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Architecture of Morocco - mosques, medinas and more

Morocco's unique architectural style has been formed over the centuries by the African tribes who've inhabited the country, as well as Arab neighbours and European colonisers. The two strongest influences have been Islamic and Hispano-Moorish – the latter of which has a lot in common with Spanish and Portuguese styles. Often blending seamlessly, the two styles form the architecture of highly detailed mosques and madrasas, which are Quranic schools also known as madrasas.


Many Moroccan buildings were built using the specific decoration guidelines of Islam, such as geometric patterns, Islamic calligraphy and green and white zellij mosaics. You can also expect to see open courtyards and gardens at the centre for privacy and relaxation. Added to this are Hispano-Moorish styles like grand, stepped archways and tiled buildings with large domes. Here are some of the most notable examples of architecture in Morocco.



Mosques

With their tall minaret towers that aid the acoustics of the call to prayer and stucco and marble mirhabs pointing to Mecca, Morocco's mosques are the standout architectural gems in most towns and cities.

The spiritual city of Fez has its own fine example in the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque. Built in the 9th century, it's considered Morocco's holiest place and ultimately governs all Muslim festivities across the country. As with many of Morocco's mosques, entry is prohibited to non-Muslims – but if you head to Medersa el Attarin you can look over into the stunning inner courtyard, complete with marble fountains and views across to the two stone minarets.

Madrasas

Places of Quranic study, madrasas are grand buildings with high walls that display a stark contrast between the students' wooden and often cramped quarters and the rest of the highly decorative structure. Fortunately, Al-Ben Youssef Madrasas in Marrakech - the largest in Morocco - is still open as a museum, although the last students left in 1960.

The interior of the building is adorned with mashrabiyya wooden-lattice screened balconies, while the courtyard has five-coloured zellij mosaicked walls, stucco archways and ornate cedar windows. Combined entry to here and the nearby Museum of Marrakech for Photography and Visual Arts is just 60 MHD, which is less than £5.

Medinas


A medina is the original walled city around which many of Morocco's modern towns and cities have grown. They usually contain the main mosque, traditional souk shopping areas as well as many narrow streets and courtyards complete with fountains.

One of the most well-known in all of Morocco, Marrakech's medina has a maze of narrow streets leading to the main shopping square of Djemaa El-Fna. It gives you a real flavour of life hundreds of years ago in the city, with Koutoubia mosque and the El-Badi Palace being two standout buildings that are worth a look.

In contrast to Marrakech medina's ancient standing, Agadir's original medina was destroyed in the 1960 earthquake so was completely rebuilt in a sympathetic style by Moroccan-born, Italian architect, Coco Polizzi in 2007. With Berber and Saharan styles, the medina is now a living ethnological museum where local craftspeople have studios and shops. The tunnels and alleyways lead past sculptures to a splendid amphitheatre.

Kasbahs

A Kasbah is similar to a medina, except for the fact it's used for defensive purposes. For instance, Udayas Kasbah in Morocco's capital, Rabat, stands tall on a rocky elevation over the Bou Regreg River. 2,000 of Rabat's citizens live within the Kasbah's boundaries, alongside the town's oldest mosque, a hammam, some stunning gardens, and a very good museum.

There's also a Pirates' Tower with steps that lead down to the river and a large platform on the ramparts where you can admire the views down on the river from above.

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