Think twice before skipping Visiting Al-Qarawiyyin University when in Morocco. Specifically in Fes, there is a mosque and a university called Al-Qarawiyyin. The first mosque, constructed by Fatima Al-Fihria in 859 AD, eventually served as the location of the world’s first college to provide degrees, offering courses in mathematics, physics, astronomy, and foreign languages in addition to Islamic studies. It established the bar for succeeding educational institutions and was used as a reference point for individuals to learn at from all over the world.
This blog will act as your Tourist’s Guide to Visiting Al-Qarawiyyin University and will provide you with a thorough grasp of the university’s history, culture, and relevance, as well as practical information on how to get there and what to anticipate during your tour.
The History of Al-Qarawiyyin University
The University of Al-Qarawiyyin was founded in 859 at the early beginnings of Morocco’s oldest imperial metropolis and is recognized by UNESCO and the Guinness Book of World Records to be the world’s oldest continuously operational higher education institution. The complex, which includes a mosque, university, and library, is situated in the center of the ancient city and is surrounded by a maze-like network of interconnected streets and passageways. From whatever vantage point above the city, its porcelain green tiled roofs dominate Fez’s sprawling urban landscape.
Initially oriented on religious instruction, the madrasa (school) subsequently extended into grammar, linguistics, law, Sufism, Sufism, medical studies, and astronomy. Al-Qarawiyyin was incorporated into the public school system in 1947, and after Morocco’s period of French protectorate ended in 1963, the area was officially admitted to the contemporary university system of Morocco. Instead of being called just “Al-Qarawiyyin,” it was given the formal name University of Al-Qarawiyyin in 1965.
According to BBC, Ibn Rushd, a Muslim philosopher who lived in the 12th century, Pope Sylvester II (who is credited with introducing Arabic numbers to Europe following studying here in the 10th century), Ibn al-Haj al-Abdari, a theologian who lived in the 13th to 14th centuries, and Leo Africanus, a Berber Andalusian diplomat who lived in the 16th century, are just a few of the famous alumni who attended the school. Rumor has it that the madrasa was also connected to Maimonides, a famous 12th-century Jewish philosopher known for his teachings on Jewish courses of law.
The Library of Al-Qarawiyyin University
In other Arab countries, including Iraq’s Mosul University library, many significant manuscripts and sometimes whole libraries have sadly been lost during previous battles. The Al-Qarawiyyin Library is currently one of the most significant in the Islamic and Arabic worlds. It houses some of the earliest preserved scripts in the history of Islam. The library still houses a 9th-century Mus’haf Al Karim (an antique copy of the Quran), a 10th-century chronicle of the Prophet Muhammad’s biography, and teachings by 12th-century academic Ibn Tufail.
A cutting-edge laboratory was constructed to preserve the ancient texts, assuring their survival for many more periods, during the complex’s most recent renovation, which took place between 2012 and 2016. A 16th-century vault with an unbreakable copper gate and four locks that can only be opened by four key bearers is also housed in the library. This technique was employed to safeguard just the most valuable texts. The lone key to the one remaining lock belongs to the library’s custodian, Abdelfettah Bougchouf.
The Architecture of Al-Qarawiyyin University
Originally, the ancient mosque was just around 30 meters in length. The courtyard’s floor is made of blue and white tiles, and in the beginning of the seventeenth century, two fountain pavilions that are inspired from the Andalusian culture were erected. The mosque’s facade is unremarkable, but for its towering minaret and green-tiled roof, which is designed as a succession of gabled rows. The inside has beautiful woodwork, plaster, and marble sculptures, as well as “Zellij” tile designs, which helped build a heavenly change from the hectic marketplaces that bordered it, and the patio and its water fountains referred to heaven, as did all water-filled structures anywhere else in historic Islamic nations.
Due to its location in Fes’ Medina district, Al-Qarawiyyin is a component of a World Heritage Site and must be preserved to preserve its integrity. In 2008, architect Mohamed Fikri Benabdallah finished the mosque’s renovation, which resulted in his candidacy for the 2010 Aga Khan Prize for Architecture. In 2016, the university reopened for the public thanks to Aziza Chaouni renovations.
The Relevance of Visiting Al-Qarawiyyin University
The Al Qarawiyyin University, the longest continuously running institution in the world, is one of Fes’ most prominent cultural sites with a remarkable heritage. Not only that, but also the fact the fact the the university was built by a woman of color is impressive considering that Moroccan women did not gain the right to vote until 1963 and did not acquire the right to child custody following a divorce until 2004. The background behind the story of Al-Qarawiyyin’s foundation demonstrates that during Islam’s golden age, women were maybe more educated and influential than is often assumed.
Despite the fact that non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque, looking through the fences to see inside is permitted and is a typical occurrence in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, if you want to get a great perspective of the mosque, go to Medersa al-Attarin. It’s not always accessible to visitors, though if it’s closed when you arrive, you might be able to talk the guard into letting you in. You may catch sight of the two stunning minarets and the magnificent inner courtyard from there.
Visiting Al-Qarawiyyin University: Your tourist’s guide
When visiting Al-Qarawiyyin University, keep in mind the following tips:
- Non-Muslims can view the courtyard, which includes the washing area (for males) and the prayer area. The combination of interior and outdoor area dramatically transforms the room.
- The Muslim security guards will take your phone or camera in return in exchange for a small tip and stroll around the mosque snapping random pictures, which might let you realize what you’re missing.
- Visitors can catch a glimpse of the mosque’s courtyard via the Chemmaine and Derb Boutouil entrances, but it is easiest to view the mosque’s size from above; its tower and ten columns of green roofing, which cover the prayer hall’s pillars, are apparent from practically every rooftop in the Medina.
The chance to Visiting Al-Qarawiyyin University, what many people believe to be the most decadent university in the world is definitely a once-in-a lifetime experience, despite the restrictions placed on non-Muslim visitors. If that isn’t enough to spark your interest, the amazing architectural elements will have you speechless as you wander around the facades of this historic gem nestled away in Fes’ old Medina.