Ben Youssef – A portrait

29 November 2015

Carrara marble pillars and intricate stucco archways frame a sea of coloured mosaics; muted greens, once vibrant yellows, and washed ocean blues

In Marrakech, along the faded stone streets in the Medina quarter, is Ben Youssef: A historic Madrasa built in the 1560’s. This place of learning was once the largest Islamic school in North Africa, and high above the entrance an inscription reads, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded”.

In the main courtyard, Carrara marble pillars and intricate stucco archways frame a sea of coloured mosaics; muted greens, once vibrant yellows, and washed ocean blues. Atlas cedar balconies overlook an empty central pool, once used as a place for ablution, its jade zellij tiles sparkling in the dry heat of the midday sun.

The complete structure is almost a perfect square: 42 metres wide by 42 metres long, with most of the decor comprised entirely of geometric patterns, to honour the teachings of Islam, which allow no representation of person or animal.

While the school officially closed for the purpose of education in 1960, it remains a beautifully preserved historic site, its studious grandeur not quietened by the passage of time.