Madrasa al-Tashfiniya
Tlemcen, Algeria

The Madrasa al-Tashfiniya was built by the Zayyanid Sultan Abu Tashfin, between 1320 and 1330, and was demolished in 1873 under French occupation. Those who had the privilege of visiting the madrasa described it as an architectural masterpiece. It is undoubtedly the most famous and most studied of all medieval madrasas in Algeria. Al-Tashfiniya was the object of all the care and attention of its founder, Sultan Abu Tashfin. Indeed, we learn from al-Tanasi that this Sultan adorned his madrasah with all the embellishments that one could admire in his own royal palace. The most remarkable of these decorations was a silver tree on which there were all sorts of singing birds.

Spatially, al-Tashfiniya stretched over an area of 1100 sq. m., making it the second largest Maghreb Madrasa in the Middle Ages, just behind the Madrasa al-Bu’inaniya of Fes. It reproduced the same spatial pattern of other Maghrebi madrasas. Its plan consisted of large rooms for teaching and praying, accompanied by numerous small cell rooms for the accommodation of the students; the whole was organized around a central courtyard. 

However, the rectangular courtyard was much deeper than wide (length-width ratio was 22:9 m). Apart from the unique case of the Madrasa al-Mustansiriyya in Baghdad, there were no known cases that adopted these proportions in madrasas, neither in North Africa nor in Western Asia. On the other hand, the stretched proportions of the courtyard are a common feature of many Andalusian palaces. Moreover, unlike the majority of the medersas where the fountain is positioned in the center of the courtyard, al-Tashfiniya’s basin was entirely off-center. It was in the same way as the Comares Palace of the Alhambra, where two basins were located at both ends of the long courtyard. These similarities corroborate the idea of an analogy between the Madrasa al-Tashfiniya and some Andalusian palaces.

Today, although this madrasa has disappeared forever, it embodied an institution of higher learning in the Zayyanid dynasty. A dynasty where men of knowledge were buried in the royal necropolis, alongside the royalty.

--Amine Kasmi, 2017

Tlemcen, Algeria
Images & Videos
Associated Names
Associated Collections
1873/1290 AH destruction
1320-1330 / 720-730 AH
Style Periods
4..5 x 35 m
Variant Names
المدرسة التاشفينية
Médersa Tachfinya
Building Usages