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Kairaouine Mosque

Listed under Mosques in Fes, Morocco.

  • Photo of Kairaouine Mosque
  • Photo of Kairaouine Mosque
  • Photo of Kairaouine Mosque
  • Photo of Kairaouine Mosque
  • Photo of Kairaouine Mosque
Photo of Kairaouine Mosque
Photo by flickr user Shawn Allen
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The Kairaouine Mosque (Djemaa el Kairaouine) in Fes is the second-largest mosque in Morocco (after the new Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca) and gives Al-Azhar in Cairo a run for its money as the world's oldest university. Its minaret dates from 956 and is the oldest Islamic monument in Fes.

The Kairaouine is also the holiest mosque in Morocco and governs the timing of all Islamic festivals across the country. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque.

Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the Kairaouine Mosque, but nobody seems to object to tourists peering in through the gates. It is nearly as difficult to get a good view of the exterior, due to the crowding of surrounding houses and shops.

The best possible view of the Kairaouine can be had from the roof of the Medersa el Attarin, which is only sometimes open to the public but you may be able to persuade the guardian to let you in.

The Kairaouine Mosque has two minarets: the original one and the Burj an-Naffara (Trumpeter's Tower). The original minaret is the oldest Islamic monument in Fes, dating from 956. It departs from the usual 5:1 height-width ratio and is slightly thinner than most.

The courtyard (sahn), which can be glimpsed from the Bab Wouroud near the entrance to the Medersa el Attarin, contains a pair of magnificent pavilions added by the Saadians in the 16th century. Modeled on the Court of the Lions in Granada's Alhambra palace, they may have been constructed by Spanish craftsmen.

In the center of the courtyard is a large fountain, and there are two smaller, 17th-century ones under porticoes at each side, based on fountains in the Alhambra at Granada. In the summer, the courtyard serves as the main prayer hall; it has its own mihrab directly opposite the main entrance. Behind the mihrab is a cedarwood screen decorated with kufic inscriptions and the hexagrams and six-pointed stars that form the Kairaouine's dominant zellij motif.

Beyond the cedarwood screen, hidden from the view of non-Muslims, is the main prayer hall of the mosque. The layout of the Kairaouine was much inspired by the Mezquita of Cordoba in Spain. Like its famous Spanish counterpart, the Kairaouine is filled with row upon row of round arches, dating from 956. But the interior is much more austere than the Mezquita and other important mosques - the arches are painted white instead of candy-cane stripes, the ceiling is simple and unadorned, and the floor is covered in simple reed mats instead of lush carpets.

Kairaouine Mosque on Sacred Destinations.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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