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The médersa Ben Youssef

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PresentationPresentation

General presentationGeneral information
With its plan which affects a quadrilateral of a surface of 1680 m² - it is vastest médersa of the Maghreb -, its 132 rooms, its large patio and its room of prayer, the médersa Ben Youssef is a jewel of arabo-Andalusian architecture. She was regarded a long time as the Koranic school most sumptuous of the Arab world.

The médersa Ben Youssef is the work of the sultan Abdellah Al Ghalib who completed construction in 1564-65 of it. Its architectural characteristics, the diversity of its decorations and its materials do of it one of the most beautiful buildings of the time saadienne.

It was during more than four centuries a hearth of reception for the students of thirst for knowledge in various sciences, in particular in theology.

EtymologyEtymology
The médersa holds its name of the very close mosque. The name Ben Youssef comes from the sultan almoravide Ali Ben Youssef.

SituationSituation

One reaches the médersa Ben Youssef while going along the mosque Ben Youssef or, when one comes from the souks, by crossing Bab Kcheiria or Bab Talar. One can come also there to foot from the east from the city, by Bab Debbagh, the district of the tanners: place of Moukef, to then follow the main street to the entry of the médersa.

VisitsVisits

Materials and decorations
The decoration of the rooms is a harmonious mixture of zellige, marble, stucco and wood of cedar: these four materials were used to cover the walls and to confer on the médersa a sober but rich decoration.
  • The zellige or polychrome mural ceramics covers the jambs of the walls, the halls, the staircases and some of the rooms of students. The colors are soft with a predilection for blue, clear chestnut, the green, the white and the black. With the top as of panels of zellige, short a plank out of black ceramics engraved in technique of cut away reproducing decorations in penmanship raised of floral drawings.
  • The marble covers the ground of the central patio and flowering ash the sides of the entry of the room of prayer. Eight large columns, whose four massive Carrara marble marble power stations, support the cupola of the room of prayer. Their capitals, finely decorated, carry inscriptions to the glory of the founder.
  • The stucco decorates the walls of the halls, the central patio, the side galleries and the room of prayer. It is declined various ways: sometimes reproducing a floral decoration, sometimes a geometrical decoration, sometimes of the stalactites or of pine cones or penmanships of style coufic.
  • The wood of cedar overhangs the whole of the decoration. It revêt ceilings of the rooms, the halls and the gantries, and the two large cupolas. It is also used for the doors, the lintels, the consoles, the balustrades and the moucharabieh of the rooms of students giving on the central patio. Carved, cut out or painted, wood carries the decorations geometrical, floral or calligraphic.
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Entry and hall
The médersa is announced by a cupola decorated with stalactites carved in the plaster, covering the street and leant with the wall is all close mosque Ben Youssef. The main door out of wooden of cedar, covered with heavy bronze plates to the engraved decoration, is surmounted by a lintel of carved cedar carrying the inscription which attests that the médersa is the work of the sultan saadien Abdellah El Ghalib (1557-1574): “I was built for sciences and the prayer by the Prince of the Believers, the descendant of the seal of the prophets, Abdellah, most glorious of the Caliphs. Request for him, Ô you who crosses my door, so that its highest hopes are granted”.

The main door gives on a long hall, high under ceiling, rather dark but intersected and lit by wells of light. This corridor is decorated with mosaics and carved beams.

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The hall of the entry led to an overcome square space of a cupola out of wooden covered outside green glazed tiles and from where one can gain the various parts of the building
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Interior court
The interior court is paved white marble vast and deep rectangle.
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On both sides of the court, two galleries ambulatories equipped with massive pillars support lintels of carved cedar. On the sides of the court, above galleries, the windows of cells of students are aligned supported by the pillars.
western gallery of the patio. Click to enlarge the image in Fotolia (new tab).patio. Click to enlarge the image in Fotolia (new tab).patio. Click to enlarge the image.
The roof ends in a hood of carved cedar.
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The walls, tops 15 m, are covered, on their base, of a plank of earthenware zelliges multicoloured green, red, and blue, surmounted finely engraved stucco, while the high part of the walls is furnished with engraved plaster.
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Basin of the patio
The interior court is decorated in the center with a large white marble basin, extremely sober, which, formerly, was intended for ablutions.
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Room of prayer
Contrary to the main door, on the other side of the rectangular basin, the room of prayer is protected from the profane glances by one of the most beautiful worked gates of Morocco. This room consists of three naves delimited by two lines of fine marble columns supporting of the arcs to the engraved frontages of reasons for ornamentation. The room of prayer was used for the students for the achievement owe them religious.

