Madrasa al Attarine: Visit the wonderful madrasa of Fes


The marvelous Madrasa al-Attarine is located in the heart of the Medina of Fez, just a few steps from the spice and perfume market from which it takes its name: the word Attarine in fact, derives from ʿaṭṭar (عطار) which in Arabic means perfume seller. It is an extraordinary building, worthy of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

What is a Madrasa?

The Arabic term madrasa can be translated simply as “school”. Generally, however, the historic buildings that bear the name madrasa are ancient Koranic schools, where the focus was on teaching the reading of the Koran and the Islamic religion. It was therefore essential to learn the Arabic language, history and sacred literature of Islam.

In the madrasa there were also accommodations for students, and there was often a mosque attached.

Story of Madrasa Al attarine:

The construction of the madrasa was commissioned by Sultan Merenides (the ruling dynasty in Morocco from 1244 to 1465 AD) Ya’qub Abu Said Uthman II, and was completed in 1325.

In the prayer room, set into the wall, is the first stone of the madrasa, engraved with the date 725: this date follows the Islamic calendar, the Hegira calendar, which makes the year 0 correspond to our 622 AD, the year in which Muhammad and his disciples made the first pilgrimage to Medina. The year 725 corresponds therefore to 1324 AD.

The Merenid rulers were proud to use their money for the construction of schools for the teaching of the Koran; the construction of a madrasa was in fact a way to promote Sunni teachings during their reign. But Ya’qub Abu Said Uthman II did not limit himself to the construction of the Madrasa Al-Attarine, he also built many buildings that embellished the city center.

Visit Madrasa Al Attarine:

You enter the building through a large wooden door, decorated with bronze inserts carved with different motifs. We are then in a small corridor, on the right we find the stairs leading to the upper floor where there were the students’ rooms, while taking the left, we access the area of the latrines.

To enter the beautiful central courtyard, you have to pass through another finely decorated wooden opening. In the center of the courtyard is a marble fountain.

The two facades on either side of the fountain are composed identically: each is in fact formed by five arches resting on square pillars. The lateral arches are supported by white marble columns and crowned by capitals decorated with Arabic inscriptions, both in cursive and kufic.

Madrasa in Fes

Continuing beyond the central courtyard, you reach the prayer room from whose ceiling hangs a wonderful bronze chandelier. The small niche, richly decorated, is the so-called mihrab: it indicates Mecca and one must pray facing that direction. The prayer room is surmounted by a richly decorated cedar wood dome. If you look up, you will find openings (quite rare in Fez) that are real stained-glass windows.

Above the zelliges that embellish a part of the wall, we find a frieze consisting of black cursive epigraphs on a white background. Above the frieze, we find the wonderful stucco work such as festoons, cursive inscriptions, floral motifs, and of course the typical muqarnas and lambrequin. The floor of the madrasa and its walls (up to a height of about 1.60 m) is entirely covered with small ceramic tiles that form a colorful geometric pattern. These small tiles are called zellij and are quite recurrent in Moroccan decorations.

The muqarnas is a decorative solution typical of Muslim architecture, which consists of dividing a dome into many small niches. The lambrequin, on the other hand, is a kind of decorative drapery that hangs from a door or window.

On the upper floor, there are more than 30 rooms, of modest size, made to accommodate the 60 students who came here to study and follow the lessons given in the prayer hall.

Visit this Madrasa with a tour operator:

To visit the Madrasa of Fes, you can book a tour with a travel agency, or a local guide in Fes. Also, you can book the 3 days tour from Marrakech to Merzouga desert.

You might be interested to read Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou in Morocco

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