Ecology professor at the University of Marrakech.

Jardins Du Maroc Magazine

Founder of the Jardins du Maroc Magazine (Gardens of Morocco) and the Festival Jardin’Art (Garden Art Festival) in Marrakech, Abderrazzak Benchaabane continues to have big dreams for his beloved Morocco. Both of which were created to give public awareness to the importance of the garden in life and for the education to the protection of their environment. His passion of giving back to Morocco and to teach the youth to respect and understand their land can be seen in his tireless efforts to create projects that educate and share his dream. “My passion is a spiritual project, not a business project,” claims Benchaabane.

Abderrazak''s Intimate Maroc

A gifted photographer, Benchaabane left the big city behind and traveled the Sahara along with other desert regions of the world to capture the intense emotions born out of the silence only the desert can evoke. Since 1981 Abderrazzak Benchaabane’s photographs have been featured in many expositions and galleries throughout Morocco and Europe. His photographs have been recently published in a book called “Intimate Morocco” and are on permanent display at the museum. Through his black and white photographs, Benchaabane shares his inside view of his country, Morocco, through his eyes. Each image echoes his roots of Morocco, evoking emotion-induced feelings of the love he has with his country.

Abderrazzak Benchaabane was approached in 1998 by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berger, the owners of the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech, to survey the planting and to provide the Latin names of its plants. After cataloging 120 varieties of plants and careful inspection of the grounds Benchaabane then made a complete restoration of the gardens including a new system for irrigation and to honor its creator, Jacques Majorelle, Benchaabane added new varieties from Majorelle’s chosen plant families raising the total varieties grown in the garden to 325. 10 years later the restoration was complete giving new life to the gardens. Benchaabane now acts as director of the charitable trust set up to protect the Majorelle Gardens.

Abderrazak Benchaabane, Creator of Perfume

Later in 2001 Yves St. Laurent requested  Benchaabane to develop a perfume that represented the Majorelle Garden. As Benchaabane  describes it, he went from “The Kingdom of Silence to the Kingdom of Fragrances.” As a child he watched his mother teach his sisters the art of collecting, drying and preserving medicinal plants for traditional healing.  His mother sometimes would say “the plants protect the body and move away the bad spirits.”

The plants his mother collected were being gathered in the ceremonial way accompanied by traditional singing, then dried and placed in glass bottles. Some were preserved in their powder form and others preserved in honey or olive oil.  His mothers inspirations led him to write a book on Moroccan medicinal and aromatic plants of the High Atlas Mountains.

The plant world his mother created intrigued him just as much as the souks in Marrakech. At the time the master herbalists and healers of traditional and medicinal medicine were in the Marrakech Medina. There one could find exotic spices, incense and resins from exotic countries and far off lands. Benchaabane’s mentor in Botany taught him the role of the nose in the identification of plants, explaining that each plant has its own perfume.

In the majority of Moroccan gardens roses and oranges are grown and in every home a mixture of exotic spices that are brought from Mecca. Sandalwood, amber and musk are used as an incense in Mosques and for special occasions such as festivals, marriages and childbirth. From here, the journey began to create “Jardin Majorelle” fragrance.

Abderrazak Benchaabane, Creator of Soir De Marrakech

Benchaabane credits his knowledge and acumen for creating fragrances to Yves St. Laurent, Pierre Berger and Gilles Toledano.  Later in 2001 seeing the success of Jardin Majorelle fragrance Yves St. Laurent encouraged Benchaabane to create his own perfume collection. His first fragrance in the collection called Soir de Marrakech is a blend of amber, musk, vanilla, patchouli, jasmine, orange and lemon flowers. Soir de Marrakech is the ultimate expression of life in Marrakech, says Benchaabane. His fragrance collection to date has now grown to 10. He describes the process as “ Pure joy in creating my perfumes, sharing my dreams, emotions and love in a bottle.  Just another facet of sharing the art of life here in Morocco!”

Once the restoration of Majorelle Gardens was completed Benchaabane decided to form the magazine Jardins Du Maroc to share his passions for the gardens of Morocco and around the world. The first issue published in 2005 was an immediate success. The magazine’s primary objective is to introduce readers to the talents of Moroccan gardeners, landscapers, architects and to portray garden lovers, garden designers and artists. As the director and editor, the majority of the magazine contains contributions by him with features on both Moroccan gardens and gardens from around the world.

