Fez (Old Town / Medina), Morocco
Hegira 8th / AD 14th century, completed in AH 747 / AD 1346
Sultan Abu al-Hasan (r. AH 731–51 H / AD 1330–51).
Al-Misbahiya Madrasa, which owes its name to the faqih al-Misbahi, the first jurisconsult to have taught there, consisted of a ground floor and three upper stories. The top storey has been entirely destroyed. It has no mihrab, and therefore no oratory, but it does have a beautiful square prayer room with a curious entrance consisting of twin festooned and raised arcades.
The large opening that dominates the north façade of the courtyard is a unique composition in Marinid religious architecture, at least in Fez. It consists of two twinned arches resting on marble columns. The side columns have not survived. The arches are framed by a band of cursive inscription, which in turn is crowned by three openwork arcades that were once embellished with decorative floral knotwork in plaster. The ensemble is topped by a carved wooden arch enlivened by a series of grooves that extend to the edge of the green tiles.
This peculiar opening is flanked by small blind arcades crowned with geometric plaster knotwork (diamonds) much esteemed by Marinid artists. Passing through a bent hallway, it leads to a courtyard with a white marble basin brought from Almería in its centre and galleries consisting of pillars and wooden lintels on each side.
Here and elsewhere, the available surfaces were decorated with expertly rendered zellij (small tiles), carved wood and stucco.
Its annexes have been completely lost since the turn of the century.
The 117 rooms of the madrasa could accommodate up to 140 students from different regions of the country.
The madrasa has suffered a great deal from the passage of time and clumsy alteration. The dome of the prayer room, the ceilings of the latrines and some of the bedrooms have collapsed. Nonetheless, the building has retained some original examples of epigraphic, floral and geometric decoration from the Marinid era. A restoration project was undertaken at the beginning of the 1990s.
This madrasa, which owes its name to a great theologian of the time, was built near to the Qarawiyyin by Sultan Abu al-Hasan in AH 747 / AD 1346. It consists of a beautiful square prayer room, a twin-arched entrance and a large opening that dominates the north side of the courtyard. This madrasa housed up to 140 students in bedrooms on the ground floor and upper storeys. Although now in ruins, having suffered many clumsy adaptations, some original elements of the Marinid decoration have survived. It is now in the process of being restored.
Ibn Marzuq, in his book al-Musnad, states that the work was completed in 747 (1346). The author of Istiqsa (al-Nasiri) allows us to confirm that the madrasa dates from the time of the Sultan Abu al-Hasan (r. 731–51 / 1331–51).
Aouni, H. M., “À propos d'une inscription du fils d'Ibn Marzuq à Fès”, Revue al-Misbahiya, Fez, 2003, Vol. 5, pp. 1–12.
Ibn Marzouq, M., Al-Mousnad as Sahih al Hassan (La preuve solide et juste), partial edition ed. É. Lévi-Provençal, Hespéris, Rabat, 1925, pp.1–82 ; complete edition in Arabic ed. M. J. Viguera, M. J., Algiers, 1981.
Perétié, M. A., Les madrasas de Fas, Archives Marocaines, Vol. 18, 1912.
Terrasse, C., Médersas du Maroc, Paris, 1927.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, pp.104–6.
Mohamed Mezzine "Misbahiya Madrasa" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;10;en
Prepared by: Mohamed MezzineMohamed Mezzine
Mohamed Mezzine is a heritage historian and the director of an established graduate program at the university of Fes on the history, preservation and restoration of architectural heritage in ancient (Moroccan) cities. He studied at University Mohamed V (Rabat) and obtained a Doctorat d'Etat in history from the University of Paris (7). Pr. Mezzine has been a visiting lecturer at the Universities of Metz, Tours (URBAMA) and Aix-en-Provence. He has likewise co-directed a number of joint research heritage projects involving French and Spanish academics. He has authored books and articles on the architectural heritage of the Islamic world including Fès médiévale, ed. Mohamed Mezzine (Paris : Ed. Autrement, 1992) ; “Political Power and Socio-Religious Networks in 16th-Century Fes,” in Islamic Urbanism in Human History: Political Power and Social Networks, ed. Tsugitaka Sato (London: Kegan Publ. de la Faculté des Lettres Sais-Fès, 2003). Pr. Mezzine is also a member of the national “Commission for the Preservation of Fes.”
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: MO 13
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Muslim West | Science and Knowledge
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)