Nestled within the charming Mouassine neighborhood, deep in the heart of the historic medina of Marrakech, Morocco, lies a treasure trove of cultural richness and historical significance – the Mouassine Museum. This eloquent museum, known as “Musée de Mouassine” in French and “متحف المواسين” in Arabic, occupies a meticulously restored 16th to 17th-century house, complete with an upper-floor apartment known as a douiria (or dwiriya). This historical jewel has recently transformed into a Museum of Music, featuring an intriguing blend of permanent and temporary exhibits.
A Journey through Time: Unveiling the History
The museum’s captivating history is intertwined with the intricate tapestry of the Mouassine district itself. During the Saadian period, this area underwent significant development in the 16th and early 17th centuries. A pivotal event occurred when Sultan Moulay Abdallah al-Ghalib ordered the Jewish community, which had previously inhabited the district, to relocate to a new Mellah district adjacent to the Kasbah of the city. This strategic move freed up land that was redeveloped into innovative “model” neighborhoods centered around the newly constructed Mouassine Mosque and the adjacent Bab Doukkala Mosque complex.
This urban transformation attracted numerous bourgeois and aristocratic families to establish residences in this district. As a result, the Mouassine neighborhood became a concentration of structures dating back to the Saadian period. Some of these Saadian-era houses, such as Dar Cherifa (formerly Dar Ijimi), Dar al-Mas’udiyyin, and Dar al-Masluhiyyin (also known as Ksour Agafay), have been creatively repurposed into cafés, restaurants, and hotels.
The building now houses the Mouassine Museum and stands proudly next to the southeastern corner of the Mouassine Mosque, along Derb el Hammam Street, named after the mosque’s bathhouse. It comprises a residential home with a douiria, a small upper-floor apartment for guests. This historic structure was constructed in the 1560s by an aristocratic Sharifian family during the heyday of Saadian development. While most of the stucco decoration in the house bears the imprint of the Saadian era, some of the painted sun motifs hint at alterations made during the reign of the Alaouite sultan Moulay Isma’il in the late 17th or early 18th century.
In recent times, the house was occupied by the local Mellakh family, including the renowned painter Abdelhay Mellakh, from at least 1954. However 2012, Patrick Manac’h and Hamid Mergani, co-founders of another esteemed museum in the city, the Maison de la Photographie, acquired the house. With the suspicion that the original walls might be concealed beneath layers of plaster, Patrick Manac’h enlisted the expertise of Xavier Salmon, a curator at the Louvre Museum. Tests revealed the original pinkish gypsum-based stucco of the douiria beneath the modern plaster. This discovery ignited a meticulous restoration project, enlisting the skills of talented artisans who carefully removed the contemporary application to reveal the authentic decoration.
In a rare and remarkable twist of fate, some original colors were preserved – an extraordinary occurrence for Saadian-era buildings. The historic house finally opened its doors to the public as a museum and cultural venue in 2014. In 2019, it embraced a new identity as a museum of Moroccan music, hosting regular musical performances and further enriching its cultural significance.
Architectural Marvels: Exploring the Douiria
The douiria, or upper-floor apartment, holds a prominent place within the museum. It’s accessible via a short staircase leading to a square salon adorned with a remarkable wooden ceiling featuring a central skylight. On two sides of the salon, you’ll find spacious alcoves that may have served as seating areas, each protected by its unique wooden canopy. The remaining sides of the salon open into side rooms, possibly used as bedrooms or secondary salons.
The central room, in particular, stands as a testament to the rich Moroccan craftsmanship. Its decoration includes intricately carved stucco adorned with geometric patterns, Kufic letter motifs, and sculpted and painted wooden ceilings. The side rooms are equally impressive, boasting their own painted ceilings adorned with motifs from the time of Sultan Moulay Ismail during the late 17th to early 18th century.
As we delve into the depths of the Mouassine Museum, we explore its captivating history and become captivated by its architectural beauty, making it a true cultural gem of Marrakech, perfect for those seeking a glimpse into Moroccan heritage.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Mouassine Museum
What is the Mouassine Museum, and where is it located?
The Mouassine Museum, also known as “Musée de Mouassine,” is a cultural gem in the historic medina of Marrakech, Morocco. It is housed in a beautifully restored 16th to 17th-century house within the Mouassine neighborhood.
Is the Mouassine Museum open to the public?
Yes, the Mouassine Museum is open to the public, offering a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Marrakech. It also hosts regular musical performances, making it a dynamic cultural venue.
How can I find the Mouassine Museum in Marrakech?
The museum is next to the Mouassine Mosque’s southeastern corner, along Derb el Hammam Street. You can use the provided coordinates (31°37’45.5″N 7°58’19.8″W) for reference or consult local maps and directions for precise location details.
What is the significance of the name “Mouassine”?
The term “Mouassine” refers to both the museum and the neighborhood where it is located. This district experienced substantial development during the Saadian period and is known for its historical and architectural significance.
What can visitors expect to see in the Mouassine Museum?
Visitors to the Mouassine Museum can explore a rich collection of permanent and temporary exhibits. The museum focuses on Moroccan music and culture, creating a vibrant hub of artistic expression and historical preservation.
What is the historical background of the Mouassine district?
During the Saadian period, in the 16th and early 17th centuries, the Mouassine district saw significant development. Notably, Sultan Moulay Abdallah al-Ghalib ordered the relocation of the Jewish community from this area, leading to a transformation that attracted aristocratic families to build their residences here.
How was the museum house restored, and what makes it unique?
The house that now hosts the Mouassine Museum underwent meticulous restoration. The project involved removing modern plaster to reveal the original pinkish gypsum-based stucco of the douiria. This restoration preserved even the authentic colors, a rarity for Saadian-era buildings.
What can you tell us about the architectural features of the douiria?
The douiria, or upper-floor apartment, is a central attraction within the museum. It features a square salon with a wooden ceiling, alcoves with wooden canopies, and side rooms with painted ceilings. The main room is captivating, adorned with carved stucco and Kufic letter motifs.
Are there any additional resources or books about the Mouassine Museum and its history?
For those interested in delving deeper into the history and beauty of the Mouassine Museum, there are books available, such as “La belle oubliée de Marrakech: une marina à Mouassine” and “Marrakech: Splendeurs saadiennes: 1550-1650” by Xavier Salmon.
Can I explore the architectural layout of the Mouassine Museum online?
While we’ve provided a textual overview of the museum’s architecture, it’s recommended to visit the official website of the Mouassine Museum or experience it in person for a comprehensive understanding of its architectural beauty.