Festival Jardin'Art

Benchaabane wanted to offer something to Moroccans who cannot afford to purchase the magazine or who read French therefore in 2007 he created the Jardin’Art festival in Marrakech (Garden of Art Festival). Jardin’Art festival is held each spring in Marrakech under the patronage of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. The Jardin’Art attracts an increasing number of visitors and participants each year. Jardin’Art aims to bring together artists,landscapers,landscape architects,garden designers and growers along with booths dedicated to environmental education and Eco-tourism. There are also temporary gardens built by the children from local schools which encourages them to represent in their designs the sort of environments that surround them. By educating the younger generations, Benchaabane hopes to accomplish his mission to link the preservation of nature and the planet.

Musee de l’Art Marrakech

Recently opened is the Musee de l’Art (Museum of Art of Living) in Marrakech. The museum was created to fill a gap in cultural activities and offer new ongoing exhibitions for Moroccans as well as tourists. The goal is to continue to use the museum space to create cultural programs for the residents in the Medina and visitors to balance out the cultural divide that the Medina of Marrakech currently faces. Benchaabane feels by offering the youth a place for concerts, meetings with writers, seminars on art and poets it will help open the gap for new talent among young Marrakechi’s.

Benchaabane’s newest project combines art with nature at his Musee de la Palmeraie (Museum of the Palm). Since its opening in May 2011 the museum has attracted more than 3000 visitors worldwide. Located on a 150 year old restored French farm on one hectare outside the city of Marrakech is a museum and several majestic gardens. Musee de la Palmeraie is clearly dedicated to nature and art with its one-hundred year old mature palms, an Andalusian garden, a cactus garden, aquatic garden, perfumed rose garden, potager garden and sixty year old olive and orange orchards all dotted with local artisans sculptures and garden art.

Abderrazak Benchaabane, Palmeraie Gardens Marrakech

For the Andalusian Garden he took the natural divide in the orchards and created a water feature. He says “the water is like a mirror, reflecting the lite to the museum”. An Andalusian and Saharan shaded seating area are set amongst the rose gardens, orchards, and Mediterranean aquatic garden with its Koi fish. The Andalusian area with its tiled steps and the Sahara area with its earthen piste wall calls one to come, rest and contemplate the serenity of this magical place.

The cactus garden was planted 10 years ago with 40 kinds of cactus from Morocco, South Africa, USA, South America and Mexico.  All the locally grown cactus came from his mentor, a German engineer of Agriculture here in Morocco.

Within the converted stables and piste buildings on the property Benchaabane houses his private collection “unknown” Moroccan artists from the 1970’s, a workshop area for children, a private collection of his own photographs, paintings, photographs, calligraphy and sculptures along with the permanent collection of contemporary art from more than 50 Moroccan artists. One special photograph worth seeing is Le Maroc en Noir et Blanc taken in 1981 in Essaouira.

In the museum boutique the money raised from the sales of books, some of them authored by him go to the childrens workshops that are held regularly at the museum for the nearby village children. The workshops are taught by artists and are free to the children. Benchaabane felt it was a way for the children to learn a craft near their home as some may not have the means to go the city for lessons.

A project due to open in the near future is Benchaabane’s Ourika Valley Ecology farm. He has completed the 30,000 palm planting plan. His dream is to plant and create a space for children to learn about an ecology farm. “Too many children are growing up in cities and don’t know a farm. The 3 hectare farm will be a living museum with a kitchen garden and saffron garden. On the farm there is an old house and an an old traditional argan oil press”.

Asked what is the future for plant growers in Morocco: Benchaabane replied ” The growers and designers are organizing themselves to introduce new varieties that have adapted to the climate changes using new technologies “. Fifteen years ago Benchaabane was the first one to introduce the dry garden to Morocco. Now he is teaching the growers what works best in a dry climate for garden design.

When asked what is the future is of Moroccan gardens he replied, “It is highly related to the implication of the state and the people. The state are the owners of the gardens and the mayors and municipalities need to do two things to preserve gardens “to organize and take care of the gardens of Morocco” and “to educate the people on the value of plants – especially the new generation.”

For more information about Abderrazzak Benchaabane & The Majorelle Gardens 

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration

Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel. We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration in the USA at 1 (800) 787-8806 or in Morocco 1 (212)618-88-26-81 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition at Majorelle Gardens In Marrakech, Your Morocco Travel Guide

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Postcard

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Postcard

Forty-four fashion creations that demonstrate Yves Saint Laurent’s love of Morocco are currently being showcased at the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech from November 27th, 2010 – March 18th, 2011. This exhibition at the Majorelle Gardens brings to life haute couture designs inspired by the country he loved.

