Visiting Ben Youssef Madrasa
There’s so much to capture your attention in Marrakech but if you only see one historic site, make sure it’s Ben Youssef Madrasa.
This former theological school is a stunning testament to traditional Arabic design and craftsmanship. There’s been a building on the site since the mid 1400’s. But the madrasa as we know it today was completed in 1595 to become one of the largest Koranic schools in North Africa.
For the next four centuries, thousands of students lived and studied in tiny dormitory rooms that run off a network of corridors and small courtyards along the outer edges of the building.
As ever, there’s a constant interplay of light and shadow, interior and exterior, until the central courtyard is gradually revealed. It’s the jewel at the building’s heart.
Here you’ll find all the iconic symmetry and geometry of Arabic design and materials. Delicately carved plaster and cedar work, sculptures, stuccoes and marble are on display. Zellige tiling runs along the bottom of the walls in a stunning palette of cream, green and earth tones and provides a beautiful backdrop to the central pool.
At one end sits a prayer room. Make sure to look up to see the cedar wood domed ceiling with 24 small mosaic windows. Back in the main courtyard, look up again to see the tiny windows of the dormitory rooms.
If you love places like the Alhambra then Ben Youssef Madrasa is a must-see. It’s smaller, more intimate, but an unforgettably powerful embodiment of Arabic design that has been beautifully preserved for visitors to experience today.
HOW TO GET THERE?
It’s about a 20 minute walk from El Fenn. You can book one of our guides to take you if you don’t want to go solo.
WHEN TO VISIT BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA?
The best time of day is just after the building opens. This is a spiritual building and tranquility is part of what creates its impact so try to avoid the crowds.
Open daily from 9am to 6pm.
Inscriptions are found carved throughout the building and one reads: ‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.’
We love this, it feels quite appropriate for those of you visiting El Fenn too. If you’re thinking about a stay in Marrakech, allow us to inspire you with design and colour, take a look at our rooms.
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