A masterpiece of Moorish-Andalusian Islamic art and architecture, the extravagantly beautiful Bou Inania Madrasa (Koranic School) in Fez dazzled our eyes and lifted our spirits. We were on a 24-day private tour of Morocco, with Journey Beyond Travel.
Originally built by the Merenid Sultan, Abu Inan Faris in 1351–56 CE, the Madrasa has since been extensively and immaculately rebuilt and restored over the centuries.
Entrance to the single large marble courtyard was through a domed entrance, with exquisite stalactite-stucco work. The central courtyard (with its marble fountain) was flanked by two spacious halls, including the prayer hall and oratory (off limit to non-Muslims). The interplay of light and air created a sense of openness and tranquility, within an enclosed space. On either sides of the sun-bathed courtyard were stairs to the upper story (off limit to visitors), housing rooms for students.
The simple layout of the Madrasa belied the extraordinarily splendid ornamentation of walls, arches and pillars – work of exquisite art covered every square inch of the surface.
We observed four distinct tiers of ornamentation, from ground level, upward. The lowest tier was made of dazzling mosaic tile work (zellij) followed by a horizontal swath of exquisitely beautiful and complex, foliage like black Kufic calligraphy. Above the calligraphy was the intricate and delicate stucco work. The black Kufic calligraphy provided a striking break between the dazzling ‘Zellij’ and the off white Stucco work.
The topmost level was executed in intricately carved dark cedar wood, topped by green ceramic roof tiles. The complex wooden joinery used in the cedar beams on three sides of the courtyard represented an outstanding example of the Moorish art of ‘laceria’ (the carpentry of knots).
This Madrasa is the only in-use religious building in this ancient city that is open to non-Muslims – it is a true gift to all art and architecture buffs and aesthetes in general.
We left the place reluctantly, our minds totally addled by beauty.