Wednesday, April 27, 2016


After visiting the Madrasa Al Attarine, we went just down the alleyway (and around the corner, and down two more alleyways, and a sharp right turn, and up some steps, or something like that) to the Tomb of Moulay Idriss II.

The Arabic word "moulay"  [MOO-lay] means "my Lord" or "prince" and is commonly used  as a title preceding the names of the male descendants of Moulay Sharif Abn Ali, the founder of the Alaouite dynasty of Morroco that began in 1631 and of which the current King Mohammed VI is part. This ancestral line, also called the "Sharifian" line, is believed to have descended from the Prophet Muhammad. The word "Moulay" is also used as a sign of respect when addressing someone, kind of like "mister" or "sir."

Moulay Idriss II was (obviously) the son of Idriss I, who was the great-great-great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and is traditionally regarded as the person who brought Islam to Morocco and founded the Moroccan state. Unfortunately, Idriss I was assassinated by poisoning in 791 AD, two months before the birth of his son Idriss II. (Note: Our guide told us that some scholars believe Idriss II was actually born 9+ months after his father's death, which would cloud his connection to Muhammad and make the whole dynasty suspect. I haven't been able to find anything that backs up that rumor.)

Idriss II officially became sovereign at the ripe old age of 13 in the year 805. His father had founded the city of Fes on the right bank of the River Fes in 789. Idriss II built a companion city on the left bank in 809, and from there he ruled the country and united the people in the Islamic faith. He died in 828 age age 35 and was entombed in Fes. Five centuries later, a body believed to be his was found in Fes and an elaborate mausoleum was built on that spot. This is the holiest site in Fes and an important pilgrimage spot. Tourists are not allowed inside, but the various doors are often left open to give the curious a brief look.

We thought the Madrasa Al Attarine was beautiful, but it's the country cousin of the tomb of Moulay Idriss II:

The opulent entrance to the tomb is crowded into the standard Fes alley, so while it is impossible to miss, it was also hard to get a good picture:

Because this is a building in the middle of the medina and is tightly surrounded by alleys and other buildings, it is difficult to get a sense of the size and shape of the structure, but most of the outside walls are lavishly decorated, which at least gives an idea of the perimeter.

Again, the flawless, intricate stucco carvings reminded me of my grandmother's doilies, but also of nature's spectacular symmetry and tendency towards the elaborate, especially on the microscopic level:

We couldn't go inside, but open doors at various entrances allowed us to see some of the interior:

Check out this ceiling! (Bob, can I have one? Pretty please?)

I've seen this particular door in a lot of pictures on the internet:

This less popularized one is just as beautiful:

I think the detailed panel over the door shows the protective Hand of Fatima with its five fingers:

These gold doors are a bit unusual. They are really more like a screen, and instead of tilework, they have cutwork designs, reminding me of the German art of scherenschnitte:

These are my best views of the area that, based on the carpet style that has individual spaces marked out for worshipers, is used for prayer:

In typical Moroccan fashion, there appears to be an open courtyard with a fountain in the center, possibly for ablution?

In my home I have some 12" tiles with a few decorative bands in the bathrooms. Big pieces like that are definitely not in vogue in Fes. Their tiled floors and walls are as much works of art as the carved stucco shown previously. Known as zellige (an Arabic word for "little polished stone"), the tiles are terra cotta clay chips covered with enamel and set into plaster to form geometric mosaics:
The handicraft skill required to create these masterpieces is astonishing. While some patterns seem to appear over and over again, side-by-side comparison shows that each is unique.

Check out this lintel. It made me want to climb on Bob's shoulders for a closer look. The miniscule detail is incomprehensible:

I love the sunflower-like starbursts on this outside door:

Much more complex, this interior door is covered in at least fifteen distinct patterns:

I think of our mausoleums and hero-memorials in the United States (for example, Grant's Tomb in New York City, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.) and find this Tomb of Moulay Idriss II to be just as magnificent and reverent as any of them.


  1. Very nice description. The Islamic patterns and colors are wonderful.

  2. I could look at these tile doors/walls/floors again and again. Beautiful!

  3. I had a fun time clicking to blow up the pictures to see the detail. I can see now where all the intricate tilework in Southern Spain came from--so cool to see the original!