The Bu 'Inaniyya Madrasa 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.
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