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Notes on the Geography of Morocco: Ali ben Youssef

Definitely on the short list of must-sees, this madrasa or Islamic college takes its name from the adjoining Mosque of Ali ben Youssef, named for an Almoravid sultan who ruled Marrakech from 1106 to 1142. His mosque, closed like all the others in Marrakech to non-Muslims, was the main mosque of the city until replaced by the Mouassin Mosque four centuries later. The madrasa itself, however, is later, built in the 14th Century by the Marinid Sultan Abu al-Hassan. It was rebuilt by the Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib, who ruled from 1557 to 1574. At one time the biggest madrasa in Morocco, the madrasa was closed in 1960 and reopened to tourists in 1982. Size aside, its ornamentation is spectacular.

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Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 1

The exterior gives no hint of what lies within.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 2

The entrance is impressive, however, with a massive cedar lintel carved with Andalusian script and hardly spoiled by the new sign above.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 3

The entrance hall is decorated with zillij, faience tile used on both floors and walls.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 4

Above the entrance hall, light wells are walled with elaborately carved plaster and cedar.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 5

The view to the upper floor, filled with the small rooms once used as living quarters by students.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 6

Ceiling.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 7

The layout is a simple square around a courtyard, but if the architecture in the narrow sense is simple, the ornamentation of its surfaces is anything but. The dark room is the prayer hall.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 8

Garmoud tile above, with zillij on the lower walls.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 9

The view from cell to cell.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 10

The view from a cell back toward the entrance.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 11

Close-up.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 12

Detail near the entrance to the prayer hall.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 13

The prayer hall.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 14

Marble column.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 15

Mihrab, indicating the direction of prayer.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 16

Closer.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 17

Interior of mihrab.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 18

Watching the world go by.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 19

Looking between upstairs cells.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 20

Outside the madrasa is the only surviving relic of the Almoravid Dynasty, the fountain adjoining the Ali ben Youssef mosque.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 21

Exterior detail.

Morocco: Ali ben Youssef picture 22

Interior detail.


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