Moroccan Architecture

Horseshoe arches

Horseshoe arch, Medersa Ben YoussefProperly known as outrepassé arches, these are where the arch curves back inwards after its widest point, to give an effect like a horseshoe or keyhole. Its use is most commonly associated with Moorish Spain and North Africa.

Zellij tiling

One of the most striking features of Moroccan architecture is its use of multicoloured, small tiles laid in complex geometric patterns. This is known as the zellij technique, where tiles are created as large squares and then hand cut into smaller shapes. Conventional shapes and sizes are typically used, though there are as many as 360 different types of pieces.

Tadalekt plaster

This technique was initially associated only with bathhouses to counter the heat and moisture. Walls are treated with a plaster of powdered limestone, which, once set, is polished with flat stones, then painted with a glaze of egg whites and polished again with the local black soap, made from olives. The finished surface looks akin to soft leather.

Stucco plaster

A decorative element of Moroccan architecture, carved plaster can cover entire walls in fantastic curvilinear and geometric design. The work is executed by craftsmen while the plaster is still damp – the patterns are sketched onto the surface, then gouged out with hammer and chisel.

Carved woodwork

Although some of the same designs are used to decorate both plaster and wood, often wood is deployed as a frieze and carries inscriptions in Arabic, the language in which the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and therefore of a sacred character. The inscriptions are of a religious nature and invariably praise the glory of Allah. They are used both to decorate and impart information.

Square minarets

Exterior of Koubba El BadiyinThe square design of Moroccan minarets can be traced to the Umayyad rulers of Islamic Spain, who were of Syrian origin. Syrians are almost unique in the Middle East for their square minarets, probably influenced by the church towers built .


A distinctive feature of Islamic architecture is its focus on internal spaces as opposed to the exterior, where the façades are generally ordinary windowless walls. Courtyards serve as air-wells into which the cool night air sinks. They also allow women to venture outside while shielding them from the eyes of strange men.


Fountains and basins are required for ritual ablutions before prayers. Also, in an arid climate, the provision of drinking water is seen as a charitable act


The basic building material used in Morocco, pisé is wet earth mixed with straw and gravel pounded between two parallel boards and strengthened by lime. If not well made, the structure can melt in the rain – Southern Morocco is littered with semi-melted buildings.


The numerous pigeonholes peppering walls in the city are, in reality, remnants of wooden scaffolding used to erect walls.

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