Tuesday, January 21, 2014

83. Medersa Ben Youssef & Musee de Marrakech

Located almost in the centre of the Medina is the Medersa Ben Youssef. This was an Islamic college for boys founded in the 14th century and named after the Almonravid sultan Ali ibn Yusuf ( reigned 1106-1142 ).

Most important buildings in the ancient city - and homes of the wealthy merchants - were planned so that there were no windows opening out onto the street. This ensured privacy and peace from the busy and noisy street without. The entry is always through a simple doorway into an internal open courtyard off which the various rooms used by the household opened.

And like most buildings of its kind in the ancient city, here there is no hint of the gandeur and size of the inside from the narrow laneway - apart from the sign and the tickets seller in the doorway.

Once in through the street door, the visitor walks down a gloomy narrow hallway, through a door and out into the grand paved courtyard with its central pool. 

The walls of this large space are covered with richly carved cedar, marble, ceramic tiles and carved stucco. And of course, as required by Islamic law, no animal or human representation  appear in any of the carvings.

Off to the sides of this courtyard are the various rooms used for religious training and also kitchens and dining-halls etc.  

Another archway leads to the staircases taking you up to the first level ...

... and here on this level with windows opening out above the courtyard are found 130 "cells" or sleeping quarters for the students. This school was one of the largest in Africa, and it is thought that it may have housed as many as 900 boys.

Closed down in 1960, the building was refurbished and opened to the public as an historic place of interest in 1982. 

And whilst in the neighbourhood I visited the Musee de Marrakech.

In through another tiny doorway off the street and into a beautful enclosed courtyard off which opened several rooms now used for exhibitions of historical artworks. 

This grand palace was built in the late 19th century by Menebhi Mnebhi and after his death in 1941 was used as a residence by his son until the building was taken over by the state following independence in 1956. It housed the first girls school in Marrakech for a short time. After being closed up for several years and with a long refurbishment it was opened as a museum in 1996.

And finally outside into the warming sunshine for a coffee and contemplation before tackling the dusty street again ...

Once out in the street and through another tiny almost hidden doorway, I discover an interesting contemporary art gallery - and that's the next blog ...