Tag Archives: Ben Youssef Medersa

Islamic Architecture in Morocco, Your Morocco Travel Guide

Saadian Tombs, Marrakech

Morocco has the richest Islamic architectural heritage in North Africa. Key to this was the influence of Muslim Andalusia, as Muslims were expelled from Spain as a result of the Christian Reconquista led by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. This Andalusian style, which was a rich fusion of European and Arab creativity had a far greater architectural influence, than the Middle East.

Morocco was at the centre of the Hispano-Moorish architectural movement for almost six centuries (11-17th Century). Algeria and Tunisia came under the Ottoman empire but Morocco maintained its independence and withstood the Ottomans. Morocco’s early Islamic architectural heritage was  enriched by  the Arab conquest in the seventh century and the indigenous Berber culture which continues to thrive today.

Due to Islam’s forbidding of all human representation, most decorative art was based on geometric patterns, arabesques and floral motifs. Cursive or Kufic script also features prominently.

Such motifs can be found in stone, brick or wood, but Hispano-Moorish art particularly favored two materials. The first, stucco, was applied in plaster form to surfaces covered in nails and sculpted while still damp, often into stalactite forms. The second, zellij tiling on panels, is a Moroccan decorative feature.

The basic layout of the mosque has not changed since the beginning. It always faces Mecca, the direction of which is shown by the mihrab, an alcove in the middle of the qibla wall. Next to it is a minbar , a platform or pulpit, made out of wood or marble, on which the spiritual leader stands to deliver his sermon. In Morocco, the minaret is a square-shaped tower, topped with a battlemented platform where the muezzin stands to call the faithful to prayer five times a day.

Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakech

A madrasah is a college of theology. The building’s specific function gave birth to an equally specific architectural style. An elaborately decorated door with awning, opened onto a narrow central courtyard surrounded by classrooms and a prayer room. The masters and students lived in cells on an upper gallery overlooking the central courtyard. The courtyard contains the madrasah’s sophisticated decorative features: central fountain, zellij floors, intricately carved stucco fanlights, carved cedar wood corbels and cornices. The Ben Youssef Medersa in Marrakech was the largest theological college in North Africa. It was founded during the Merinid dynasty (14th century) by Sultan Abu al-Hassan and allied to the neighboring Ben Youssef Mosque. The building of the madrasah was re-constructed by the Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib (1557–1574).

A koubba, better known as a marabout, is a mausoleum built for pious Muslims who had achieved something approaching sainthood on their deaths. Their distinctive white domed roofs – koubba originally meant dome – and little cubic buildings are a familiar sight throughout the Moroccan countryside and they are the object of pilgrimages.

Very little remains architecturally of the first two or three centuries of Islam in Morocco, of the 8-10 centuries. The excavations of the ancient city of Sijimassa and the former royal city of Aghmat near Marrakech by a team was led by Professor Ron Messier, from Vanderbilt University USA and Professor Abdallah Fili faculte des letters Universite d’El Jadida. They found that the mosques in both locations were extensive with a mobile minbar, which could be moved on rails. When these locations began to decline because of factors like loss of water and population change. Their buildings were dismantled to create new structures nearby in time honored Moroccan fashion and as communities changed buildings also changed their functions. The hammam at Aghmat became a pottery.

The two most important mosques of Fès, the Qarawiyin and the Andalusian Mosque were both founded in the mid 9th century, were the work of immigrants from Andalusia.

The  Almoravid dynasty  (1070-1147).

Desert nomads, the Almoravids clearly had no architectural traditions and naturally enough adopted those of Andalusia, which they had just conquered; hence the term “Hispano-Moorish” given to this art symbolized by semicircular Moorish arches and a decorative style.

The Almohads’ hatred of the Almoravids led them to destroy all Almoravid works, which were considered too frivolous; consequently, almost nothing remains of the Almoravid edifices in Morocco itself: exceptions being some parts of the Qarawiyin Mosque in Fès, extended in 1130 and the Koubba Ba’Adiyn rediscovered in 1950 in Marrakech.

The Almohad dynasty was influenced by Andalusia, like the Almoravids and was responsible for one of the greatest artistic movements of Morocco’s history. The scale of design and the sobriety of the decoration, the handsome proportions and pure lines characterize Almohad architecture.

The fortifications and Great mosque at Taza, together with the superb funereal mosque at Tin Mel, recently restored, date from this period.

Almohad mosques have grand proportions and impressive minarets. A typical Almohad minaret is somewhat squat and square-shaped: its height is equal to five times its base, and it is constructed from freestone. The Kotoubia mosque in Marrakech was completed in the 1190’s during the reign of the Almohad Sultan Yusuf El Mansour. (1184 to 1199). Its minaret, which is 253 feet high, inspired the Giralda at Seville and the Hassan Tower at Rabat. This iconic minaret is the greatest testament to Almohad religious architecture. Moroccan square minarets continue to be built today and are unique to Morocco.

The golden age of the Marinades (1278-1358)

The Merinids’ reign, up until the mid-14C, was one of the most fertile periods of Moroccan architecture. Ornamentation became more important, even in edifices such as fortifications. The main door of the wall around Chellah (Rabat) built in 1339 is a fine example.  Abu el-Hassan and Abu Inan, the two main Merinid sultans and patrons of architecture built many mosques and madrasas. Merinid madrasahs include the Bou Inania, Attarine and Sahrij at Fès, Abu el-Hassan at Salé and Bou Inania at Meknès are among the best known.

A continuing tradition of Hispano-Moorish art persisted under the Saadians and the Alawites (16th -present). In the 20th century, the last manifestation of Hispano-Moorish art to be built was the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca.

