Marvel at the Beauty of Medersa el-Attarine

The exquisitely decorated Medersa el-Attarine (also known as Attarine Madrasa) is located on the edge of the spice and perfume market in the fascinating medina of Fez, Morocco. Its proximity to the spice and perfume market gave rise to Medersa el-Attarine’s Arabic name.

The Medersa el-Attarine was commissioned to be built by the Marinid Sultan Ya’qub Abu Said Uthman II and was completed in 1325. The Sultans of the Marinid dynasty were frequent and generous patrons of madrasas (religious schools) which were used primarily for the promotion of Sunni teachings during their reign from 1244 to 1465. In addition to the building of the Medersa el-Attarine, Marinid Sultan Ya’qub Abu Said Uthman II initiated the construction numerous buildings in Fez.

The Medersa el-Attarine, in keeping with other Marinid madrasas of Fez, is richly decorated, with the focus being on the rectangular arcaded courtyard. Leading from the courtyard, the entry wall of the prayer room of Medersa el-Attarine has superlative examples of skilful tile cutting. A master tile cutter has cut out the word “Allah” in calligraphic script from a green tile less than two centimeters across and inlaid it in a white tile, with the curving edges of the word and the background fitting perfectly together. Using this work of art as the center, a pattern expands to cover the entire wall.

A specialized technique of tile cutting called “taqshir” or “peeled work” is beautifully displayed at Medersa el-Attarine. This technique involves scraping off the tile glaze in order to leave behind a shiny pattern. This technique is most often used on black glaze with the exposed terracotta base of the tile being allowed to weather naturally, contrasting with the glaze even more beautifully as time goes by.

Apart from the magnificent tile work displayed at Medersa el-Attarine, intricate carved stucco adorns the walls and carved and painted wooden arches frame the doorways with marble columns in strategic places. The courtyard of a medersa is the most public and most decorated area, with the accommodation for the students being almost ascetic in comparison.

Certainly, a visit to Fez in Morocco would not be complete without a visit to the medina and the ancient, unique Medersa el-Attarine.