Moroccan architecture history

From opulent palaces, grand gates, and splendid universities to mosques, religious schools, hammams, shrines, and tombs, there are many stunning buildings to admire around Morocco. The imperial cities of Marrakesg, Fez, Rabat,  Taza and Meknes, in particular, have a number of beautiful legacies left by former rulers, though there are plenty of other striking buildings elsewhere around the country too.

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Built to celebrate the previous king’s 60th birthday, Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is big, bold, and, to some, rather ostentatious. Sitting next to the water, part of the mosque actually overhangs the ocean. One of the largest mosques in the world, the mighty prayer hall can hold 25,000 worshippers. Unlike many of Morocco’s religious sites, members of the public can observe the lavish interiors as part of a tour.

The soaring minaret reaches 210m (690 ft.) into the sky. Both inside and out, the mosque shows the finest Moroccan designs. Master artisans carved wood and stone by hand and great care was taken to complete the bright tilework. Gilded edges, cedar wood, brass, pink granite, sweeping archways, huge chandeliers, and marble features complete the effects of grandeur.

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh

Dating back to late 12th century and standing on almost the same spot as an older mosque, Koutoubia Mosque is one of the main symbols of Marrakesh. Although non-Muslim visitors are not allowed inside the grand mosque, the main point of interest lies outside: the soaring minaret. Built from red sandstone, the minaret is one of the best examples of architecture from the Almohad period. It has also influenced other designs around the country and beyond. Indeed, it could be said to be the blueprint for Moorish-style architecture in Morocco.

The tower features intricate carvings in the stonework and arches, with scalloped edges. There is also a wide edging of ceramic tiles near the top and jagged crenellations on top of the walls. Look closely and you’ll notice that opposite sides of the tower have alternate patterns. There are four copper orbs on top of the tower. While this is a common feature in Moroccan architecture, it is normal for there to be just three spheres.

El Bahia Palace, Marrakesh

With a name that means ‘brilliance’, it’s no surprise that Marrakech’s dazzling El Bahia Palace is among the most exquisite buildings in Morocco. Constructed over a period of 14 years, expert artisans were brought from all over the country to work on the palace. Built in the late 1800s, the palace showcases the Alaouite designs that were popular at that time.

An expansive marble courtyard and large ornamental gardens highlight the huge palace’s external designs. Inside, floor-to-ceiling ornamentation and luxurious decorations reign. There are plenty of delicate Islamic-style arches throughout the palace, as well as colourful tiling, fountains, carved wooden details, painted ceilings, and marblework. Enter the harem and be dazzled by stained glass and dainty silk panels.

Mosque and University of Al Quaraouiyine, Fez

The oldest university in the world, the University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fez can trace its history back to the year 859. Originally built in a fairly simple style, it has seen many changes, enlargements, and embellishments over the years. Andalusian designs are prominent, as Spanish-Islamic styles became popular in Morocco, with the arrival of Muslims from Andalusia. Geometrical floral patterns, ancient kufic calligraphy, ornate plasterwork, gleaming marble, and ornate domes were all among the early designs.

Much work was carried out during the Marinid dynasty. Indeed, this was the mosque’s golden age. Elegant arches, towering columns, and a huge chandelier were added. The original minaret was protected by plaster and bright white paint. Pavilions were erected in the courtyards during the Saadi dynasty, and much restoration work was undertaken by the Alaouites. Today, the mosque and university showcase not only splendid Moroccan designs, but a blend of styles that were en vogue during different times in the country’s past.