Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakesh
This Medersa is the largest theological college in the Maghreb (the West - area covered by Morocco, Tunisia , Algeria and Libya-lit. where the sun sets!)
Built in 1565, then rebuilt in the 16th and 19th centurys with restoration work completed in the 1960's.
This Medersa is unique - in being the largest, and having a different layout.
The students cells (about 130) are clustered around 7 courtyards, with some looking onto the outside streets, which is unusual in Moroccan/Andalucian architecture.
Walking down a corridor (after paying) you turn right into a courtyard, (turn round to admire the ornate carved and painted door) with a large pool. I was mesmorised by the stunning reflection of the door in the pool!
Some stunning stucco decorative panels, tiled zellij bases and ceder wood carvings to admire.
Climb the stairs for views of the students cells. (There are a couple of mock ups of a city and rural students rooms)
Peep through the windows for a 'secret' view onto the streets below. ( Some offer a view onto 'local life' that you may not be able to photograph normally!) or views onto the courtyard below.
If viewing the Medersa, The Marrakesh Museum and Koubba Ba'adiyn (all within a very short walk) there is a discount ticket for 50dh (25dh for children/senior citizens) Otherwise it is 30 dh (15dh ) for this 1 site.
open 0900 - 1900 April - Sept
0900 - 1800 Oct - March
Founded in the 14th century, the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa used to be home to a Quranic school, and was once the largest centre for Quranic learning in North Africa. The school was renovated in the 19th century and eventually closed to students in 1962.
Take a walk through the school and amaze over the intricacy of the design - the lattice screen balconies, the carved cupolas, and that stunning courtyard! The peaceful central courtyard has as a tile-lined pond in the middle, and arcaded cloisters at the sides which are covered with colourful tiles.
Upstairs you can see the dorm rooms where the students used to live. They would spend their days here studying religious and legal texts. There were approx. 130 dorm rooms, and at some stages around the 16th century they housed up to 900 students - hard to imagine when you see the size of the rooms!
It is well worth a visit - even if you only have 20 minutes to spare. The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa is located next door to the Ali Ben Youssef Mosque and right near the Musee de Marrakech, at the northern end of the souqs.
Open from 9am-6pm daily, closed on religious holidays. Entrance was 20 dirham when we visited in Jan 2007.
I was so impressed to see this place!
and so umimpressed that i had been to Marrakech frequently for 3 or 4 years and never got to see this until off on my own bat in March this year!!, and also that ive gone charging around Andalucian Spain to see historical Moorish architecture and design and here is this lovely Medersa!!
I had previously tried to see the famed Bou Inania and El Attarine Medersas in Fes and the one in Sale and all had been closed for renovations - but getting to see the Ben Yousseff was so worthwhile. Luckily this medersa was much restored in the 1960s (in time for my visit!?)
This medersa (Koranic school) is one of the finest and largest in North Africa with a capacity for up to 900 students(?in those tiny little rooms!?)and was founded by a Merenid Sultan in the mid 14th century and then rebuilt by the Saadian sultan Moulay Abdullah in 1565 apparently to express his desire to restore to Marrakech the prestige of an imperial capital and also to affirm his devotion to Allah
Its name is taken from the Almoravid mosque of Ali ben Youssef to which it once was attached but architecturally, with its sumptuous decoration, it is still regarded on a par with the other Merenid medersas.
The main entrance door of bronze with a carved cedar lintel opens onto a mosaic paved corridor which leads to the courtyard paved with white marble and ablutions pool. The walls are decorated with zellij tilework and carved plaster (stucco).
The students cells on the ground and upper floors open onto the courtyard and those that are shielded are arranged around 7 smaller interior courtyards.
An ornate doorway leads through to the prayer hall with columns with calligraphy praising
Moulay Abdullah and crowned with a cedar dome. The mihrab is decorated with verses from the koran.
A combo ticket is available for 60 dhm but must be visited in the order of the lovely Musee du Marrakech first, then the Medersa and lastly the Koubba, both only a few mins walk away!
I was quite impressed with the courtyard and pool, despite my visit co inciding with the arrival of a tour group, I only had a short wait, while they dispersed to view the inner rooms.
The courtyard was quite peaceful, and there were a few chairs to sit and admire the architecture of the medersa, under the warm winter sun. (I should imagine it's very hot here in summer though)
This photo is taken facing the mosque (masjid).
The intricate decoration is typical of the Merenid period style (This Moroccan dynasty ruled during the 13th and 14th century, and constructed many mederssas throughout Morocco)
The zellij (decorative tilework) base is a typical design, fragments of ceramic tiles usually of blue, green and yellow laid on a white background with black tiles forming an interlinked pattern ( I saw similar patterns in the Bahia Palace and Saadian tombs)
Above the zellij are panels of intricate lace like stucco work, with extracts from the Koran.
The artwork follows geometric patterns, often repeated and intertwined- this is typical of Islamic Art, as depiction of living things is considered to be an insult to God, artists have perfected these decorative abstract and geometric patterns.
Above the stucco panels are carved cedar wood panels , again showing symetrical repeated designs.
