Photograph: Zishan SheikhPhotograph: Zishan Sheikh

Name of Monument:

Ibn Yusuf Madrasa


Marrakesh, Morocco

Date of Monument:

Hegira 972 / AD 1565

Period / Dynasty:



Sa‘did king ‘Abdallah al-Ghalib Billah (AH 965–82 / AD 1557–74).


This madrasa, the largest in North Africa, owes its name to its proximity to the neighbouring mosque, erected by the Almoravid king Ali Ibn Yusuf (AH 500–37 / AD 1106–42). It would have been constructed on the site of an ancient Almoravid or Almohad madrasa. Al-Ifrani affirms that it replaced a madrasa built by the Marinid King Abu al-Hasan (AH 731–49 / AD 1331–48).
Built on two stories, the building is a quadrilateral slightly wider than it is deep (approximately 40 m by 43 m).
A long corridor with an openwork ceiling leads to a square vestibule that opens to the rear onto a staircase leading to the first floor, to the sides onto the corridors that lead to the students' rooms, and to the front onto the courtyard that leads to the prayer room.
The very spacious marble-paved courtyard is flanked by galleries with massive pillars and a ceiling bordered with wooden lintels on sills. A large rectangular pool fills the centre of the courtyard.
The walls of the courtyard are covered with polychrome ceramic marquetry panels, about 1.20 m high, crowned by a strip of carved zellij (small tiles) bearing inscriptions in Maghrebian characters.
The interior walls on the first floor, as well as the capitals of the pillars, are entirely covered with plaster sculpted with floral motifs.
Beneath the glazed tile roof there is a cornice of wooden corbels, sills and consoles.
Like the first floor, the ground floor has 51 small bedrooms and a water room (midha). The small rooms are grouped around 13 small courts.
All of the ceilings (vestibule, portico, prayer room and bedrooms) are covered with wood.
The prayer room opens through a large central door and two smaller side doors. It is divided into three spaces by two rows of columns. The central square part is covered by a pyramid roof.
The Ibn Yusuf Madrasa borrows extensively from the Marinids' decorative and architectonic repertoire, integrates Ottoman-style ornamental motifs, particularly in wood and marble, and has exceptional proportions that are a specifically Sa'did trait; a taste for splendour which replaced, in most sovereigns of that dynasty, the taste for power of the preceding dynasties.

View Short Description

This Sa'did madrasa, the largest in Maghreb, is rectangular and built over two storeys, each containing 51 cells and a water room. It looks over a courtyard that leads to the prayer room. The vast, marble-paved courtyard is surrounded by galleries and has a large, rectangular basin at its centre. Its walls are decorated with multicoloured ceramics and inscriptions. The walls, pillars and capitals on the first floor are covered with floral motifs sculpted in plaster. All of the ceilings are lined with wood. This Marinid-influenced madrasa also draws from Ottoman architectural repertoires.

How Monument was dated:

G. Deverdun (Inscriptions Arabes de Marrakech, Rabat, 1956), quoted by Triki (see Bibliography), indicates that a date is found at the end of one of the faience epigraphic friezes carved in the courtyard. What remains reads '... in the year two with seventy after nine hundred', or the year 972 (1565).

Furthermore, the foundation inscription engraved on the lintel of the entrance doorway reads ‘‘Abdallah, the most glorious of caliphs', in reference to ‘Abdallah al-Ghalib.

Selected bibliography:

Al-Ifrani, A., Nouzhat al-Hadi, histoire de la dynastie saadienne, ed. and trans. O. Houdras, Paris, 1888–9, pp.93–4.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, p.392.
Triki, H. and Dovifat, A., Medersa de Marrakech, Casablanca, 1990.

Citation of this web page:

Kamal Lakhdar "Ibn Yusuf Madrasa" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024. 2024.;ISL;ma;Mon01;15;en

Prepared by: Kamal LakhdarKamal Lakhdar

Linguiste et sociologue de formation, c'est en autodidacte que Kamal Lakhdar s'est adonné aux études d'histoire du Maroc et du monde arabo-musulman, en axant tout spécialement ses recherches sur l'histoire de Rabat.
Sa carrière de haut fonctionnaire l'a conduit à occuper des fonctions de premier plan auprès de différents ministères. Il a notamment été membre du cabinet du ministre de l'Enseignement supérieur, conseiller du ministre des Finances, conseiller du ministre du Commerce et de l'Industrie, directeur de cabinet du ministre du Tourisme, chargé de mission auprès du Premier ministre et directeur de cabinet du Premier ministre.
Parallèlement, Kamal Lakhdar mène des activités de journaliste et d'artiste peintre – il a d'ailleurs été membre du Conseil supérieur de la Culture.

Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: MO 20


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