The Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Marrakech, this famous koranic school has just reopened to visitors (20th April 2022) after a major programme of renovation.

The largest of its kind in Morocco and one of the most important in North Africa, the college was founded in the 14th century and extensively redeveloped in 1570 by the Saadien dynasty to accommodate as many as 900 students of law and theology in just 130 cell-like rooms. Closed and turned into a museum in 1960, it was opened to the public in 1982 and has been one of the city’s principal attractions ever since.  

Hidden behind high walls amid the hubbub of the labyrinthine souks, the madrasa is easy to miss as it lies anonymously behind a large wooden door, the only evidence of what lies behind it being a sign reading: “You who enter my door, may your hopes be exceeded”.

For most, hopes are indeed exceeded as, on entering, one finds oneself in a cool marbled courtyard with a large central water fountain around which walls and columns are decorated with Islamic calligraphy, delicate stucco, geometrically designed mosaics and handmade zelige floor tiles, all perfect examples of Islamic art and architecture. Above, twenty four small cedar windows offer glimpses onto the atmospheric courtyard below. Throughout the building the dark brown of the cedarwood beamed ceilings and balustrades contrasts with white columns of tadellakt plaster.