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.
"Fas." In Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Leiden: Brill.
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
Revault, J., L. Golvin and A. Amahane. 1985-89. Les Palais et demeures de Fes. 2 vols Paris. 1985-1989.
Madrasa al-Sahrij is one of two connected madrasas built near the Mosque of al-Andalusiyyin by the Marinid heir to the throne 'Ali b. 'Uthman II, Abu al-Hasan (r. 1331-1348). Madrasa al-Sahrij was finished first in 1321/720 AH, and Madrasa al-Sebai'yin was completed two years later. Madrasa al-Sahrij was first known as al-Madrasa al-Kubra (the Great Madrasa), because it was larger than the other madrasas which were built at the same time. It came to be known later as the Sihrij Madrasa in reference to the large rectangular water basin (Arabic sihrij) that occupies the center of its patio.
The plan follows the ubiquitous model of Marinid madrasas in Fez: a rectangular court is surrounded on its lateral sides by galleries giving onto student rooms, and a wide but shallow prayer hall.
The central courtyard is lavishly decorated with carved stucco, glazed tiles, and carved cedar wood, characteristic of the Marinid translation of Nasrid palatial materials and techniques into a religious context. The contrast between sumptuous ornament in the courtyard and the spartan accommodations for the students in all of the 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, or 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.
Since 2000 there have efforts to preserve and restore the madrasas, as well as vandalism and theft.
Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture. NY: Columbia UP, 1994. 240-251.