Some say the entrance to Ben Youssef Madrasa is purposefully humble and bland. Little more than a wooden door facing out towards the buzzing medina, the entrance is nothing more than perhaps a storefront, office, or home. The inscription, however, written above the door, beckons travelers in further: “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.” Indeed, once you duck through the narrow entrance and the medina noise fades behind you, what emerges before you is the soaring courtyard of a 16th-century madrasa.
Constructed back in 1570 as an Islamic place of learning, Ben Youssef Madrasa would swell to include over 900 dedicated students. At its peak, it was North Africa’s largest Islamic school and had 132 dorms—some of which are so tiny and small you must crouch down low to enter. Though the madrasa formally stopped educating students back in 1960, extensive refurbishment has turned it into an informative site for visitors. Learn how the patterns, archways, and styles are of Andalucian design, similar to those of Granada’s Alhambra or the Alcanzar in Sevilla. Stroll around the reflection pond that shimmers within the courtyard, and soak in the silence and calming surrounds away from the bustling medina. For over 500 years this building has served as a temple to education—and while students no longer memorize the Quran or study Islamic law, visitors continue to learn today through windows into the past.