The building is in the heart of the city on the Kairouanese bank, Fez (Old Town), Morocco
Hegira 3rd–4th centuries / AD 9th–10th centuries
Fatima al-Fihriya, a pious woman from Kairouan, daughter of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallah.
A simple oratory of about 100 m2, the original mosque was made up of four naves parallel to the qibla wall, a courtyard, a mihrab and a minaret.
In the AH 5th / AD 11th century, the Almoravids enlarged and enriched it with elements borrowed from Andalusian ornamental style fashionable at that time: plasterwork sculpture, muqarnas (stalactite) domes, sculpted marble capitals, epigraphic and geometrical floral motifs, etc. The mihrab dates from this time, as do the earlier domes. The mosque is embellished with kufic inscriptions and floral compositions that are reminiscent of Islamic art in Spain.
During the Almohad era, AH 6th–7th / AD 12th–13th centuries, the Qarawiyyin was again endowed with new ornaments and practical additions such as the latrines in the north of the building and an underground warehouse on the northeast side used to store oil, mats and other material from the mosque. To bolster the monument's existing hydraulic infrastructure, a pool was constructed and water was channelled from one of the wells of the medina ('Ayn Farmal). Lighting was provided by a large chandelier in the ribbed dome of the axial nave and by bells along the central aisle that were imported from al-Andalus and transformed into chandeliers.
The Mosque reached its heyday during the Marinid era (AH 7th–9th / AD 13th–15th centuries) with its 270 pillars forming 16 naves of 21 arches each, 15 large doors reserved for men and 2 small doors for women. With its 509 lamps, the large central chandelier weighed 1,763 pounds. The building could accommodate 22,700 people in its halls.
Unlike most mosques in the Muslim west, the naves of the Qarawiyyin are not perpendicular but parallel to the qibla wall, which suggests an oriental influence (probably the Great Mosque of Damascus).
The minaret, which is as old as the original mosque, was built in freestone and subsequently covered with plaster and carefully polished whitewash.
The Sa'dids (AH 10th–11th / AD 16th–17th centuries) took inspiration from the Alhambra in Granada for the two magnificent pavilions of the sahn (courtyard), which is evident in their layout as well as their decoration and architectural elements.
The 'Alawids were responsible for restoring the chandeliers, the walls and pillars.
The Qarawiyyin was also a real university, playing a major role in the diffusion of knowledge and the training of the intellectual elite. The Marinids provided two libraries and organised the institution and the teaching programmes, with 140 teaching posts throughout the establishment and the madrasa.
It was in the AH 8th / AD 14th century that the simple oratory founded in the AH 3rd / AD 9th century by Fatima al-Fihriya in Fez old town, having become a Friday mosque, reached its apogee with its 270 pillars, 17 large gateways, a library and enough space for 22,700 worshipers. A university of great prestige and an important spiritual centre, Islam's most celebrated scholars came from Córdoba and Damascus to study or to teach at one of the Qarawiyyin's 140 chairs, located throughout the establishment or in the town's different madrasas and mosques.
Written sources such as the Rawd al Qirtass (The Mausoleum of Writing) by Ibn Abi Zara al-Fassi and the Jana Zahrat al-Aas (Myrtle Flower) by al-Jaznaï enable us to date the foundation and extensions (see Bibliography).
Al-Jaznaï, A., Jana Zahrat al-Aas (Myrtle Flower), in Arabic, Benmansour, Rabat, 1967.
Golvin, L., Essai sur l'architecture religieuse musulmane, Vol. IV, L'art hispano-musulman, Paris, 1979.
Ibn Abi Zara, A., Rawd al Qirtass (The Mausoleum of Writing), in Arabic, Rabat, 1972.
Tazi, A., “Jamaa al-Qarawiyine, al masjid wa jamià bi madinati fas: mawsuà litarikhihà al mi'mari wa fikri' (Qarawiyyin, the mosque and the university in the town of Fez), Encyclopédie de l'Histoire de l'Urbanisme et de la Pensée, 3 vols., Beirut, 1973.
Terrasse, H., La Mosquée al-Qarawiyine à Fès, III, Paris, 1968.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, pp.103–4.
Mohamed Mezzine "Qarawiyyin Mosque" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;1;en
Prepared by: Mohamed MezzineMohamed Mezzine
Mohamed Mezzine is a heritage historian and the director of an established graduate program at the university of Fes on the history, preservation and restoration of architectural heritage in ancient (Moroccan) cities. He studied at University Mohamed V (Rabat) and obtained a Doctorat d'Etat in history from the University of Paris (7). Pr. Mezzine has been a visiting lecturer at the Universities of Metz, Tours (URBAMA) and Aix-en-Provence. He has likewise co-directed a number of joint research heritage projects involving French and Spanish academics. He has authored books and articles on the architectural heritage of the Islamic world including Fès médiévale, ed. Mohamed Mezzine (Paris : Ed. Autrement, 1992) ; “Political Power and Socio-Religious Networks in 16th-Century Fes,” in Islamic Urbanism in Human History: Political Power and Social Networks, ed. Tsugitaka Sato (London: Kegan Publ. de la Faculté des Lettres Sais-Fès, 2003). Pr. Mezzine is also a member of the national “Commission for the Preservation of Fes.”
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: MO 01
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Muslim West | The Co-existence of Three Cultures The Muslim West | Mosques: A Place for Prayer Women | Muslim Women as Patrons
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)