Madrassas of Fes

Rue Talaa Kebira, Fes, Morocco

Magical, mysterious, magnificent—the ancient madrassas, or Koranic schools, of Morocco are unlike any other, and nowhere are they more extraordinary than in the Fes medina.

These architectural gems are home to students who come from all over the Arabic world to study their religion. The serene environment of the schools provides a welcome balm from the frenetic activity of life in the medina. Several of the oldest in Fes, while no longer in use, are open to the public, which allows a fascinating insight into the almost monastic existence of the former residents. A visit can also reveal layer upon layer of exquisite Islamic architectural details such as carved and filigreed plaster, delicate hand-cut zellij (glazed tiles), elaborate ironwork, and painted wood inlaid with gold leaf.

Among those you shouldn’t miss are the 14th-century al-Attarine, for its extraordinary plaster- and stuccowork that is said to have been inspired by the Nasrid Palaces in Granada’s Alhambra; the Bou Inania, near the Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate) and built around the same time, for its spacious, arcaded courtyard; and the 17th-century Cherratine in the Andalous Quarter, a fine example of Islamic architecture, with ornate carved-cedarwood balconies that go up and up and up, as if ascending to heaven.

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