Mederssa Ben Youssef, Marrakesh
The oldest Koranic School of Marrakech is dating back to the 14th century, but was almost totally rebuilt in 1565 by the Saadian Sultan Moulay Abdellah. It became the biggest and most beautiful ‘medersa’ of Morocco and Northern Africa. Ben Youssef Medersa is named after Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf. In 1950 the building was restored and reopened as a kind of museum in 1982.
The Ben Youssef Medersa has two faces. After entering the building through a more or less dark passageway, we reached the large central courtyard with the ablution pool. This is the really rich decorated part of this former koranic school with beautiful stuccowork, carved cedar wood, marble and (of course) zellij mosaics of tiles. The reflections of the massive bronze door and the decorated wall in the water were just stunning.
Opposite this entrance is a prayer room beautifully decorated with palm motifs and Islamic calligraphy.
The tiny ‘rooms’ of the students are in sharp contrast with these richly decorated parts of the Medersa. Most of these 130 cells are on the first floor and housed the 900 students, which means in these tiny and basic cells six people had to live and sleep; almost incredible. Most of these sleeping quarters are formed around seven smaller courtyards; some of them had windows and a couple even to the roads outside the building (a rarity in this kind of buildings). A couple of these student rooms do have some furniture and other (student) belongings. Don’t forget to take a look through one of the windows with a great view of the courtyard.
Ben Youssef Medersa is not too big, but we got a nice impression of this well-preserved religious school and the beautiful Moroccan (Saadian) architecture; one of the highlights of our Marrakech visit.
Opening hours: every day 9.00 am – 7.00pm. April – Sept. / 9.00 am – 6.00 pm Oct. – March.
Entrance fee (Dec. 2007): just for the Medersa 30 Dirhams, but there is a combined ticket for the Museum of Marrakech, Ben Youssef Medersa and Almovarid Koubba for just 60 Dirhams.
One of the most imposign sight in Marrakech, andpersonally my very favourite one, is the Medersa Ben Youssef, an Islamic school dates back to the 16th century (it was founded by the Sultan Abū al-Hasan) and which can be visited. It is the largest medersa in North Africa.
The medersa is two floors high and it is richly adorned. The courtyard and ground floor would be used mainly for praying, although 51 students had their rooms here, too. There was also a water room where they could perform their ablutions before their prayers. In total the medersa could host as many as 900 students.
Don't worry if you think that you have seen something similar before - many people have noticed similarities to the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
The Ali ben Youssef Medersa is a theoligical college founded in the 14th century by the Meronid Sultan Abu Hassan. The Saadians restored the medersa in 1564 and made it the largest theological college of the Maghreb.
After entering by a narrow and dark corridor you will reach the wonderful courtyard (picture 1). The stucco decoration (picture 1) of the walls is magnificient as you can see above the great portal to the prayerroom (picture 2). The walls and pillars have zellij tiles at their base (picture 3 & 4). At the upperside of the walls above the stuccowork is carved cedar wood (picture 5).
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!
Do not miss this - a rare opportunity for a non-muslim to get inside a madrassa and see how they work. A very interesting experience, though of course the students are long gone. A lovely, gracious example of Islamic architecture, but one also where the inward facing aspect of such architecture serves a special purpose. Religious life must have taken on a very special meaning with the outside world both shut out and largely invisible. There are parallels in Christianity (certain order of monks, for example) but nonetheless it is interesting to wander around this buidling and think about how ones mind might react to studying in such an environment, an environment in which God, learning and isolation from the secular was experienced and shared by everyone in the buidling. A thought provoking place.
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)
A shining example of Saadian architecture, the Medersa ben Youssef was built in the 16th century on the site of a previous medersa. Medersa means school in Arabic, a type of establishment which was originally created for Koranic studies in the middle east and quickly spread westwards evolving into schools for the arts and sciences as well as religious studies. The Medersa ben Youssef was built in the highly ornate arabo-andalusian style typical of the Saadian period, and unlike palaces of that time, it was not destroyed by the subsequent Alaouite dynasty. The main courtyard with the central pool is stunning. The upper floor has numerous tiny cells in which students studied.
Attached to the Medersa ben Youssef is its namesake mosque, which preceeded the medersa itself. It is the second largest mosque in Marrakech, and was originally built in the 12th century in honour of Sidi Ali ben Youssef, one of seven patron saints of the city. Successive restorations in the 16th and 19th centuries have left little of the original mosque to admire. However, the only remaining structure from the original mosque, Qubba Ba'adiyn, was discovered and unearthed only in 1948, and is located just outside the mosque.
It is a peaceful and meditative place with absolutely stunning stucco decoration. Upon entrance you can see the 10th century marble basin in the courtyard. The Medersa is the largest theological college in the Maghreb and was built in 1565. Upstairs have students' cells where a small window is open to the courtyard. Admission Dh20.
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.
A Medresa is a Koran school. This one is said to be the largest one in Maghreb and was estabilished in the heart of Marrakesh in the 14° century and has been almost completely rebuilt 200 years later.
Its more beautiful part is the courtyard, where you can see the influence of the Spanish Moorish Art: intricate forms and styles of decoration are all around: stuccos, marble, mosaic and nice woodworks.
On the second floor, a gallery leads to the student's rooms and at the end of the court there is the old prayer room.
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 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 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.
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.