Médersa Ben Youssef

Architecture of the Madrasa Ben Youssef

This Madrasa stands out for the harmony of its architecture and the diversity of its construction materials, making it an architectural and artistic gem that reflects the history of authentic Moroccan art.

Plan of the Madrasa Ben Youssef

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    Vestibule

    Vestibule

    The vestibule of the Madrasa Ben Youssef marks the place where visitors enter the premises of the Medersa and begin their exploration of this historic site. It is a fascinating space in itself, with distinctive architectural and artistic features that anticipate what visitors will discover further within the compound. It welcomes visitors with a richly carved door and intricate geometric patterns, providing a glimpse of traditional Moroccan art that characterizes the entire building. The relief details of the ceiling reflect the craftsmanship expertise and attention to detail that distinguish Islamic architecture. These elements of carved wood can take the form of complex geometric patterns, delicate floral motifs, or enchanting arabesques. The vestibule ceiling invites visitors to look up and appreciate the magnificent art that surrounds them upon entry.

    The colorful zellige, precisely assembled to form vibrant patterns, adds a striking visual depth. The carved wood elements and calligraphic inscriptions bring a touch of sophistication and spirituality to these surfaces. This combination of materials, crafted with artisanal mastery, transforms the walls of the vestibule into a living art gallery, capturing the richness of Moroccan architecture and the refined culture of the Kingdom.

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    The prayer hall

    The prayer hall

    The prayer hall is designed on a rectangular plan, 16.40 meters in length and 8.17 meters in width. It is divided into three naves perpendicular to the Qibla wall. The central nave is wider than the others and takes the form of a square. The entire space is adorned with carved plaster featuring ornamentation inspired by flora, geometry, and epigraphy.

    The entrance of the prayer hall is adorned with two marble panels with extremely delicate decor. The arcade that closes the entrance bay is decorated with palm leaves and pine cones, and the Mihrab, with a pentagonal plan, has an arch framed by four marble columns whose shafts are adorned with palm leaves and intertwined finials.

    The prayer hall is paved with a Dass, a type of flooring commonly found in places of worship in Marrakech.

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    The patio

    The patio

    The large central courtyard was the most atmospheric place due to the practices that took place there, such as the recitation of the Quran. Indeed, one could hear the murmurs of the students sitting cross-legged under the gallery of the courtyard, reciting in unison the verses of the holy Quran.

    The large central courtyard, covered with white marble and supported by four beautiful facades, reflects the splendor of the Madrasa Ben Youssef once the entrance vestibule is crossed. The courtyard takes on a rectangular shape, extending 21.90 meters in length and 16.50 meters in width, covering an area of 361.35m², approximately one-fifth of the total building area. To the east and west of the patio, two porticos with sturdy pillars, perfectly symmetrical, face each other. They serve as both complements to the open courtyard and shelters from the sun and weather. All around, there is a canopy with cedar beams covered with tiles.

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    The Andalusian basin

    The Andalusian basin

    The basin served as a basin for a fountain for ablutions. It bears on its faces an inscription in Kufic script, partially and difficult to read, indicating the name of its sponsor 'Abd-al Malik,' son of the powerful Andalusian vizier 'Al Mansour' (978-1002). The basin was imported from Andalusia by the Almoravid sovereign 'Youssef Ben Tachfine.'

    The basin is decorated with floral and geometric patterns, and numerous animals are carefully represented (birds and fish). This ablution basin is a superb example of vegetal ornamentation and animal representation in Muslim art.

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    Maada

    Maada

    The Maada is a type of water reservoir designed to accumulate water arriving through pipelines and distribute it by gravitational principle. It is a distribution structure that can take various forms, but it is conical in shape at the level of the medersa and located in the vestibule. The intervention on this structure aimed at restoring its proper functioning.

    At least three types of Maada are said to exist.

    • Mâada of distribution : Receives water directly from a spring, a river, or even another maâda, and distributes it;
    • Relay Maada, also called 'dakhal kharej,' is a kind of inspection chamber for decompression and cleaning of impurities where water circulates for this purpose;
    • Collecting Maada: Allows the collection of water from various sources before redistributing it.
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    chambres des étudiants

    Student rooms

    As a place of education and residence, the medersa is equipped with student rooms. The Madrasa Ben Youssef fulfills its accommodation function for students optimally. It has 134 small rooms grouped around 13 courtyards, mainly arranged on the east and west sides of the building: 54 on the ground floor and 80 on the upper floor. The student rooms were equipped with everyday objects and meticulously arranged. The reading space is adjacent to the window, and the resting space (wooden alcove) is in the darker part.

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    The latrines

    The latrines

    Used in the past by students for ablutions, the latrines (dar al wudu') occupy the northeast corner of the ground floor and measure 6.25 meters in length by 5.25 meters in width.

    Its west side has an overflow that is 2 meters long by 0.90 meters wide. The floor of the small courtyard, at a level lower than the corridor that serves it, is tiled with zellige. This room is covered with a sumptuous dome with muqarnas in carved and assembled plaster.

    It is a kind of vault made of a spectacular corbeling of pieces of various shapes hanging one to another, giving the impression of a celestial suspension. The keystone is materialized by a shell embedded in an eight-pointed star. Light enters directly and laterally through the high windows, creating a gradient and a dim atmosphere.

The Water System of Madrasa Ben Youssef

The water system of Madrasa Ben Youssef is a fascinating example of how the ancients devised ingenious solutions to meet their water needs. The Medersa was constructed at a time when access to water was challenging, and its water management system reflects this concern.

Le système d'eau de the Madrasa Ben Youssef

Rainwater Collection: At the heart of the system is the central courtyard, which includes a large basin. The roofs of the surrounding buildings are designed to collect rainwater. This water was then directed to the courtyard basin, where it was stored for later use.

Cooling and Ventilation: In addition to its role as a water reservoir, the basin also had a climatic advantage. The water stored in the basin could evaporate, creating a natural cooling effect in the surrounding spaces. In a hot climate like that of Marrakech, this contributed to the comfort of students and visitors.

Water Distribution: The system included traditional inspection chambers called 'Maada,' strategically placed. These chambers were supplied with water to redistribute it. The pipelines discreetly integrated into the walls transported water to the fountains, providing a source of fresh and potable water.

Versatile Use: The collected and stored water was used for various purposes, including ablution, consumption, washing, cooling, and maintenance. The versatility in water usage reflects consideration for the daily needs of students and occupants of the Medersa.

Harmony with Architecture: The water system was designed to be functional while seamlessly integrating with the architecture of the Medersa. The basin and fountain were often adorned with patterns and architectural details, adding to the overall aesthetics of the place.

Sustainable Approach: This water system also demonstrates a sustainable approach at a time when the conservation of resources was crucial.