The capitals of the room of prayer carry the same inscription as the main door reporting the rebuilding of the medersa by Saadiens:

“I was built for sciences and the prayer by the Prince of the Believers, the descendant of the seal of the prophets, the Abdallah, most glorious of the Caliphs. Request for him, Ô you who crossed my door, so that its highest hopes are carried out”.

The room of prayer is surmounted by a pyramidal cupola made out of wood of cedar. On the cupola, 24 small windows in semicircular arch are latticed of openwork stucco, allowing the rays sun to penetrate.

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The central nave of the room of prayer gives on a small room in half-circle whose opening is sumptuously decorated with floral and geometrical reasons. This room conceals the “mirhab” decorated with verses drawn from Coran carved on plaster, and forming cells.
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Rooms
The médersa was during more than four centuries a hearth of reception for the students of thirst for knowledge in various sciences, in theology in particular. On the floor, it had 132 rooms intended for the students nonoriginating in Marrakech.

The courses took place, not within the médersa itself as one could believe it, but with the mosque very close Ben Youssef. The médersa was, in fact, a kind of halls of residence in which the students placed, lived and revised their courses.

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At one time, the school counted to 900 pupils piled up in these small cells giving either on the central court, or on the seven tiny bordered interior patios, on the floor, of wood balustrades turned and supported by massive pillars. It is in these rooms that the students lived, studied, slept and ate.
well of light rooms. Click to enlarge the image in Fotolia (new tab).well of light rooms. Click to enlarge the image.well of light rooms. Click to enlarge the image.
The smallness and the simplicity of the rooms contrast with the Andalusian refinement moreover of the establishment.
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The rooms top, larger (approx. 9 m²) and equipped with windows, were intended to the most privileged students who had seen on the central court.
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The two reconstituted rooms illustrate, by their furnishing, which was the lifestyle of the students inside the médersa Ben Youssef. That of left represents the room of a student of rural origin, that of right-hand side that of a town student.

One finds there the same elements, whose invoice can vary (for example certain objects in pottery or terra cotta in the room of the student of rural origin are out of ceramics or bronze in the town student):

  • an inkstand (small piece of furniture out of wooden),
  • inkpots,
  • “calames” (feathers of reed),
  • manuscripts: (Coran, Hadiths or matter of the prophet, various sciences),
  • candles and/or oil lamps for lighting,
  • a tagine, brazier and bellows for the préparation of the meals,
  • the hardware requirement for the tea: plate, glasses and teapot,
  • vases with provisions: generally they contain dates and dried fruits,
  • a water jug and a container for ablutions,
  • a sheepskin being useful like prayer mat,
  • a cushion and a carpet spread out over a plait to sleep.
room. Click to enlarge the image in Fotolia (new tab).room. Click to enlarge the image.
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History and traditionsHistory, literature, arts, traditions, legends, religions, myths, symbols…

HistoryHistory
Founded at the 14th century by the sultan marinide Abou el-Hassan, the médersa Ben Youssef was rebuilt and clearing by sultan saadien Moulay Abdellah Al Ghalib who completed construction in 1564-1565 of it.

The small school of theology became thus a building whose fame was going to cross the mountains and to gain the adjoining countries.

Restoration
The médersa was restored for the first time in 1950. At the end of the years 1960, the medersa, closed down, was closed with faithful and the public. It is only since 1982 that work of restoration made it possible to the travellers to discover this masterpiece of Moroccan art.

July 16th, 1999, the Ministry for the Culture entrusted to the Foundation Omar Benjelloun, by convention, the restoration and the management of the monument. Work of restoration lasted of 1999 to 2002. Au préalable, of the studies were ordered from specialists in restoration in wood, plaster and in medieval archeology.

InformationPractical informations

Visiting timesVisiting times
Opened every day of 9:00 to 18:00.

Entry: 40 dirhams if one did not provide oneself with the Step.

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