This former Koranic school no longer functions as such and thus offers the non Muslim visitor a relatively rare opportunity to see inside a traditional religious building (mosques and active medersas being off-limits). I have tried to establish the history of this wonderful building, but there are conflicting accounts online. The official website (linked below) says that it was named for a 15th century Marinid ruler, while Wikipedia claims its namesake to be a 12th century Almoravid sultan. Both though agree that the bulk of the current structure dates from the mid 16th century, under Sharif Abdallah al-Ghalib. It was once the largest Koranic school in North Africa, accommodating 900 students in 132 dormitory rooms. It was renovated in the 19th century and continued to operate until 1960 when it closed down. Following restoration work it was opened to the public in 1982.
Above the entrance is an inscription, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded”, and if what you hope for is a stunning, incredibly photogenic building, those hopes may well be, if not exceeded, then certainly fulfilled. The decorative work here is really exquisite, and nowhere more so than in its main courtyard. The lower metre or so of the walls is covered in five-colour zellige tiles, above which runs a line of calligraphy and above this the rest of the wall is a riot of stucco work. Beams, door and window frames are in cedar wood and the mihrab on the western side (see photo three) is carved in white Italian Carrara marble. Looking up to the first floor you can see the windows of the dormitory cells, from which the students would have looked down, and climbing the stairs either side of the courtyard entrance you can do the same. Find a cell that is empty of other tourists and try to imagine the many young boys who would have occupied it and studied here. And then get your camera out, as the opportunities for beautifully symmetrical, elegant images abound.
This was one of those places where I just couldn’t stop taking photos! If you want to see more of them check out my travelogue.
Guidebooks will tell you that you can buy a combination ticket to cover the Musée de Marrakech, the Medersa and the nearby Kouba, but when we visited (August 2016) this was not the case (perhaps because the Kouba appeared closed?) Instead we paid 50 MAD per person for the museum and a further 20 MAD here at the Medersa.
Next 2016 tip: lunch at nearby Jad Jamal
The Madrasa (school) was founded in the 14th century by the Sultan Abu al-Hassan and connected with the neighboring Ben Youssef Mosque and rebuilt by Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib in 1565. It was closed1960, refurbished and reopened to the public as an historical site in 1982.
Entrance fee is 40 Dirham
Open from 8 am
Located in the Kaat Benahid area, Place ben Youssef.
The Medersa Ben Youssef was built around 1565 and then rebuilt in the 16th century. It is the largest Medersa (Islamic college) in Morocco, at one time about 900 students studied the Koran there. It was still in use as religious school until the 1960s.
It is a beautiful example of Andalusian-Arab architecture, now restored, where you can admire some fine examples of wood, plaster and stucco works. You are allowed to walk about freely in the entire place including the old student rooms.
Very interesting place, rich in detail and very photogenic.
As you approach the Madrasa through Marrakech's dusty streets there's not much to suggest what you will find behind its plain wooden doors. Maybe the ornately tiled series of horseshoe arches across the street will give you a hint - they aren't that common in the city. Once inside you will find yourself in what was once the biggest Islamic school in Morocco - with 130 little dormitory cells crowding around a central courtyard. It's a school that taught the Koran for over half a millennium.
The courtyard, built around a shallow reflecting pool, is contained by four ornately decorated walls. From the zillij tiled floor, pilasters rise up to meet great cornices carved from ancient cedar wood. Two doors, pitched beneath overlapping arches, lead you to the two dormitories, which you can visit for framed views of the courtyard below. The dormitories are plain by comparison to the courtyard, meant as they are for study and sleep, so you might find the 50 dirham fee (twice the Bahia Palace) a little steep.
Built around 1565 then rebuilt in the 16th century it is now one of the city's most impressive buildings.It is the largest Medrasa in Morocco and at one time was an Islamic college with some 900 students who would have studied the Koran.
A beautiful, ornate building which is currently a college where the Koran is studied.
The original buildings (14th Century) were replaced in the mid-16th Century.
There is a wonderful courtyard ---fabulously decorated! Also, you can visit the cell-like dormitories where the students used to sleep and study. They are so small!
Would I visit here again? No ---but I'm pleased that I've been.
9.00am until 6.00pm 40dh
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.
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.
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.
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!
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' )
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)