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Ben Youssef Madrassa | The First Islamic School in Marrakech

Ben Youssef Madrassa | The First Islamic School in Marrakech

January 2020 · 2 min read · Marrakesh

The Ben Youssef Madrasa is the largest madrasa in Morocco and one of the largest and most important in North Africa. Founded in the 14th century and later expanded, it ceased to function as an Islamic college in 1960, but remains one of the finest buildings in Marrakesh.


Ben Youssef Madrassa by Jonybraker @Flickr
Ben Youssef Madrassa by Jonybraker @Flickr

Ben Youssef school is an unparalleled architectural masterpiece and dates back to the era of the Merini dynasty in 747 AH | 1346 CE in the fourteenth century. Later, the reign of the Saadians enlarged and redecorated the building in 1570 and was considered the largest center for Islamic studies in North Africa.

The madrasa ceased to function as a college in 1960 but was renovated and opened to the public in 1982. Historical significance aside, the madrasa draws in visitors who come to marvel at its intricate decorations that have drawn comparisons with the Alhambra in Granada, Spain (and leading some to conclude that artists may have been brought from Andalusia to work on the madrasa).

ben youssef madrasah, marrakech by seier+seier @Flickr
ben youssef madrasah, marrakech by seier+seier @Flickr

Walk along the street outside the madrasa, and you could easily pass by without a second glance at the main entrance, a fairly nondescript wooden door save for an inscription that reads: “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.” But inside lies a cool central courtyard with a marble patio and water basin, the walls and columns decorated with Moorish zellige tiles forming geometrically-patterned mosaics, and sculptures, stuccoes, and cedar windows with carved vines.

A prayer hall sits off the main courtyard, and contains some of the most impressive decorations. Here, three naves are bordered by arch-bearing marble pillars with ornamental motifs of pine cones and palms motifs, the walls decorated with Islamic calligraphy and more zellige tile work. Look up and you’ll see a dome crafted from cedar wood with 24 small mosaic windows.

Ben Youssef Medersa by UncleBucko @Flickr
Ben Youssef Medersa by UncleBucko @Flickr

Back out in the courtyard, you can see the tiny windows of the student dormitories looking down from the first floor. You can explore the 130 or so cells of the madrasa, some so small you have to crouch down to enter, and some offering slight but atmospheric views of the courtyard below.

Travel Resources for your trip to Morocco

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Day Trips & Tours: We recommend GetYourGuide for a variety of well-organized and enjoyable activities.

Tickets: Save on entrance fees in Morocco with Klook and Tiquets.

Travel Planner: Need a hand planning? Our free travel planner chatbot is your personal guide to Morocco. Chat now.

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