Karaouine Mosque – Magnificent and Historic Religious Attraction
If you are planning a trip to Fez, you simply must spend some time at the Karaouine Mosque. This brilliant attraction is worth seeing for several reasons. The first is that it is incredibly old and it has served as a home for the University of Al-Karaouine for centuries – giving cause for the Guinness Book of World Records to name the university as the ‘oldest existing educational institution in the world’. Another reason is to see the incredible architecture and decoration that can be found in every nook and cranny in the Mosque.
The Karaouine Mosque in Morocco (also known as Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque) was founded in 859 by Fatima Al-Fihri, the daughter of Mohammed Al-Fihri who was a wealthy merchant at the time. The family was part of a group of migrants who had made the decision to move from Kairouan in Tunisia to Fes in Morocco in the early 9th century. Both Fatima and her sister were well educated and inherited a large amount of money from their father after his death. Instead of squandering her inheritance of daily trifles, Fatima vowed to spend it all on the building of a mosque that was suitable for the community that she loved. With this well-educated and strong-willed woman at the helm, the project soon grew from being simply a place of worship to a place for religious instruction and political discussion. Over the subsequent decades the syllabus taught at the university continued to grow and grow and in 1957, King Mohammed V introduced the further subjects of chemistry, physics, math and foreign languages. Today almost every subject imaginable is taught at this prestigious and old university, which has made the original Karaouine Mosque the place of fame that it is today. It continues to enjoy patronage from those with political power and is seen as being one of the best tourist attractions that Fez has to offer.
What is particularly interesting about the mosque is that it has expanded over successive dynasties until it was able to gain the distinction of being the largest mosque in North Africa. Today it can cater to as many as 20 000 worshipers. Inside you will find odd contrasts – such as the forest of arches which gives a feeling of infinite majesty and intimacy, and the austere reed mats where lush carpets should be. There are tiles, plasterwork, woodcarvings, paintings and courtyards, which all add to the overall allure of this prestigious building. While the original mosque was only about 30 meters long with four aisles, the building has undergone roughly 1000 years of development. This means you may see unusual differences in architectural and decorative style as you make your way through this now massive building. So visit both the Karaouine Mosque and Al Karaouine University and discover a whole new facet of Morocco’s rich heritage.