Wednesday 27 March 2013

School of dreams: Medersa Ben Youssef

For me perhaps the most beautiful of all the places we visited in Marrakech was the Medersa  Ben Youssef ...

a 16th century theological school and one of the biggest and most well known madrasas in North Africa.

Pupils came here from many different countries to study law, science and the Qu'ran in these  extraordinarily beautiful surroundings. 

A large central courtyard with a tiled pool (above) has columned arcades on two sides, elaborately decorated with tiles and stone carvings ...

The dormitory quarters on the upper level open through keyhole windows (above) to the courtyard below.

Imagine studying in a classroom that looks like this ...

with this the view above your head ...

Younger daughter imagined herself a student here, framed in an ornately carved alcove ... 

The sleeping quarters upstairs are a maze of little rooms that are rather like monks' cells. Most are tiny and dark, and perhaps would not have been much fun to inhabit. 

A couple of the larger, windowed rooms have been recreated with original writing desks, books, candles and the eating and drinking utensils that students would have brought with them - a tagine, water pot and tea tray ...

Detail of the massed zellij (mosaic tile-work) that surround the courtyard areas ...

In winter sunshine, the central courtyard leads the eye,  through horseshoe arches-within -arches, to the prayer hall at its far end, with the mihrab (prayer niche).  Can there be a more beautiful style of architecture?

Students passed through this peaceful, meditative place for 450 years until it was closed as a school in the 1960s. With up to 900 students at a time, I wondered what their thoughts would have been walking into this courtyard for the first time and what they took away from their time here.

The Medersa Ben Youssef is next door to the Musée de Marrakech and the Koubba Almoravid (annexe to the Ben Youssef mosque), all worth seeing.


  1. Karen, those tiles have truly dazzled my eyes via your fabulous photographs. How amazing it must have been to be in their presence. If I had been a student there, I think I would have had visual overload, and would have be constantly day dreaming in brilliant color. The intricate patterns might have been good for certain mathematic studies.

    Many thanks for sharing all these views with us. How lovely your daughter is!


  2. I've been travelling through your eyes, Karen. Thank you.

  3. This place is on my list! My daughter is going to Marrakech later this month and I'm going to pass on your tips.


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