Ben Youssef Madrasa
The Ben Youssef Madrasa is an Islamic college in Marrakesh, Morocco. Functioning today as an Islamic historical site, the Ben Youssef Madrasa was the largest Islamic college in Morocco during its height. Named after the Almoravid Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf (reigned 1106-1142), who expanded the city of Marrakesh and its influence considerably, the madrasa that stands today was built during the rule of Sa'di Sultan Sidi Abdallah al-Ghalib in the Marinid style. The layout of the building centers around a main courtyard, which is surrounded by east and west open-air galleries and student dormitories on the upper and lower levels. Like many Islamic buildings, the courtyard is defined by a large shallow reflective pool and intricate ornamentation of various materials, meant to enhance the multi-sensory experience of the building.
Construction and FunctionEdit
The Ben Youssef Madrasa was originally founded during the Marinid Islamic dynasty. This dynasty, known for its perpetuation of the arts and literature, ruled from 1196 to 1465 AD. The madrasa is named after the Almoravid Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf (reigned 1106-1142 ad.) However, the current building was constructed by the Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib (reign 1557-1574 AD) in 1565, more than 100 years following the death of bin Yusuf. The structure was likely built on the site of an existing Madrasa sponsored by Ali bin Yusuf.
Historically, madrasas have served as a center for learning, worship and community interaction. In addition to teaching Quranic Tasfeer and Islamic jurisprudence, Islamic schools often taught a wide variety of subjects, including literature, science and history. The Ben Youssef Madrasa, in fulfilling these functions, was also one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa, reportedly able to accommodate upwards of 800 students. Closed down in 1960, the building was refurbished and reopened to the public as a historical site in 1982. The Ben Yusuf Madrasa currently attracts thousands of tourists every year and remains one of the most important historical buildings in Marrakesh.
The Ben Youssef madrasa contains a single entrance and leads the visitor through a narrow, fully enclosed corridor which terminates at an open courtyard, where the mihrab of the prayer hall is visible. This process of entry, like in many Islamic buildings, is carefully designed to inspire revelation and astonishment in an unexpected opening of space into the main courtyard. Like many other Marinid madrasas constructed during the sixtieth century, the layout of the Ben Youssef madrasa contains student dormitory cells clustered around the first and second levels of the central courtyard which surrounds a reflection pool adorned with two small water features. After it's reconstruction in 1565, the layout of the madrasa was revised and the series student cells, instead of opening directly to the main courtyard, are accessed through an individual duwira. The lower level of the madrasa includes a reflection room and prayer hall while the upper floor consists of bare, unadorned student dormitories. Together, the madrasa consisted of 130 student rooms and housed up to 800 students; making it the largest madrasa in Morocco.
Mihrab with Darj w ktaf motifs and kufic script.
The ornamentation of the Ben Youssef madrasa derives closely from that of earlier Andalusian architecture, which adorns open pavilions with pools, gardens, fountains, and intricately decorated walls of stucco and tile. Embellished by elaborately carved stucco, painted ceramic tiles, and wooden mashrabiyas supported by lentils, the main courtyard of the madrasa communicates a multi-sensory experience for visitors and students. The entrance to this central courtyard is marked by a richly carved wooden door that is framed by a two large, intricately carved layers of stucco. Although the student cells that surround the courtyard have little to no interior decorative elements, the secondary courtyards boast similar intricacies of ceramic tile work and carved stucco like that of the main courtyard.
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