Although Sultan Abou Inan wasn’t the most pious of men (having killed his father, brutally murdered his rivals, and fathering over 300 offspring), he was able to devote some time towards developing one of Morocco’s most beautiful medersas, the magnificent Medersa Bou Inania (also known as Madrasa Bou Inania or simply Bu Inaniya). Built between 1351 and 1358, the medersa stands today as one of the most stunning examples of Merenid architecture in the world. Initially, it functioned as both an educational institute and a mosque. Today it is still an active religious building, and it is one of the few mosques in Morocco that remains open for all to visit, including those that are not Muslim, providing a unique experience for tourists.
History suggests that the religious leaders of the Kairaouine Mosque were the ones who originally advised Sultan Abou Inan to build a medersa. They believed that such a good deed could mean an absolution from his sins. Thus, Bou Inania was constructed, becoming the last medersa built by the Merenids. Although a medersa with the same name was completed by the same sultan in Meknes, the Fez building is incomparable in its surmounting beauty. Since its completion date, the medersa has been renovated and reconstructed numerous times, most recently in the last few years when major restoration work helped to salvage the building’s decorations and architectural design.
The Interior of Medersa Bou Inania
Built originally to house theology students, the medersa’s layout is not complex: a vast courtyard surrounded by two large halls that open onto an oratory at the end. On each side of the marble courtyard you will also find stairs which will lead you to the upper floor, where the original student quarters can be found but unfortunately not visited.
The courtyard is one of the main features of the building. It is the first room visitors walk into after passing a small entrance hall with a dome inspired by the Andalusians. Circled by three fully ornamented cedar beams and with a running fountain fed by water from the Fez River, this courtyard sets the tone for the continued beauty found within medersa. It’s worth your while to climb at least one set of stairs to grab a view of the courtyard from above.
With exquisite handcrafted ornaments covering every inch of the building’s surfaces, it becomes difficult to pick out just one element, hall, or design whose beauty stands out from all the rest. Every room is beautifully decorated with marble floors, green zellij tiles, along with carvings of handcrafted stuccos, geometrical designs, and artistic calligraphy. The finest examples of stunning craftsmanship can be found in the carved cedar, where every last inch has been intricately carved to produce a beautiful work of art.
The Exterior of Medersa Bou Inania
Medersa Bou Inania is located inside the Medina of Fez. The medina and the sights within have been garnished as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981 due to the numerous monumental buildings found within its ancient walls. The medersa is thus surrounded by beautiful palaces, mosques, and local shops.
From the outside, the medersa’s most noticeable feature is its green-tiled minaret, considered one of the most elegant in the city. The tiles are green due to the association of the color to the city of Fez. However, despite the infinite amount of green found all over the city, Medersa Bou Inania’s minaret stands out as what is considered the most exquisite.
More Than a School, But a Grand Mosque
Although originally built as a theology building, the medersa soon became a widely frequented congregational mosque. While its educational infrastructures are no longer in usage, the medersa is still used today for religious purposes. Its oratory (or prayer hall) can be found at the end of the courtyard, with a beautifully sculpted mihrab and the imam facing Mecca to lead prayers. As it is still in use, visitations may be restricted, although it may still be possible to peer inside with a tour guide.
The medersa’s architectural beauty sets it apart from other monuments in Fez. With a rich history and the incredible restoration that’s gone into it, the Medersa Bou Inani is a must-see for any traveler wanting to visit one of Morocco’s most stunning monuments.
What sights in Fez (or anywhere in Morocco) inspire you? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!
Medersa Bou Inania by Mariya Foteva; Commissioned by Journey Beyond Travel
This article was co-authored with Maria Inês Pinto, a young Portuguese freelancer born with a passion for writing and travel.She has spent her life hopping around different countries, having lived in Canada, the US, India and Ireland. Now residing in Portugal, she is planning to move to Mozambique soon to pursue her third passion: humanitarian work. In her free time, she travels and writes about her adventures.