Courtyard of Karaouine university Fes el Bali Morocco.
Martin Turzak / age fotostock
Founded in 859 by the pious Tunisian entrepreneur Fatima al-Fihri, the Qarawiyin is the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Originally the course of study was entirely focused on the Koran (prospective students still need to have memorized the religious text in its entirety before applying), but over the centuries, music, medicine, and astronomy were added to the curriculum, as well as practices like Sufism. This multidisciplinary place of learning is thought to have become the blueprint for universities everywhere—and it’s still possible for young Muslims to earn a first-class honors degree here. The mosque, which also boasts an area for women’s worship, has space for 22,000 people, making it the biggest in Africa. Though non-Muslims can only glimpse the interior of the complex through various doorways, there have been recent reports that the library may open to the public at some point. (Also note there are several spellings for the university’s name: Kairaouine and Qarawiyyin seem to be the most frequently seen.)
University of al-Qarawiyyin | A Special Peak Through the Large Gate
Our local Intrepid Travel trip leader arranged a five minute special door opening to peak into the University of al-Qarawiyyin. It is argued to be the oldest university in the world, and usually the smaller door to the left is open to students (no visitors).