The beauty of Moroccan palaces is made up of details of ornament and refinements of sensuous delight too numerous to record, but to get an idea of their general character it is worth while to cross the Court of Cypresses at the Bahia and follow a series of low-studded passages that turn on themselves till they reach the centre of the labyrinth. Here, passing by a low padlocked door leading to a crypt, and known as the “Door of the Vizier’s Treasure-House,” one comes on a painted portal that opens into a still more secret sanctuary: The apartment of the Grand Vizier’s Favourite.
[Illustration: From a photograph by Felix, Marrakech
Marrakech—the great court, Palace of the Bahia]
This lovely prison, from which all sight and sound of the outer world are excluded, is built about an atrium paved with disks of turquoise and black and white. Water trickles from a central vasca of alabaster into an hexagonal mosaic channel in the pavement. The walls, which are at least twenty-five feet high, are roofed with painted beams resting on panels of traceried stucco in which is set a clerestory of jewelled glass. On each side of the atrium are long recessed rooms closed by vermilion doors painted with gold arabesques and vases of spring flowers, and into these shadowy inner rooms, spread with rugs and divans and soft pillows, no light comes except when their doors are opened into the atrium. In this fabulous place it was my good luck to be lodged while I was at Marrakech.
In a climate where, after the winter snow has melted from the Atlas, every breath of air for long months is a flame of fire, these enclosed rooms in the middle of the palaces are the only places of refuge from the heat. Even in October the temperature of the favourite’s apartment was deliciously reviving after a morning in the bazaars or the dusty streets, and I never came back to its wet tiles and perpetual twilight without the sense of plunging into a deep sea-pool.
From far off, through circuitous corridors, came the scent of citron-blossom and jasmine, with sometimes a bird’s song before dawn, sometimes a flute’s wail at sunset, and always the call of the muezzin in the night, but no sunlight reached the apartment except in remote rays through the clerestory, and no air except through one or two broken panes.
Sometimes, lying on my divan, and looking out through the vermilion doors, I used to surprise a pair of swallows dropping down from their nest in the cedar-beams to preen themselves on the fountain’s edge or in the channels of the pavement, for the roof was full of birds who came and went through the broken panes of the clerestory. Usually they were my only visitors, but one morning just at daylight I was waked by a soft tramp of bare feet, and saw, silhouetted against the cream-coloured walls, a procession of eight tall negroes in linen tunics, who filed noiselessly across the atrium like a moving frieze of bronze. In that fantastic setting, and the hush of that twilight hour, the vision was so like the picture of a “Seraglio Tragedy,” some fragment of a Delacroix or Decamps floating up into the drowsy brain, that I almost fancied I had seen the ghosts of Ba-Ahmed’s executioners revisiting with dagger and bowstring the scene of an unavenged crime.