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Ben Youssef Medersa
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Quick Facts on the Ben Youssef Medersa

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Ali ben Youssef Medersa Ben Youssef Medersa Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakesh
Rue Souk el Khemis Marrakesh, Marrakesh
Marrakesh  locality
Marrakesh  state
Morocco  country
Africa  continent
Main date(s)
14th C; 1560s
31.632040° N, 7.986444° W
Opening hours
Apr-Sep: daily 9-7
Oct-Mar: daily 9-6

Historical Timeline of the Ben Youssef Medersa

Description of the Ben Youssef Medersa

The Ben Youssef Medersa, where students memorized the Qur'an, 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.

The medersa centers around a large open-air 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.

Holly Hayes
October 27, 2011

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