Fez (Old Town / medina), Morocco
Hegira 8th century / AD 14th century
Sheikh Abu Muhammad ibn Kasam al-Mazwar.
Abu Sa‘id ‘Uthman (r. AH 709–31 / AD 1310–31).
As the Marinid period coincided with a waning of Morocco's regional influence, both in North Africa and in al-Andalus, sovereigns focused their building efforts inside the country. With no jihad to pursue, significant resources were dedicated to erecting religious buildings in order to generate Islamic legitimacy, in particular madrasas, Islamic scientific schools that also served as accommodation. At Fez, most lessons were given at the Qarawiyyin, around which the main madrasas of the town were located.
Its layout, architectural design and decorative motifs make Al-'Attarin Madrasa one of the most beautiful buildings erected during the Marinid dynasty.
The building was constructed in a narrow space in a very densely populated district. Its layout is not complex and is adapted to the topography of the site.
The building is entered through a large wooden door covered with bronze pieces carved with various different motifs.
The doorway opens out onto an angled hallway with two side doors, one of which leads to the latrines and the other to the stairs and the first floor. A finely decorated wooden opening gives access to a courtyard, in the middle of which is a marble fountain. The east and west façades are composed identically: each one is formed of five arches that rest on square pillars. The side arches are supported on fine yellow-white marble columns crowned with capitals decorated with cursive and kufic inscriptions.
Dominating the southern façade, a large opening leads to the prayer room which is split into two unequal parts separated by a bay. The larger part houses the mihrab.
The room is covered with a cedarwood dome that is richly and variously decorated. A beautiful bronze chandelier from the AH 8th / AD 14th century hangs from the ceiling of the dome. The upper apertures, extremely rare in Fez, are filled with genuine stained-glass.
The floor of the madrasa is covered with zellij (small tiles). The walls are also covered with mosaic panelling up to a height of 1.60 m, above which there are black cursive epigraphic friezes on a white background. Sculpted plaster compositions such as festooned arches, muqarnas (honeycomb-work) arches and lambrequin arches, as well as kufic and cursive inscriptions and floral motifs complete the ensemble. Above, there are sculpted wood and consoles supporting green tiles.
The madrasa has more than 30 rooms that would have housed around 60 students at the beginning of the century. The students would attend classes in the prayer room. Ibn al-Banna', the great AH 8th- / AD 14th-century mathematician, taught here.
Al-'Attarin Madrasa is one of the marvels of Fez. It is exceptional for its elegance and harmonious architectural structures, the richness of its coverings and the abundance and wealth of its decorative elements.
Founded in AH 709 / AD 1310, this madrasa bears the name of the quarter in which it stands. Used to train the heads of the Marinid administration, the first floor has 30 small student bedrooms, now being restored. Its layout is typical: a courtyard surrounded by galleries leading to a prayer room, the entrance to which is decorated with zellij (small tiles) and floral motifs. The ablutions area has a beautifully carved marble basin and a bronze Marinid chandelier hangs in a wooden cupola above the prayer room. The plasterwork and earthenware decoration make this small building a masterpiece of decorative art.
The date AH 725 (AD 1324) appears on the foundation tablet of the madrasa, embedded into wall of the prayer room.
Pérétié, M. A., “Les madrasas de Fas”, Archives marocaines, Vol. 18, 1912, pp.257–373.
Terrasse, Ch., Médersas du Maroc, Paris, 1927.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, p.99.
Mohamed Mezzine "‘Attarin Madrasa" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024. 2024. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;21;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 28
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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