11 Extraordinary Places to See Islamic Design & Geometric Patterns in Morocco

Morocco is known for its extraordinary architecture that has historically been influenced by Moors and the Idrisi dynasty whose geometric designs and patterns were incorporated in all forms of buildings. Pre Islamization the Berber Kingdom set the architectural tone with mud-brick houses and kasbahs. Touring Morocco’s Imperial Cities and the grand south offers the opportunity to discover hidden treasures from 110 BC and 11 extraordinary places to see were Islamic Design  & Geometric Patterns can be found.

Hassan II Mosque Islamic Design, Casablanca
Hassan II Mosque Islamic Design, Casablanca

1. Dar Si Said Museum (Marrakech, Medina)

Dar Si Said, (The Museum of Moroccan Arts) was once the private home of the brother of Bou-Ahmed, Sisi Said. A large courtyard with a traditional fountain laid out in classic Moroccan style surround each room. Dari Sais boasts hand-carved and painted ceilings on the top floor which are perhaps one of the finest examples of painted ceilings from this error in Marrakech.

The Dar Si Said museum’s collection is said to be one of the finest in Morocco. The museum is an Islamic architectural masterpiece and showcases jewelry from the High Atlas Mountain region, the Anti Atlas and the extreme south; carpets from the Haouz and the High Atlas; oil lamps from Taroudant; blue pottery from Safi and green pottery from Tamgroute along with leatherwork from Marrakesh.

Some of the wooden screens and frames were recovered from the El Badi Palace. Today in the Middle East, Moroccan craftsmen are sought after as creators of Moroccan carved and painted ceilings in palaces and corporate headquarters. Their craftsmanship was displayed in the New York Metropolitan Museum exhibition “The Moroccan Court” in New York in 2011 and in the following year at the Shangri-La residence in Honolulu as part of a promotion for Moroccan business and cultural exchange between Morocco and Honolulu.

2. Hassan II Mosque (Casablanca)

Casablanca is home to the Hassan II Mosque, designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau. It is situated on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic, which can be seen through a gigantic glass floor with room for 25,000 worshippers. A further 80,000 can be accommodated in the mosque’s courtyard. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 meters. Work on the mosque was started in 1980 and was intended to be completed for the 60th birthday of the former Moroccan King Hassan II, in 1989. However, the building was not inaugurated until 1993. Authorities spent an estimated $800 million in the construction of the building. It is an enormous architectural masterpiece and the second largest religious building in the world. Tour its famous minaret, dome, royal doors made of marble.
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Al Attaraine Madrasa, Fes

3. Al-Attaraine Madrasa (Fes, Medina)

This 17th-century madrasa is well-appointed in front of the spice and perfume market in Fes. The courtyard of this historic madrasa is ornately decorated with traditional patterns and craftsmanship of the Marinid dynasty. The Al-Attarine Madrasa’s walls are decorated with hand-carved stucco work, Arabic calligraphy, and intricate zellige mosaic tiles. The zellige tiles form magnificent Islamic geometric patterns. The cedarwood doors are intricately carved with poetic words of the Quran on them.

Visitors can marvel at the exceptionally tall carved marble columns rise from the floor and the cedarwood doors that intricately carved with poetic words from the Quran. Elaborate wood arches and cornices tower above towards the sky. The Al Attarine Madrasa takes its name from  “Souk al-Attarine – the historic spice and perfume market in UNEXO Fes”.

4. Ben Youssef Medersa (Marrakech Medina)

The Ben Youssef Madrasa, constructed by Saadian Sultan Abdallah al-Ghalib in 1565 shows a layout typical of a Marinid school and dormitory, ornate in the entrance and simple near the student quarters. The central courtyard boasts a reflection pool, carved stucco niche with muqarnas, colorful tilework with Arabic calligraphy; the walls are carved in arabesque facade. The madrasa reflects Andalusian architecture – pavilions with pools, gardens, fountains, and intricately decorated walls of stucco and tile.
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Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakech

5. El Bahia Palace (Marrakech Medina)

El Bahia Palace – The El Bahia Palace in Marrakech is a beautiful building and an excellent example of Eastern Architecture from the 19th century that represents trends and standards of the wealthy who lived at that time. It was built for Ahmed Ibn Moussa (or Ba Ahmed) between 1894 and 1900 in the Alawi style that was popular at the time. Craftsmen were brought from Fes to work on this monumental task which took approximately fifteen years to complete. It is said that the palace was built as a home for Ba Ahmed’s official concubines, and it has also been said that the importance or favor of each concubine increased along with the size of their bedroom. The name ‘Bahia’ means ‘palace of the beautiful.” There are 160 different rooms in the palace which are sprawled out in an open, rambling fashion. Decorations take the form of subtle stucco panels, zellij decorations, tiled floors, smooth arches, carved-cedar ceilings, shiny marble (tadlak) finishes andzouak painted ceilings. The palace is surrounded by an eight-hectare garden.
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La Tangerina Hotel Tangier, Islamic Fountain

