Kairaouine Mosque & University


Established in 859, the Kairaouine is the spiritual heart of Fez and, arguably, all Morocco. It is also considered the world's oldest university, though it began as a simple medersa (school for studying the Quran), funded by Fatima Al Fihria, a member of an elite family who emigrated from the Tunisian city of Kairouan. Expanded over the centuries, the Kairaouine is now very large, with a capacity of 20,000. This is hard to grasp on the ground, though, as shops and houses encircle it, disguising its true shape.

As with all Moroccan mosques, only Muslims may enter. Passersby can glimpse the mosque's courtyard from doors at Chemmaine and on Derb Boutouil, but its scale is best appreciated from above – its minaret and ten rows of green-tiled roofing, which look like the bellows of an accordion and cover the columned prayer hall, are visible from almost any rooftop in the medina.

The vast mosque space is also the university. Though it has been state-run since 1963, students still gather as they have for a millennium, in a traditional halqa, seated in a circle on the floor around a teacher. Curriculum focuses primarily on classical Arabic language and Islamic studies, and attracts many foreign students.

The university library, which underwent a high-tech renovation in 2016 and is open only to students, holds a vast collection of manuscripts. Visitors with sufficient curiosity and credentials may visit with advance planning – Plan-it Morocco can make arrangements. The library entrance is on the south side of the complex, on Place Seffarine.

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