Mederssa Ben Youssef, Marrakesh
Dating back from the 12th century Almoravides period, this ornate cupola was only discovered and unearthed in 1948. It was part of the original Ben Youssef Mosque and was used for washing (ablution) before praying in the mosque. The architectural details of the inside of the cupola are extraordinary. Its carved multi-lobed arches are reminiscent of the domes in la Mezquita in Córdoba.
Although the room is identical to that of the rural student (see previous tip) The Urban students possesions reflect their relative prosperity.
The number of items is the same, but of a higher quality, for example, the writing desk is more decorative, the candlesticks are brass (those of the rural student were plain wood)
While looking through the windows from the students rooms to the streets outside, I was surprised to find myself looking into a yard, which had piles of old painted wooden pieces of architecture under tarpaulin covers.
Initially I thought I'd also come across a pile of bones!! ( I later realised these were assorted wooden carved chair or table 'legs' )
Surrounding the courtyard on the second storey are the windows of the students rooms. Again, these are equal distances apart and symetrical in their design.
The lacework stucco panels are sandwiched from above and below by cedar wood panels.
I tried very hard to get a picture without someone popping their head through the window, but as you can see I failed (ah well, he was quite attractive! :-) )
Beware when YOU'RE looking out of these windows as you're bound to feature in someones photo or video!
This doorway is decorated with panels of Koranic verse, and leads into the inner courtyard, where you can see examples of zillij tile work.
Initially I thought that the intricate panels had been carved 'in - situ', but I learnt that many of these were 'plaster casted' in a mould, then fitted to the walls- again, requiring skillful craftsmen to design and create these stunning features.
You can see some of these examples in more detail in my other pics accompanying this tip.
This Medersa is unique, in that some of the rooms have windows overlooking the outside streets. I don't know if the students had much opportunity to leave the medersa during their stay there, but this would give a view on the outside world.
After wandering around the students cells, I realised that you could get quite a good view of the street life below, without being observed :-) so spent quite a while visiting each of the rooms to find the one with the best view.
One overlooks a shop that appeared to sell beads and had a chameleon in a cage, (unfortunately I forgot to use the infinity button on my camera, so didn't get the photo I'd hoped for) others overlook the street near the entrance to the medersa. (which is where this picture was of)
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.
This Muslim theological school was the biggest of Morocco and was built by sultan Abdellah Al Ghali Construction work ended in 1564. Today, it’s not used anymore as a school and non-Muslim visitors are allowed. This school is a good example of 16th century Islamic architecture (wood from Morocco, marble from Italy; stucco…) and has been restored in 1999.
Inside the Madrassa, toilets are free and clean….
Price: 20 Dh/pers (US$2)
Open daily, 9am – 6pm
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.
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.
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.
The Medersa Ben Youssef is an example of 16th century Andalusian-Arab architecture. It was originally built as a religious college and was in use as such until the 1960s. It is now fully restored and contains a beautiful marble washing pool, as well as some fine examples of wood, plaster and stuuco work. A combined ticket for entrance to the Medersa, the Marrakech museum, and the ruined ancient mosque, can be purchased for a reduced cost. Unless you are pushed for time, I would certainly recommend you try to visit all three.
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).
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.