About Ben Youssef Madrasa
Ben Youssef Madrasa is a Quranic learning centre in Marrakech, Morocco. It was once one of the biggest and most splendid education centres in North Africa.
History of Ben Youssef Madrasa
The first madrasa on the site was built by Sultan Ali ibn Yusuf in the mid 14th century. Belonging to the Marinid dynasty, this period saw the expansion of education – and particularly art and literature – across Morocco. The current madrasa dates to the 16th century: it was commissioned by Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib.
The madrasa is believed to have housed up to 900 students in its 130 dormitory cells – it was one of the biggest educational centres in North Africa. Look out for the inscription above the gateway, which reads ‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’. The ornate decoration shows Andalusian and earlier Moroccan influences, and the zelijj tiles are one of the most notable and recognisable features of the building. Some have drawn comparisons with the Alhambra, and there have been suggestions that craftsmen who worked on it were commissioned to work on the madrasa too.
The madrasa finally shut its doors in 1960, and following a refurbishment project, was re-opened to the public in 1982 as a place of historical interest and significance.
Ben Youssef Madrasa today
The madrasa is one of Marrakech’s most popular attractions, and it’s often busy. The building is something of a maze: it centres around the main courtyard, and everything pretty much stems off from there. As with many Islamic buildings, the main courtyard has a reflective pool in its centre.
The student dormitories are clustered around the courtyard on the first and second floors: they’re open for exploring but watch your head and avoid them if you’re claustrophobic as they’re small and cramped. Many of them would have had multiple students sharing in order to accommodate everyone
Keep your eyes peeled for various Quranic inscriptions (and some praising Sultan Abdullah) across the building.
The madrasa is normally open daily – visit early or late to avoid the worst of the crowds. The madrasa was undergoing restoration work until spring 2020 – it’s unclear precisely when it will re-open.
Getting to Ben Youssef Madrasa
The madrasa is on Place Ben Youssef, next to Ben Youssef Mosque and close to the Museum de Marrakech. The medina area is hard to navigate by anything other than foot given its winding streets, but it’s not hard to locate. If you’re coming from further afield, get a taxi to drop you on Rue Sid Abd El Aziz.