The city of Fez is located in northern Morocco at the axes of two main communication routes that connected the Atlantic to the central Magrib and the Straights of Gibraltar to the Africa. Fez was probably founded in the late eighth-century by the Idrisids, eventually developing through the merging of two separate cities on opposite banks of the Wadi Fez river. The two cities spent almost a century under the rule of the Umayyads of al-Andalus, before a succession of Berber dynasties conquered it. The Almoravid conquest of the city in the late eleventh-century was a pivotal moment, when the previously autonomous cities were united into one, spurring new development in the form of a fortress, new urban quarters, and water infrastructure. Upon the Almohad conquest of the city in 1145 the form of the city was changed again - the Almohads razed much of the Almoravid fortifications before constructing new walls and gates in the thirteenth-century, which to a large degree have survived.
Conquered again in the thirteenth-century by the Marinids, Fez became the capital city of the dynasty. Always second in importance to Marrakech, which had been the capital of both the Almoravids and Almohads, Fez developed into a major intellectual and commercial center under the Marinids. Beginning in 674/1276 the Marinids constructed Fes al-Jadid ("New Fes"), a new administrative citadel surrounded by a double wall, west of the old walled city, which then was known as Fes al-Bali ("Ancient Fes"). The Marinids embellished their populous capital with the numerous madrasas for which it is famous and constructed estates in the countryside around the city.
Fez remained under Marinid rule until it was conquered by the Sa'di dynasty in the sixteenth-century, and then again by the 'Alawi dynasty in 1666. In the late nineteenth-century Fes al-Jadid and Fes al-Bali were united with new walls.
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Le Tourneau, Roger. Fez in the age of the Marinides. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. c. 1961.
Le Tourneau, Roger. Fes avant le protectorat : etude economique et sociale d'une ville de l'occident musulman. Rabat : Editions La Porte. 1987
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Madrasa Bu Inaniyya is perhaps the most celebrated of the many madrasas founded by the Marinids. The madrasa bears the name of its founder, the Marinid Sultan Faris b. 'Ali, Abu Inan al-Mutawakkil. It simultaneously functioned as both an educational institute and as a congregational mosque, and accommodated shops and a large public latrine along the front façade.
Its multiple functions are accommodated in a symmetrical plan in which student rooms, the prayer hall, and flanking domed halls surround a large courtyard. The minaret, located at one end of the façade, announced the function of the madrasa as a mosque, and its water clock regulated the times for prayer for other mosques in the city as well. The madrasas of Fez often served multiple functions in addition to their primary role as teaching institutions. With their fine libraries and their connection to the famous university of al-Qarawiyyin, the Marinid madrasas made the Maghrib, and especially Fez, a celebrated intellectual centre.
The sumptuous decorative program of the courtyard, for which the Bu 'Inaniyya is celebrated, shows the characteristic Marinid translation of Nasrid palatial materials and techniques into a religious context. Glazed tile dadoes, carved wood, and panels of finely carved stucco decorate every surface of the courtyard façade. Wooden mashrabiyya screens separate the marble-paved courtyard from the arcaded corridors leading to the student rooms. Although the visual debt to the Nasrid palace of the Alhambra is obvious, the extreme delicacy and abundance of the decorative treatment and its setting in a religious institution are characteristic of Marinid architecture.
The contrast between sumptuous ornament in the courtyard and the spartan accommodations for the students at the Bu 'Inaniyya and the other Marinid madrasas may reflect the multiple functions of these buildings. The madrasas often served as mosques for their respective quarters and as settings for official ceremonies. With the addition of associated charitable functions like guesthouses and waqfs (endowed properties which supported the madrasa's upkeep), to their primary role as religious schools, the madrasas functioned as important centers of community life. The courtyard, as the most public of the spaces within the madrasa, was therefore the focus of the ornament that would highlight the generous image of the madrasa's founder.
Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture. NY: Columbia UP, 1994. 240-251.