APRIL 1, 2023

Mexico and Morocco: A Shared Architectural Heritage

Unveiling the historic connection between the two countries

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I just came back from a week in Mexico and had so many magical deja vu moments related to my recent trip to Morocco. Despite being located on opposite sides of the world, these two countries share some stunning similarities in their architectural design that can take your breath away. However, they also do have their own enchanting characteristics that make them stand out. I decided to do some research to better understand where these striking similarities would come from and I am so excited to have looked into this.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Tameslouht, Morocco

Rich Historic Influences

Spain invaded Mexico in 1519, when Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, led an expedition to the region. He arrived with a small army of Spanish soldiers, along with a number of indigenous allies who were unhappy with the rule of the Aztec empire, which dominated much of central Mexico at the time. Over the next few years, Cortés and his forces engaged in a series of battles with the Aztecs, ultimately succeeding in conquering their capital city of Tenochtitlán in 1521. The Spanish conquest of Mexico marked the beginning of Spanish colonial rule in the region, which lasted for over 300 years until Mexico gained its independence in 1821.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico | © Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

However, prior to that (and this is the magic link of why I had so many deja vu moments during my trip), there was a significant cultural and artistic exchange between Spain and Morocco throughout history, and both countries influenced each other.

The Moors, who were originally from North Africa, ruled over Spain for over 700 years, from 711 to 1492. During this period, they brought with them Islamic art and architecture, including ornate tilework, intricate geometric patterns, and decorative calligraphy. These artistic styles influenced Spanish art and architecture, particularly during the Islamic period of Spain.

Marrakech, Morocco

After the fall of the Moors in 1492, Spain continued to use Islamic art and architecture in their own designs, creating the unique style known as "Mudéjar," which blended Islamic and Christian styles.

The Alifajería Palace, Zaragoza, ‎Spain | © Turol Jones

In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, Spanish architects introduced new building techniques, such as arches and vaults, which were adopted by Moroccan architects. Morocco was ruled by the Saadian dynasty from 1554 to 1659, a period of time when the country was at the height of its power and influence. During this period, Moroccan architecture flourished, and many buildings were constructed using techniques and designs influenced from Spanish architecture such as the stucco work found in the Royal Palace in Fez.

 Royal Palace, Fez, Morocco | © David Sutherland

Overall, it is clear that there was a significant cultural exchange between Spain and Morocco in terms of art and architecture, and both countries influenced each other throughout history. This architectural style, referred to as ‘colonial style’ , was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, who introduced their traditions and blended them with the existing indigenous styles and this is why you can find strong similarities between Moroccan and Mexican architecture.

Quinta Real Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico | © The Culture Trip

Riyad Sakkan, Marrakech, Morocco

Vibrant Colors and Intricate Patterns

One of the main similarities I noticed between these two beautiful places is the use of vibrant colors and intricate patterns in all their design elements. Both in Mexico and Morocco, colors play a significant role in the design of buildings, taking you on a journey of fantasy and wonder.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

In Mexico, I lost myself in the mesmerizing colors of the traditional buildings in the old town of Puerto Vallarta and a similar aesthetic is even more present in towns like San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca, which are a true feast for the eyes.

Puerto Vallarta | Mexico

Similarly, in Morocco, the use of bold and vibrant colors can be seen in buildings like the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca or the streets of the Medina in Marrakech, where the exterior features intricate patterns in rich colors.

Medina in Marrakech, Morocco

Tameslouht, Marrakech, Morocco

Courtyards: A Secret Oasis in Mexican and Moroccan Homes

Another similarity I noticed is the significance of courtyards that seem like a secret oasis hidden away from the world. In both Mexican and Moroccan architecture, courtyards play an important role in the design of buildings, creating an intimate space. In Mexico, courtyards are often used for socializing and entertaining guests, and they are designed to transport you to another world while staying home. For example, in the town of San Miguel de Allende, many of the homes have central courtyards with fountains and lush greenery, which serve as a gathering place for family and friends.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico | © Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

In Morocco, courtyards are also a common feature in traditional homes, where they are used for privacy and to provide natural light and ventilation, giving you a sense of peacefulness and tranquility. Moroccan riads are generally designed with the courtyard as the focal point. For example in Riad Sakkan in Marrakech, where we traveled for our Spring campaign, the courtyard incorporates beautiful bold tile accents against a yellow palette.

Riyad Sakkan, Marrakech, Morocco

Arches: A Major Design Element in Mexican and Moroccan Architecture

Arches are another enchanting common feature in both styles. I have a special love for arches as it’s a major design element in my family home in Senegal. When directing our Spring shoot, I tried to incorporate arches as much as possible and while in Mexico, it was the very first design element I noticed and fell in love with. Arches are used in Mexican architecture to create a sense of depth and perspective, and they can be seen in doorways, windows, and other architectural elements.

Tameslouht, Marrakech, Morocco

Santo Domingo Convent, Oaxaca, Mexico | © Jon is Travelling

Casa Hoyos, Mexico | © The Not So Innocents Abroad

Riyad Sakkan, Marrakech, Morocco

Similarly, in Moroccan architecture, arches are used extensively in buildings like the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, which features a series of pointed arches and a prominent square minaret, that take you to a world of ancient tales and magic.

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech, Morocco | © arsheffield via Pinterest

I literally traveled all the way to Marrakech just to create beautiful content for our collection against the yellow arches at Jnane Tamsna, where we stayed. Below you can see my obsession with arches photography from Marrakech to Puerto Vallarta and everywhere in between.

Jnane Tamsna, Marrakech, Morocco

Velas Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The Intricate Beauty of Tiles

The use of tiles immediately piqued my curiosity to dive deeper into Mexican and Moroccan architecture. Tiles are used to create intricate patterns and designs on the exterior of buildings, taking you on a journey of beauty and art.

In Mexico, tiles are often used to create colorful patterns and designs, such as the Casa Batlló in Mexico City, which features vibrant tiles in shades of blue and green.

Casa Batlló, Mexico | © Casa Battló Official Website

In Morocco, tiles are also a common feature in buildings like the Dar el Bacha, which features intricate tile work in shades of blue and green, taking you to a world of Arabian nights.

Marrakech, Morocco

Significant Differences

Despite these similarities however, there are also some significant differences between Mexican and Moroccan architecture that make each style unique and captivating in its own way. One of the main differences is the influence of Islamic architecture on Moroccan design which features elements like arabesques, and calligraphy.

Marrakech, Morocco

In contrast, Mexican architecture has been shaped by a variety of cultural influences, including Spanish colonial architecture but also very rich indigenous design elements from the Aztec empire’s rich cultural heritage. Lately, there has also been a strong influence of modernist architecture found in Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Ultimately Mexican and Moroccan architecture are two mesmerizing styles that transport you to a world of whimsy and magic, taking you on a journey of beauty, art, and culture. Whether you’re exploring the colorful streets of San Miguel de Allende or wandering through the alleys of Marrakesh, each destination has its own unique features that make it worth exploring for conscious travelers who love design and art. I can’t wait to visit both countries over and over again and get more inspired by their rich artistic history.

Velas Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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