For more information about an Imperial Cities Tour and the architecture of Morocco

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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10 Great Things to Do in Marrakech, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Marrakech Atlas Mountain Views

Morocco’s “Red Hamra” city of Marrakech is an icon for travelers to Morocco. A visit to this North African country’s hotspot of Marrakech is a must. Morocco is exotic and the penchant of every travelers dream is to visit Marrakech. Marrakech offers landscapes to indulge in along with a bustling medinas and Berber villages just minutes outside. Here are Ten Great things to do in Marrakech.

1. Touch the Heart of the Atlas

The  view of the Atlas Mountains  and its snow capped peaks is one of Marrakech’s glories and can be viewed from many part’s of the city, looking far closer  than 4 kms away. One of the best locations is the terrace of the Hotel Renaissance where you can sip a drink during the day or at sundown as the white peaks go pink .Churchill and Roosevelt savoured the moment,Churchill telling his friend at the end of the Casablanca conference :”You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakech. Let us spend two days there. I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.”

Marrakech Caleche Ride

2. Romantic Trip by Horse Drawn Caleche

Take a romantic trip round Marrakech’s ancient ramparts in a horse drawn caleche . It is also an excellent way to get to know the city at a sedate pace instead of roaring around in a taxi. Make sure you agree the price before hand !

3. Indulge & Shop the Marrakech Souks

The fabled souks of Marrakech are a  vibrant riot of colour  as  they display their riches crafted by its artisans , carpets, kelims jewelry, jellabas and caftans, dressess ,shirts and tunics,wooden bowls, ornate boxes and chess sets an, leather bags and jackets and lamps, as the crowds pass through  and salesman vie to attract attention and haggle over prices. Serious shoppers should be armed with a notebook, a calculator and time for tea and haggling when visiting the Grande Souk. when visiting the Souk several hours is the minimum for any shopping expedition. You can choose your vendor on your own or with a guide. Marrakech’s medina and its grande souk stocks the city’s treasure of handicrafts. If you’re willing to haggle then a deal can be had. If you are not a haggler then simply enjoy the spectacle and visit the Ensemble d’Artisansale, a craftsmen’s cooperative on the Avenue Mohammed V offers fixed price  goods in a charming and unpressurised  atmosphere. It’s also a good place to check out prices before plunging into the souk nd.you can also watch the craftsmen at work.Wander the timeless streets of the medina and be seduced by its ancient medieval mystique.

4. Be a Sultan for a Day – Explore the Great Medersa Ben Youssef

The Medersa Ben Youssef was an Islamic college in Marrakech named after named after the Almoravid Sultan Ali ibn Youssef who reigned from 1106–1142. Wonder at the glory of the golden age of islamic architecture in the central courtyard and walk through the maze of  130 student cells in this Medieval centre of learning.

5. Stepback in time at La Maison de la Photographie

La Maison de la Photographie is a photographic treasure trove of Morocco and Moroccans from the 1870’s to just before independence in 1956.  to the gallery in a converted three floor foundak which houses a collection of photograhps of Morocco from the 1860’s and the very earliest days of photography to 1956 on the eve of Morocco’s independence. Over 5,000 photographs and glass prints of Morocco were brought from France to Marrakech by Patrick Man’ach and he and his assistants give a guided tour of this unique record of Morocco as it was.There is a video room with footage of Berber tribes dancing in the 1950’s At the end of the tour you can mount the terrace for a fine view of the Medina.

6. Overnight in an Ancient Riad in Marrakech – Palace Sytle

Stay in a Riad in Marrakech’s medina and enjoy life in the ancient medina .Riad’s are individually  richly decorated by local craftsmen and give you the opportunity to stay in an intimate atmosphere as an alternative to a hotel outside the Medina.. Many Riads offer cookery classes so that you can learn how to create your own Moroccan cuisine and riad owners can advise you where to go for  local bargains in the souk.

7. Stroll Marrakech’s Exotic Gardens & Lush Parks

The Abdelsalem Park with its high palm trees, greenery and shrouded walks is one of these off the busy Avenue Mohammed V, it is a haven of  much needed tranquility after a few hours of frenetic shopping in the souk   . Other famous parks are the Aguedal and the Menara with its large water tank and famous Pavilion. The El Harti Park off the Place 16 November is a delightful park with a play area for children with two large stone dinasours. The famous exotic and colourful  Majorelle gardens once owned by Yves St Laurent are on the Boulevard Zerktouni.

8. Paradise at the Bahia Palace – Walk in the footsteps of the Vizir Si Moussa

The Bahia Palace was the 19 th century residence of the vizir Si moussa and his son who succeeded him, Ba Ahmed and has a remarkable maze of rooms and gardens there is even an ornate parade ground.The American novelist Edith Wharton stayed there in1917 when she was a guest of Marshal Lyautey after the First World War and it was te French army headquarters in Marrakech and she wrote a vivid description in her book “In Morocco”. Go back in time in a Vizir’s palace.


Moroccan Hammam

9. Go local – Visit an Authentic Moroccan Hammam for a traditional Scrub

Visit a Moroccan hammam to soak in the heat, be scrubbed and massaged with Argan, Orange and Rose oils to take away your aches and pains. Experience traditional beauty treatments of a gromage and sip tea by a delightful fountain. Marrakech has some of the most charming and authentic traditional Hammam’s in Morocco.

10.  Splurge and Dine out at Marrakech’s Finest that is run by women

Splurge on  one superb Moroccan meal at Al Fassia restaurant  on Boulevard Zerktouni in the Gueliz staffed by women it is still the  place to sample the very best in Moroccan cuisine  with  a selection of salades and  traditional tangines  and couscous washed down with fine Moroccan wine.

For More Information on Great things to do in Marrakech or a Marrakech Tour 

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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