Princess Lalla Salma attended the inauguration ceremony of the ‘Yves Saint Laurent and Morocco’ exhibition that was organized under the patronage of King Mohammed VI. The Princess visited the different shelves and areas of this state of the art exhibition that is sumptuously accessorized and accompanied by a series of pictures documents and sketches.

Princess Lalla Salma at Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Majorelle Gardens

Princess Lalla Salma at Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Majorelle Gardens

The Yves Saint Laurent exhibition presents a very-well designed interior of a Moroccan house. It includes reinterpretations by Saint Laurent of caftans (traditional clothes for women), Capes, Sarouels with Moroccan embroideries (traditional trousers for men) and soft furnishings.

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Space

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Space

Cloaks, embroideries, Turkish trousers, head coverings and flowing Moroccan style gowns; the creations on show make explicit reference to the Moroccan clothing tradition that inspired Yves Saint-Laurent. Their colors also evoke those admired by the artist in Marrakech: the orange of saffron, the blue of the Majorelle Gardens, and the violet of the bougainvillea. “This city led me to color,” Saint- Laurent often said.

The exhibition’s curator, the designer’s partner and collaborator Pierre Bergé, views this exhibition as a “tribute from Yves Saint Laurent to the inhabitants of Morocco, to the sky of Marrakech and its light.” The couple bought three houses there, including the one in Majorelle that now houses the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint-Laurent Foundation.

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Room, Christophe Martin Stage Designer

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Room, Christophe Martin Stage Designer

A dark, starlit room within the exhibition space that showcases Yves Saint Laurent’s pieces has a mirrored ceiling from top to bottom and creates an ambiance of luster. Christophe Martin the stage designer takes the visitor outside the house into nature in this room called “Color.” Another area dubbed “Ideal Africa” houses timeless items made of surprising substances mainly wooden beads mica and raffia.

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Entrance

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Entrance

Every footstep throughout the exhibition space, beginning with the entrance, makes one forget time and space encouraging the opportunity to get lost into a dreamland of wonder and color. While the exhibition does lack  a detailed descriptive time line next to each piece and a detailed overview of Saint Laurent’s life and history in Morocco, none the less the inspiration of his work shines through.  Some may equivocate this showing as an art- fashion installation rather then an actual exhibition as a result of its intense usage of free form set design, color and space that is of perfect elegance and scale.

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Book

Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Book

A book of the exhibition, “Yves Saint Laurent, Une Passion Marocaine” with a symbolic snake bracing the cover, created  by the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent foundation is available for sale and its contents are as beautifully created as is his designer clothing.

Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech

Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech

Yves Saint Laurent’s passion for Morocco dates back to his arrival in Marrakech in 1966. From that day onwards he considered Morocco his second home.  It was Morocco where he first came across the magic of color and he reclaimed “when I discovered Marrakech, it was an extraordinary shock. The city taught me color.” In 1980 Saint-Laurent purchased The Majorelle Garden that was threatened with destruction and together they restored and saved it from ruin.

Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech

Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech

The Majorelle Garden, previously the Jardin Bou Saf, bears its name from its original creator, Jacques Majorelle, the French expatriate artist who was born in Nancy France in 1886. Jacques Majorelle was the son of the celebrated Art Nouveau furniture designer Louis Majorelle. In 1947 he opened his gardens to the public and during this time also painted a magnificent ceiling space at La Mamounia, a five-star hotel with gardens and the place where Alfred Hitchcock wrote, “The Birds.”

Jacques Majorelle studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nancy in 1901 and later in 1919 he went to Marrakech, Morocco to recover from heart problems. He built the garden during those years using special color of blue which he used extensively in the garden that is named after him, Majorelle Blue. Jacques Majorelle returned to France in 1962 after a car incident and died later that year of complications from his injuries. As a collector of unique plants from five continents Jacque Majorelle left to Saint Laurent one of the more unique collections of flore and fauna of this era as well as a place of inspiration and contemplation. Even though Morocco is no longer under the French protectorate, this originally French creation is one of the most beloved areas in Morocco.

The power of the blue Majorelle is long lived and permeates the essence of what it means to live and see color in Marrakech.

For More Information about Marrakech Tours or the Majorelle Gardens

For more information about Travel and Tours to Morocco plus highlights on Moroccan culture visit Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara DesertBerber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration

Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel. We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or 1 (917)703-2078 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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