Built in the 14th century, the al-Attarine Madrasa stands at the entrance of a spice and perfume market in the spiritual center of Fez, the second largest city in Morocco. The highlight of the small madrasa is its courtyard, its floors, and walls exquisitely decorated in the traditional patterns of Marinid craftsmanship.
The sultans of the Marinid Dynasty, which ruled Morocco from the 13th to the 15th century, were known as passionate patrons of madrasas, centers of religious learning that helped them promote Sunni teachings during their various reigns.
The al-Attarine Madrasa was built by the Marandi sultan Abu Sa’id Uthman II between 1323 and 1325. Before completing al-Attarine, Abu Sa’id, known as a pious ruler who preferred peace to war, had already commissioned two important madrasas in Fez, the Fez al-Jedid and Es-Sahrij.
The al-Attarine Madrasa, whose name means “the madrasa of the perfumers,” takes its name from its location at the entrance to a historic spice and perfume market in Fez. But unlike the busy souk that it borders, the al-Attarine Madrasa is a place of unusual calm.
At the heart of the madrasa is an exquisitely ornamented rectangular courtyard that opens onto a square prayer hall. Around these are the student accommodations, simple rooms that contrast greatly to the arcaded courtyard and prayer hall, which provide the main attraction for visiting tourist.
The courtyard is one of the finest examples of Marinid craftsmanship in Fez. The walls are decorated with carved stucco ornamentation, sections of Arabic calligraphy, and intricate zellige mosaic tiles forming colorful geometric patterns. Marble columns rise up from the floor holding elaborately carved wooden arches and cornices, the delicacy and detail of which almost defies belief. The floor is also covered in tiles, albeit far simpler than those decorating the walls, whose geometric patterns are considered too sacred to be stepped upon.