The Attarine opens at last

Perhaps the most beautiful of the ancient medersas of Fez, the Attarine is now open to the public after almost four years of renovation.

main doors, of cedarwood mashrabbiyya, into the courtyard

More intimate than the Bouanania Medersa, the Attarine is next to the Qawariyine Mosque at the bottom of Tala'a Kebira in the heart of the medina. It was built by the Merenid Sultan Abou Said around 1325, and was a favourite amongst scholars. It contains some of most superb mosaic work and some unusual, slim marble columns whose capitals have finely carved calligraphy. The central fountain is fed by a stream.

The carved plaster is mesmerising, and the cedarwood exquisitely worked.

square columns, marble columns

The columns supporting the first floor galleries around the courtyard are square; another unusual feature.

The mihrab in the prayer hall is delicately carved and flanked by black onyx columns. The hall also holds a massive brass chandelier that hangs from the domed ceiling of carved cedarwood. Just beneath the ceiling are a number of windows with green and gold Iraqi glass.

carved stucco above mosaics on a column

The restoration has been sensitively carried out by the Habous (Ministry of Religious Affairs). Replaced mashrabbiyya (carved wooden trellis work) has been stained almost to the colour of the original wood that's nearly 700 years old; renewed sculpted plaster is a little whiter than the original as can be seen in the photograph above, but will soon blend in well, with a little weathering.

On our visit, which cost a paltry Dh10 (less than 1 Euro), we were alone. It seems the guides have yet to discover that the Medersa is now open. Don't miss it.

photographs: Helen Ranger