6. La Tangerina Boutique Hotel, Traditional Courtyard Fountain with Arabesque & Tessellated Patterns (Tangier Medina)

La Tangerina is located in the heart of Tangier’s Kasbah. The hotel boasts panoramic views of the straits of Gibraltar. The charming 10 room riad has Islamic architecture woven through its structure inclusive of Moroccan lanterns with arabesque patterns, and staircases, door trimmings, and walls decorated with ornate, colorful geometric patterns. In the heart of the Kasbah on the highest peak of the Medina of Tangier with panoramic views across the straits of Gibraltar, you will find a little gem. Lovingly restored by its owners Jürgen and Farida, LaTangerina is a tribute to Islamic architecture and style of the North and also of European colonial period. The 10 rooms are in this villa are spread over 4 floors around a central courtyard which is typical of Islamic architecture.  

7. Moulay Ismail, Mausoleum (Meknes, Medina)

Nicknamed the Warrior King, Moulay Ismail’s Mausoleum boasts an entrance lined with blue patterned geometric tiles, an arabesque carved door, and green zellige rooftops. Inside, the Mausoleum holds a tranquil interior courtyard, fountains, Moroccan lanterns,  sculpted plasterwork, carved wood, arches, colonnades, high ceilings – all designed in perfect symmetry. This site is a shining example of Meknes architecture.

8. Saadian Tombs (Marrakech, Medina)
 The Saadian tombs in Marrakech date back from the time of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603). The tombs were only recently discovered (in 1917) and were restored by the Beaux-arts service. The tombs have, because of the beauty of their decoration, been a major attraction for visitors of Marrakech. The mausoleum comprises the corpses of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty that originated in the valley of the Draa River.

9. The Batha Museum & Garden (Fes, Medina)

The Musee Dar el-Batha offers up a great collection of pottery, leatherwork, wood, books, and manuscripts from the nineteenth century centered around a green spacious courtyard. The Batha Andalusian Garden boasts a three-hundred-year-old Quercus Rotundifolia, Washington Fiera, Cycas Revolta, and Moroccan fountains. The Batha Garden is a serene escape from the bustling medina in Fes. It is also utilized each June by the Fes Festival of Sacred World Music where various world music groups perform.

10. Cherratin Madrasa (Fes, Medina)

Completed in the 17th century, the Cherratin Madrasa was once the largest school in Fes. Its facade offers a more spartan take on a madrasa.  Small interior courtyards, iron doors with arabesque patterns, a courtyard with high walls decorated with finely carved stucco and wood on vaulted arches and corners, a floor and stairways covered in geometric patterns, and small fountains characterize Cherratin Madrasa.
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Kasbah Taourirt Interior, Ouarzazate

11. Kasbah Taourirt, El Glaoui Kasbah (Ouarzazate)

Set among a background of the stunning mountain scenery of Ouarzazate, the door to the Sahara Desert, Kasbah Taourirt is one of Southern Morocco’s Kasbah with a rich history and ideal example of Islamic architecture that has geometric patterned zellige tilework.  In the past, it was a strategic location controlled by the Glaoui for the Saharan Caravan Route to West Africa. While Taourirt acted as the main Glaoui residence, it did not house the main Glaoui chiefs. Instead, it housed the second tier of command, such as the dynasty’s sons, servants, cousins, builders, and craftsmen. The maze-like structure inside Taourirt is best described as a cobweb village of sun-kissed buildings with multi-level, elaborate towers and turrets rising out of closely packed ksours.

It has ramparts with geometrical drawings and a series of alleys and gateways. There are more than twenty riads, that makeup Taourirt. Inside the Kasbah Taourirt, there is a myriad of mysterious stairwells leading into a series of uniquely shaped and sized rooms lit up by low windows. The larger rooms have plasterwork decoration featuring floral patterns and are contrasted against white walls. The palace has close to three hundred rooms. It is also possible to visit old Glaoui apartment rooms such as the former reception rooms, harem room, and palace kitchens. The apartments are distinguished by well-preserved painted stucco and wooden cedar ceilings.

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Dar El Bacha Pillar, Marrakech

Reading Recommendations:  4 Books on Islamic Design & Geometric Patterns

1. Arabesque, Decorative Art in Morocco, by Francoise Peuriot & Philippe Ploquin, Published by ACR Edition © 1999
2. Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach Paperback – Keith Critchlow ©  1999
3. Zellige Histoire, Technique, Compositions (French)  By Hafid Janif Paperback ©  2008
4. Mosques: Splendors of Islam Hardcover by Leylya Uluhanli (Author), Renata Holod & Prince Amyn Aga Khan © 2017
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