Did you know the world’s oldest learning institution may have been built by an African woman? The al-Qarawiyyin Library is located in Fez, Morocco and was built in 859, and after a restoration, was opened to the public last month. Now Moroccans, tourists and visitors alike can get a glimpse of what the library must have been like centuries ago. The al-Qarawiyyin Library is the oldest in the world. It is home to many treasures, including a Quran written in the 9th century and other centuries’ old manuscripts that require restoration.


(Ideas TED)

(Ideas TED)

Prior to the architectural restoration, al-Qarawiyyin was only open to researchers as it was falling apart due to disrepair. This changed in 2012 when a restoration project funded by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture following a grant from Kuwait’s Arab Bank kicked off. The project was headed by Aziza Chaouni, a Canadian-Moroccan architect with roots in Fez. Al-Qarawiyyin is said to be the oldest tertiary institution in the world. It was founded by Fatima El-Fihriya, a wealthy woman from what is now Tunisia who used her inheritance to build the mosque that would grow to include a library and a university.


Al-Qarawiyyin was a place for Islamic scholars and poets from different regions who would come to learn. Some famous minds from history passed through its halls, including ibn Khaldun, the historian and economist who went there in the 14th century. With such an intricate past, Chaouni had to preserve the building with modern conveniences in mind. While using the traditional art of Moroccan mosaic tiles, zellige Chaouni also considers sustainable technologies such as solar panels. Now al-Qarawiyyin contains a café, a conference room, a manuscript restoration, a museum showcasing the history of the institutions and more.


The fascinating history of al-Qarawiyyin can now be enjoyed by curious minds from 21st century. This is an important achievement as other learning centers exist across Muslim majority regions in North and West Africa.


The importance of maintaining historical heritage cannot be overstated. What other architectural monuments from African history will you like to see restored? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter @rafeeeeta