You will see postcards around Marrakech of the series of Moorish arches spanning a narrow street. They mark the entrance to Medersa Ali ben Youssef. It lies at the very northern edge of the souq area, next door to the Ali ben Youssef Mosque.
The Medersa was once a great college of theology and religious law. Our Moroccan guide told us that it was part of the oldest university in the world, dating from the 9th century. You can believe this if you want! The present building was constructed in 1565, and Marrakech was apparently founded in 1062. Islam had spread across the whole of North Africa by the 7th century, so maybe the guide was right.
Medersa Ali ben Youssef surrounds a grand courtyard. Very tranquil, very cool, with a shallow stone pool. The lower walls are decorated with mosaic, showing the many different stars of the Islamic religion. The upper walls are covered with intricate stucco work. The roof is made of carved cedar wood.
The upper floors that look out over the courtyard are filled with dozens of tiny cells, to house the students. You can go into almost all of them. A few are furnished.
There is a small shop selling postcards and souvenirs. The entrance fee is very cheap, I can't remember exactly how much - we visited as part of a wider tour of the old city!
This was the largest theological college in the entire Mahgreb, hosting up to a thousand students at a time. Built by the Saadians in the 16th century, it's pretty much intact although it did undergo some 1960's renovations. Thankfully, Moroccan 60's designers didn't have the same ideas as those in Britain so there's no grey concrete in sight!
There's a beautiful huge courtyard in the centre, complete with tiled pool and Qu'ranic verses intricately carved into the walls and pillars. The student 'cells' have their own mini-courtyards surrounding the main centre and you're free to wander around. If you've read my other tips you'll know that I find these old buildings extraordinarily beautiful and relaxing - and this is one of the best.
Ali ben Youssef was a 12th century Almoravid sultan and he obviously made a big impression as there's also a mosque named after him.
This is the oldest mosque in Marrakech and, like most of the others, non-believers aren't allowed in. But it's still worth a look, especially as it's right next to the museum and the medersa. It was built in the 12th century, although I think it's been 'updated' a few times since.
This merdessa (coran school) is not one of the most beautifuls and wonderfuls, but also the bigest merdessa of the magreb, with capacity for more than 900 students. It have a great pation at the center with a fountain where the students used to studie. Upstairs you have the students rooms.
The students rooms of Merdessa Ben Youssef are so simple but so beautiful ... there are few types. The ones that have a window to the patio, that where soupouse to be for the more rich students, the others with no windows and otheres with windows to the street. They used to be for two students each, and use to have doors with wooden little windows ... so beautiful ...
Built in the 16th century, this complex housed a school/university and contains classrooms, galleries, and dormitory rooms set around its courtyards. Much of the architecture here reminded me of the Alhambra in Spain, which was constructed around the same time. The carving around doorways, columns, and upper walls is spectacular.
This place was one of the better monuments to see in Marrakech. You can buy a ticket to three monuments (the Marrakech Museum, Ben Youssef Medersa and an archealogical site- all next to each other) for 60 dirhams, but a single ticket to the Medersa alone is 50 dirhams. This is the old school for teaching the Quran. The building is amazingly beautiful and you are allowed to walk about freely in the entire place including old student rooms. I would recommend this site to anyone. You can take some great pics.
You can wander around most of the students cells, most are quite bare, without windows, some have a raised platform for extra sleeping space, some offer views through iron grilles onto the outside world!
There are about 130 rooms, and apparently about 900 students were crammed into these small cells! It was the largest Koranic university in North Africa.
On the second storey are a couple of mock ups of a students room (presumably these are for the senior students- not much room even with the limited items they were allowed to bring with them.
This room shows the items that a rural student would use for studying and in looking after himself.
These items included, a writing desk, pens, candlestick, oil lamp, a tagine, cooking pans and bowls, tea containers, equipment for tea making, pots for dried fruits, a water vessel, a prayer rug, and a rug for sleeping on.
You can't actually enter this room, but you can view from the doorway.
Luckily there weren't too many visitors at the time I visited, but I should imagine when busy, you might not get such an uninterrupted viewing.
When we visited the medersas in Fes and Meknes we were the only visitors, which allowed us to appreciate the quietness of these schools of learning. The Ali ben Youssef medersa in Marrakech is, in contrast, very much on the tourist trail and it was a little disappointing in that respect. Despite the crowds, it was well worth visiting. One of the reasons for the large number of visitors is that this medersa is among the largest n North Africa. Also, it is slightly different in design to other medersas in Morocco, with some rooms facing on to numerous smaller courtyard rather than on to the main courtyard.
The master craftsmen who designed these intricate artworks apparently liked to ensure that every area of the panels was covered, with not an inch being left unadorned!
I'd assumed that the panels were carved, but I was told later, (I think when I was visiting the Bahia Palace, where there are similar designs) that the 'plaster' was poured into moulds, then these moulded panels were attached to the walls. I guess that is why the panels are symetrical and so often repeated, but should imagine it was still a very time consuming job!
Tihs medersa or religious school was founded in the fourteenth century. At one time it housed more than 800 students. You can visit their rooms, even their bathroom, and see examples of how they were typically furnished. Admission 40dh (60dh for Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakesh Museum and Almoravid Koubba)