The Kairaouine Mosque (Djemaa el Kairaouine) in Fes is the second-largest mosque in Morocco (after the new Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca) and gives Al-Azhar in Cairo a run for its money as the world's oldest university. Its minaret dates from 956 and is the oldest Islamic monument in Fes.
The Kairaouine is also the holiest mosque in Morocco and governs the timing of all Islamic festivals across the country. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque.
History of Kairaouine Mosque
The Kairaouine Mosque was founded in 857 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy refugee from the holy city of Kairouan in Tunisia. Fatima and her sister Mariam inherited a great deal of money from their father, and Fatima vowed to spend all of it on a suitable mosque for the Tunisian community in Fes.
The present form of the mosque, however, is mostly the result of a 10th-century reconstruction under Abd Er Rahman III, the Caliph of Cordoba, and a 12th-century reconstruction under the Almoravids.
What to See at Kairaouine Mosque
Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the Kairaouine Mosque, but nobody seems to object to tourists peering in through the gates. It is nearly as difficult to get a good view of the exterior, due to the crowding of surrounding houses and shops.
The best possible view of the Kairaouine can be had from the roof of the Medersa el Attarin, which is only sometimes open to the public but you may be able to persuade the guardian to let you in.
The Kairaouine Mosque has two minarets: the original one and the Burj an-Naffara (Trumpeter's Tower). The original minaret is the oldest Islamic monument in Fes, dating from 956. It departs from the usual 5:1 height-width ratio and is slightly thinner than most.
The courtyard (sahn), which can be glimpsed from the Bab Wouroud near the entrance to the Medersa el Attarin, contains a pair of magnificent pavilions added by the Saadians in the 16th century. Modeled on the Court of the Lions in Granada's Alhambra palace, they may have been constructed by Spanish craftsmen.
In the center of the courtyard is a large fountain, and there are two smaller, 17th-century ones under porticoes at each side, based on fountains in the Alhambra at Granada. In the summer, the courtyard serves as the main prayer hall; it has its own mihrab directly opposite the main entrance. Behind the mihrab is a cedarwood screen decorated with kufic inscriptions and the hexagrams and six-pointed stars that form the Kairaouine's dominant zellij motif.
Beyond the cedarwood screen, hidden from the view of non-Muslims, is the main prayer hall of the mosque. The layout of the Kairaouine was much inspired by the Mezquita of Cordoba in Spain. Like its famous Spanish counterpart, the Kairaouine is filled with row upon row of round arches, dating from 956. But the interior is much more austere than the Mezquita and other important mosques - the arches are painted white instead of candy-cane stripes, the ceiling is simple and unadorned, and the floor is covered in simple reed mats instead of lush carpets.
The main aisle of the prayer area has no arches but is covered in five domes decorated under the Almoravids with stucco stalactites and kufic calligraphy. The designs become more and more elaborate as they lead to the mihrab, which is even more richly decorated than the domes. Hanging from the ceiling are splendid brass lamps, the largest of which was added by the Almohads in the early 13th century. The wooden minbar (pulpit) is also Almoravid, dating from 1144.
Founded in 1349, the Kairaouine's library is one of the oldest and most important in the world. Among its precious manuscripts are volumes from the famous Mut'ah of Malik written on gazelle parchment, the Sirat Ibn Ishaq, a copy of the Qur'an given to the university by Sultan Ahmed Al-Mansur Al-Dhahabi in 1602, and the original copy of Ibn Khaldun's book Al-'Ibar.
Quick Facts on Kairaouine Mosque
|Names:||Djemaa el Kairaouine · Kairaouine Mosque · Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin|
|Dates:||857, 10th C, 12th C|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||34.064719° N, 4.973239° W|
|Address:||Fes el Bali (Medina), Fes, Morocco|
|Hours:||Always open for Muslims; non-Muslims not permitted to enter.|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Kairaouine Mosque|
Map of Kairaouine Mosque, Fes
Below is a location map and aerial view of Kairaouine Mosque. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.