“To preserve the past is to save the future…”
Nanette L. Avery
The Ben Youssef Madrasa was an Islamic college in Marrakesh, Morocco, named after the Almoravid sultan Ali ibn Yusuf (reigned 1106–1142), who expanded the city and its influence considerably. It is the largest Medrasa in all of Morocco. Located just by the Marrakesh Museum and was a part of my 8 hours long private guide tour.
The college was founded during the period of the Marinid (14th century) by the Marinid sultan Abu al-Hassan and allied to the neighbouring Ben Youssef Mosque. The building of the madrasa was re-constructed by the Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib (1557–1574). In 1565 the works ordered by Abdallah al-Ghalib were finished, as confirmed by the inscription in the prayer room. Its 130 student dormitory cells cluster around a courtyard richly carved in cedar, marble and stucco.
The carvings contain no representation of humans or animals as required by Islam, and consist entirely of inscriptions and geometric patterns such as star and petal designs in zellige tilework. This madrasa was one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa and may have housed as many as 900 students. One of its best-known teachers was Mohammed al-Ifrani (1670-1745).
Closed down in 1960, the building was refurbished and reopened to the public as a historical site in 1982. Today one of the major tourist attractions in Marrakesh with an area of 1,670 m2 and with all its beautiful details I’m not surprised.
Madrasa is the Arabic word for any type of educational institution, whether secular or religious (of any religion). In the West, the word usually refers to a specific type of religious school or college for the study of the Islamic religion, though this may not be the only subject studied. In countries like India, not all students in madrasas are Muslims; there is also a modern curriculum.
Moroccans have a deep-rooted commitment to the preservation of the Quran, which makes it one of the best places to memorise and study it. Classes are small which is very beneficial; on average about 4-6 students per class. However, this swells up to about 10-12 students during the summer time. In classes with 3 or more students, you get 20 hours of instruction per week, 15 hours within classes with 2 students and 10 hours/week if you are the only one.
In the “old days” it was customs to learn the know the whole Quran to be able to get a higher education. There isn’t may Quran colleges left in Morocco.
Bou Inania Madrasa in Fez, is also accessible for non-Islamic visitors and one of the few. The city of Fez is listed as a World Heritage Site.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
Opening hours: 08.00-17.00
Musee de l’Art de Vivre Marocain was located only a couple of blocks from my riad and my last day was a bit cloudy to start with – so I decided to give the museum a visit. A hidden gem that shows how people lived. If you lived in a riad it meant that you were very well off. So it’s not really showing how ordinary people lived, but still I found it very interesting.
It is the former dwelling of a notable dating from the end of the 19th century. Restored in 2006 by a perfumer of Marrakech, it has been home to the first Museum of Art de Vivre in Morocco since 2010.
Beautifully restored old riad with a calm, quiet, great atrium where you can relax or have a tea. The rooms all contain themed exhibits around Moroccan culture. It is set up as a series of fully furnished rooms, each room has a different theme.
The collection in this museum is a summary of Moroccan hand arts. The collection is good but it is too small, you can finish all the museum half an hour, but I spent over an hour. In addition entrance fee, 4€. that was a bit high – but I think it was worth the money. 3 floors of Moroccan oddities to peruse and a lengthy history of the Caftan. Some small rooms are set up as a historical reference to how lives were.
It’s a relaxed way to pass an hour and there is a beautiful roof terrace. I spent a lot of time on the roof terrace. I think in the summer you enjoy your tea and drinks up there too.
I learned about the caftan at the museum. It is the best known of all traditional costumes in Morocco. This urban garment is cut in fabrics chosen for the quality and nobility of their weaving such as taffeta, natural silks, cashmere, velvet and brocade, all woven by hand. The fabrics are then entrusted to embroiderers who use gold, silver and silk threads to create stylised plant-inspired patterns and arabesques on them.
The master craftsmen, highly skilful in the art of passementerie, will put the finishing touches to the caftan, decorating it with braiding, buttons and loops before adding the silk or cotton lining. It showed some stunningly beautiful caftans, both female and male.
The museum also offers to organises temporary thematic exhibitions, concerts, lectures, artistic meetings, workshops and classes on heritage for children.
Musee de l’Art de Vivre
2, Derb Cherif , Diour Saboun
Marrakesh also have “Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech” – that is highly rated and #1 on my do-it note for my next visit to Marrakesh. On my note is also the “Heritage Museum” and “Le Jardin Secret” (Botanic Garden). So I already have a full program for next visit.