The Ben Youssef Medersa, an Islamic school attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque, is home to some of the most beautiful art and architecture in Marrakesh.
History of the Ben Youssef Medersa
The medersa, where students memorized the Qur'an by rote, was founded by the Merenid Sultan Abou el Hassan in the 14th century. It was, however, almost completely rebuilt under the Saadian rulers in the 1560s and it is they who made their distinctive mark in its architecture and art. See the near-contemporary Saadian Tombs for similar beauty of decoration.
What to See at the Ben Youssef Medersa
The medersa centers around a large courtyard with a central pool for ablutions. The buildings are covered in an abundance of decoration: carved cedarwood, exquisite stuccowork, and colorful zellij tiles. Some elements of the medersa are remarkably similar to the Alhambra palace in Granada, indicating that Andalusian artists were likely brought from Spain for the project.
At the back of the courtyard is a sizable prayer hall, which contains the most elaborate decoration. The interior is covered in an abundance of pine cone and palm motifs, which are used around the mihrab to create a three-dimensional appearance.
Throughout the medersa are many Arabic inscriptions in stucco and zellij tile, the most common of which is the bismillah invocation: "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful."
Above the central courtyard are the small windows of the tiny student dormitories. The rooms are arranged around smaller inner courtyards, rimmed with fine wood railings. Nearly 900 students were once housed here, and it's difficult to imagine how they all squeezed in. Via stairs in the entry vestibule, visitors can explore all the rooms and enjoy good views over the courtyard.
Quick Facts on the Ben Youssef Medersa
|Names:||Ali ben Youssef Medersa · Ben Youssef Medersa|
|Dates:||14th C; 1560s|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||31.632040° N, 7.986444° W|
|Address:||Rue Souk el Khemis|
|Hours:||Apr-Sep: daily 9-7|
Oct-Mar: daily 9-6
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Ben Youssef Medersa|
- Personal visit (April 9, 2007).
- The Rough Guide to Morocco, 7th ed. (October 2004).
- Ali ben Youssef Medersa - Fodor's Morocco
- Photos of the Ben Youssef Medersa - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakesh
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Ben Youssef Medersa. 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.