Today I would like to talk about the Bou Inania Madrasa, one of the places I consider essential to see in Fez and that, perhaps, is somewhat overshadowed by the interest that the square of the tanners arouses. This is therefore my way of doing justice to this unique building.
Before I do so, though, I think it would be wise to give a brief introduction to what a madrassa is. So let us begin!
What is a Madrasa?
Madrasa is the name given in Arab culture to any type of school, whether religious or not. So much so, that the Arabic word “مدرسة”, (that is to say in its original language and alphabet, and which we transcribe here as madrasa, but also as medersa, madrasa, etc.) means, literally, school.
However, it is accepted that when in English we say “madrasa” we are referring fundamentally to those whose purpose is to train in the Islamic religion, normally students of a somewhat advanced age (one could say that it is a university or graduate school).
That said, madrasas generally have, as is common in Arab buildings (e.g. riads), a central courtyard, where there is usually a water-related motif. In the case of madrassas, the allusion to water is made in a pool.
The second feature is that the courtyard is surrounded on all four sides. Bearing in mind that they have two floors, on the ground floor there are arcades and common areas, and on the upper floor there are galleries that lead mainly to the students’ rooms.
The Bou Inania Madrasa
Entering through the main door we find the central patio, through which, as is usually the case, one can see the rest of the patio.
What is most surprising the first time you visit is how the different materials are combined, and how all this does not detract from the elegance of the whole. Mainly, the tiles up to two meters high on the wall and marble on the floor, the white of the stucco, the wood in the upper areas of both floors and in doors and the green tiles of the roofs stand out.
In addition, not only is it meticulously made (you can spend hours and hours appreciating the details of the plaster or the woodwork), but it also offers a simple and majestic overall appearance. A real wonder.
However, you will not be able to see too much of it because you can only visit the central courtyard and, perhaps, have a little look at the spaces that surround it. That’s why I thought it appropriate to attach a floor plan.
On the ground floor, in addition to the central courtyard, the three main spaces surrounding it are easily visible: the mosque and two prayer rooms, one in front of the other. In addition to this, other common spaces of lesser importance, such as the services, are located on this floor.
On the second floor the large spaces, as they are of double height, are still preserved, but what for me is most representative of this type of construction also appears: the students’ rooms (numbered with a seven on the right-hand plane); those same rooms that are insinuated from the patio through the balconies of the galleries that distribute them.
Personally, this is the characteristic that makes the greatest impression on me: I think it is inevitable to think what life must have been like in those places: the combination of solemnity and prayer on the ground floor added to the life of the students on the first floor, all of this obeying the same motive: to consider the Koran not only as a series of doctrines, but above all as a way of life.
5 Interesting Facts About The Bou Inania Madrasa
Its interior houses a mosque (and its corresponding minaret or minaret) which is very unusual for this type of construction (it is true that they usually have a small prayer hall, but it cannot be considered a mosque). It is believed that the reason they built this generous mosque is that there was no one nearby when this madrasa was created.
It has not only undergone one reform, but two (one in the 18th century and the other in the 20th century), so it’s one of the best preserved madrasas in Morocco (if not the most) at present.
Contrary to what is usually common, the ablution fountain in the courtyard is still in operation.
Do you wonder why this source is still in operation? If you look, to access the mosque, practitioners must cross a small bridge. That’s because the Fez River runs through this madrasa. This characteristic makes the ablution fountain receive the water directly from the river.
And finally, and even more interesting, although it is still open for worship, those who do not practice the religion of Islam are allowed to visit the central courtyard.
I hope you found this article about Fez interesting. Let me know in the comments.