Watch your step in the passages and rooms in the upper level, which can be very dark: students would study by dim candlelight and emerge into the sun of the courtyard, symbolising the light of new knowledge.
Ben Youssef Medersa was founded in the 14th century, and completed as we currently see it around 200 years later. Its entrance bears the inscription ‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded,’ which could apply as much to its architecture as to the studies of its koranic pupils: it is a truly beautiful place, and a work of devotional art in itself.
Ben Youssef comprises a central courtyard surrounded by 132 dormitory cells, which may have held up to 900 pupils in the school’s heyday - it was one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa. Although it was renovated in the 19th century, it gradually lost students to Medersa Bou Inania in Fez and was closed down in 1960, before being opened to the public in 1982.
Today, the building makes a wonderful stop on a visit to the Medina, offering a peaceful sanctuary away from the chaos of the souks.
The courtyard is richly carved in cedarwood, marble and stucco. It features wooden latticework balconies, five-colour mosaic walls, cedar windows with carved vines and a carrara marble mihrab (a prayer niche that faces towards Mecca). Its intricate inscriptions and geometric patterns reflect the majesty of Allah in intricate Moorish style: even the most secular of visitors cannot fail to be moved.
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