Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Ben Youssef Madrasa - Marrakech

The Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakech, Morocco was founded in the 14th century by Abu al-Hassan, a Marinid sultan, and was allied to the Ben Youssef Mosque right next door. It was named after Ali ibn Yusuf, an Almoravid sultan who reigned from 1106-1142, who expanded Marrakech and its influence and built the original mosque that goes by the same name. The madrasa was re-built about 1563-1564 by Abdallah al-Ghalib, a Saadian Sultan. It has 130 student dormitory cells clustered around a courtyard. It was the largest madrasa in Morocco and one of the largest in North Africa, housing as many as 900 students. It was closed in 1960, then reopened to the public in 1982 as a historical site, the reason we were able to go in.

An intricately carved ceiling.
Part of the inner courtyard.

I believe this is the mihrab.

It has mashrabiyya (wooden-lattice screen) balconies, five color zellij (mosaic) walls, stucco archways and cedar windows with carved vines. The central pool in the courtyard was for ablutions. The most common Arabic inscription in the stucco and zellij tile is "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful," the first line of the Koran. The student dormitories are on the second floor, some with windows onto the courtyard, and arranged around smaller inner courtyards, rimmed with wood railings. 
Part of the courtyard and the central pool.
The pool for ablution.
Beautiful light reflecting colors from one of the upstairs dormitory windows. 
An entry door into one of the dormitories with a window out on to the courtyard.
An inner courtyard with dormitories clustered around it.

This madrasa had less zelljic tile and more incredibly carved wood, like this above. 

I love this scalloped plaster work. 

Gorgeous hallway around the courtyard.

A madrasa is a religious school for the study of Islam. A regular curriculum would include courses in Arabic, Koranic interpretation (tafsir), Islamic law (shariah), the recorded sayings and deeds of Muhammad (hadiths), logic (mantiq) and Muslim history. Other courses might include teaching memorization of the Koran (hifz), courses leading the student to be a scholar in the community (alim) and courses in Arabic literature, English and other languages, science and world history.

To become an alim (scholar) requires about 12 years of study and students often go on to become imams, worship leaders for Sunni Muslims. People of all ages attend, even children. Women can attend, but study apart from the men.

Ben Youssef Mosque:

Ben Youssef (French spelling) Mosque, also known as Ibn Yusuf (English spelling) Mosque, is just west of the madrasa of the same name. Between about 1121 and 1132 a mosque named Masjid al-Siqaya (mosque of the fountain) was built by the Almoravid ruler Ali ibn Yusuf. In 1147 the Almohads defeated the Almoravids and captured Marrakech. The Almohad caliph Abd al-Mu'min decided the mosque was not oriented correctly to Mecca, it was off by 6 degrees, and he had it demolished. He then built a new mosque on top of it and tried calling it something else, but common usage continued to be Ali ibn Yusuf's mosque and the name stuck. Around 1563 the Saadian sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib had the mosque refurbished and the same time he had the madrasa refurbished. Then in the early 19th century, the mosque was almost completely rebuilt again by the Alaouite sultan Suleiman.
Right across from the entrance to the madrasa is this entrance to the mosque.
The mosque is quite large.
The minaret of the mosque.
Apparently the library of the mosque.


  1. It's ironic that it was destroyed because it was off by only six degrees, but then they couldn't get rid of the original name. Some things just stick no matter what you do.

  2. Beautiful pictures! How wonderful that it has been opened to tourists.