Hidden in plain sight
It’s cold and wet in Paris making it hard to remember the heat of last month’s Marrakech, but I’m trying.
The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa (Marrakech)
Learning your way around the Medina is a bit like learning a new language. In the beginning it seems impossible then, slowly, you pick up a few words, a little grammar. At first glace, the vocabulary of the Medina is impenetrable, daunting for the outsider to decipher. Each street resembles the next. The endlessly curving dusty red walls could hide a shop, a home, or a school. Eventually you start to notice subtle distinctions, slight variations. You find your own markers and signposts. But, like learning a language, the basics are relatively easy. Mastery is another thing.
The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa is both well marked and easy to miss. I rolled past twice before asking directions and being told I was right in front of it. The sign for the Medersa is opposite the entrance (and relatively high up), the exterior wall is the same red stucco as nearly every other wall in the vicinity, and from the outside it’s impossible to imagine the many-splendored wonders which lie within.
‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’*
The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa was built as a place for study, prayer, and contemplation. It was founded by Abou el Hassan in the 14th century, named after the Almoravid sultan Ali ibn Yusuf, and rebuilt under the Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib in the 1560s. The remodel happened at the same time the Saadian Tombs were being built. The two share decorative motifs and have a similar feel. Both have echoes of the Alhambra in Granada suggesting a flow of ideas and craftspeople between Spain and Morocco.
A ramp can be placed at the entrance but you must call ahead or manage to get someone’s attention when you arrive to have it put in place. There is also a small ramp that can be placed at the entrance to the courtyard. There are small steps (2”-3”) to get to the lower level dormitory rooms. The second floor is reachable only by stairs and the restrooms are decidedly inaccessible.
*The inscription above the door to the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa.