Sunday, 2 December 2018

Postcard from Fez, Morocco

Greetings! Last month I took a trip to visit Morocco. My itinerary included Rabat, Volubilis, Fez, Marrakesh, and Casablanca. You might like to read my post on Rabat and Volubilis here.

Today I'm sharing the top twelve sights that I've visited in Fez, one of the four imperial cities in Morocco. The other three imperial cities are Rabat, Meknes (near Volubilis), and Marrakesh. In my opinion, Fez is a must see destination, especially for first-time visitors to Morocco.

QUICK FACTS:
  • Fez is located east of Rabat, about 200 km (125 miles) in driving distance.
  • Fez was founded in 789 A.D. by Moulay Idriss II, the son of the founder of modern Morocco. It served as the capital of Morocco for more than 400 years.
  • The Medina of Fez is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the University of Al Qaraouiyine in Fez is the oldest operating university in the world.
  • Fez is divided into three sections: Fes el-Bali (the original old town), Fes el-Jedid (built to accommodate the city’s expanding population in the 13th century), and Ville Nouvelle (the contemporary quarter).
  • The population of Fez is about 1.1 million.
  • Fez main colour is yellow sandstone as seen in the panoramic photo below. Buildings are not allowed to be taller than the mosque minarets in Fez.

Panoramic view of Fez, Morocco

TOP 12 SIGHTS TO SEE IN FEZ (Click to enlarge the pictures):

1. Fez el-Bali Medina: Medina means Old Town, behind the ancient walls. The Medina of Fez, a World Heritage Site, is a labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and alleyways. It's thought to be the largest intact surviving Medina and one of the largest urban pedestrian zones in the world.

Narrow street in Fez medina

Since the entire Medina is pedestrian-only, donkey carts are used to transport trash collection. The donkeys wear rubber shoes to protect their joints and hooves from repetitive injuries. This means you will not hear them approaching. When you hear "Balak! Balak!", which means "Clear the way!", just step to one side.

All over Morocco, but particularly in the medinas, cats are well loved by local residents as they keep the mice away, a natural way to control diseases or plagues. Can you see the cute cat in the lower right corner of the photo below?

A cat watching a donkey at work in Fez Medina

When you walk in the Medina of Fez, it is cool as the walls block much of the sunlight. Behind its walls, you'll find architectural landmarks, bustling squares, and souks lined with shops whose interiors resemble Aladdin's cave. Windows are designed so that one can see out but not in, to ensure maximum privacy.

2. Attarine Medersa or Madrasa: In Morocco, all educational buildings or religious schools are known as medersas, or madrasas. The Attarine Medersa is one of the finest in Fez.

Commissioned by Marinid sultan Abu Said and completed in 1325, it was originally intended to house students from nearby Quaraouiyine Mosque. Today, it is one of the city’s most impressive examples of Maranid architecture.

The rectangular courtyard displays a masterpiece of intricate zellij tile work, carved stucco and ornate cedar wood carpentry. Elsewhere in the medersa, you'll find fine marble columns and graceful Arabic calligraphy.

Attarine Medersa in Fez, Morocco

3. Al Qaraouiyine Mosque and University: Al Qaraouiyine Mosque is home to the University of Al-Quaraouiyine. Founded in 859, it is believed to be the world’s oldest continuously functioning university, and remains a vitally important center of Islamic learning.

The Al Qaraouiyine Mosque is also one of the largest centers of worship in Africa, and can accommodate up to 20,000 people during prayer time. The university's library is one of the oldest surviving libraries in the world, and includes amongst its tomes a 9th-century Qur’an.

Although the Mosque itself is not open to the public, you can view its minaret and green tiled roof from any of the Medina's rooftops. Click to enlarge the photo below and spot Al Qaraouiyine Mosque's green tiled roof, with the white minaret on the right side of the photo. I caught a glimpse of the Mosque’s courtyard through the main door.

View of Al Qaraouiyine Mosque, upper right

Al Qaraouiyine Mosque's courtyard, Fez, Morocco

4. Place Seffarine: This square is one of the oldest squares in the Medina, with little shopping stores full of Moroccan handmade goodies.

Seffarine Square, Fez, Morocco

5. An authentic Moroccan carpet shop: Morocco is known for its carpets and the merchants who sell them. There are many carpet shops in Fez Medina. Behind some of the rustic, simple-looking doors, the building interiors are often spacious and jaw-dropping gorgeous.

Take a look at the sitting area of the carpet shop that I visited below. I think it fits for a king or a queen! Fresh mint tea is served with shiny silver pots and colourful tea glasses.

Sitting area in a carpet shop, Fez, Morocco

There are five common elements to a Moroccan 'house' in the Medina, usually three-storey high: 1) The roof opens to the sky (skylight) for natural light, 2) The ornate wood carvings, 3) The white carved stucco, 4) The tiled fountain, and 5) The tiled floor that is slightly recessed to drain rain water. In the photo below, the roof is covered with carpets since this is a carpet shop.

Carpets on display and house structure

6. Chouara Tanneries: The tanneries have been in operation since medieval times and have not changed much since. In the photo below, you can see the vats filled with colourful dyes and the skins laid out to dry in the sunshine.

I visited Morocco in their cool season so the tanneries did not smell too much. The shop owners hand out small bouquets of fresh mint to offset the smell. Colourful Moroccan slippers, pillows, ottomans, and many other leather products are available for purchase.

Chouara Tanneries, Fez, Morocco

Leather pillows and slippers, Fez, Morocco

7. Moulay Idriss Mausoleum: The Mausoleum is open only to Muslims. Non-Muslims may not enter but can get a glimpse of the beautifully-designed entrance. I had mentioned Moulay Idriss city in my previous post.

Moulay Idriss Mausoleum, Fez, Morocco

8. The Nejjarine Museum displays Moroccan wooden arts and crafts. It is actually an old fondouk (a hotel or caravanserai), which has been transformed into a museum.

Here, in the salons where traders once slept on their trips to town are displays of engraved granary doors, dowry chests, and mashrabiya (lattice screen) window frames.

Below is a photo of the central courtyard of the fondouk, with its sturdy pillars and balconies decorated in carved wood and stucco detailing. Just outside of the Nejjarine museum is a public square and a beautiful tiled fountain.

The Nejjarine fondouk/ museum

Fountain in the Nejjarine Square

9. Mellah (Jewish Quarter) and Aben Danan Synagogue: The Jewish Quarter or Mellah, as it's known locally, is located In the newer section Fes el-Jedid. Of the 250,000 Jews that once lived here, only a handful remain and have since relocated to the Ville Nouvelle area.

The Mellah, dates back to the 14th century, is full of history and Jewish-style architecture, such as the Aben Danan synagogue located in the heart of the Mellah. The synagogue was built in the 17th century by a wealthy merchant called Mimoun Ben Sidan.

Inside Aben Danan Synagogue, Fez, Morocco

10. Merenids Tombs: The golden-stoned tombs are located on a hill, just outside of Fez Medina. On a nice day, you can keep heading up the hill to the summit for the views, which take in the entire walled Medina area and out to the green hills beyond.

Alternatively, you can take a taxi to get there. A small taxi (petit taxi) can take up to three passengers. A big taxi (grand taxi) can take up to six passengers. Always negotiate the fare before getting in.

Merenids Tombs, Fez, Morocco

11. The Royal Palace (or Dar el Makhzen): The Royal Palace is not open to the public but is definitely worth seeing. The royal family doesn’t live there, but they maintain a palace in every city for each of their visits.

Truly an impressive sight, it features gigantic doors made of brass and gold, surrounded by zellij tile work and carved cedar wood. The detailed mosaics and bold colours make for beautiful pictures that play with light.

The Royal Palace, Fez, Morocco

12. Ville Nouvelle: This is the new town or contemporary part of Fez. Below is a photo of Hassan Avenue, one of the main avenues in Fez, early in the morning. During the day and in the evening, the middle section is filled with families and vendors. There are many shops and restaurants lined the avenue as well.

Hassan Avenue, Fez, Morocco

MY CONCLUSION:

I enjoyed my time in Fez very much. It is a mystical, ancient city with so much history to explore. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the textures are incredible attractions. Words are not adequate to describe the architectural details and workmanship found in buildings in the Medina.

Fez gives its visitors a lot of sensory stimulation. Come with a sense of adventure, a decent amount of energy, pay attention to your surroundings, and you'll love it.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.

38 comments:

  1. Looks like you're having an amazing time. I love the narrow street shot

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    1. Thanks, Lydia. I like that shot, too. Fez is an amazing city.

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  2. Just magnificient Natalie and the history! Thank you for taking me on a virtual tour of Fez and hopefully I might actually visit there IRL one day. Have a great week! xx

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    1. Thank you, Sue, for taking the virtual tour of Fez. My pleasure to share my travel stories and photos. Have a wonderful week!

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    2. Thanks for joining us each week at #MLSTL, Natalie. I appreciate your continued support and friendship. xx

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    3. Thank you, Sue, for hosting and creating a forum for us to share each week. Likewise, I greatly appreciate your support and friendship. Have a beautiful week!

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  3. Fabulous photos - especially the interiors of those carpet shops. My heart was happy when you said how the donkeys wear rubber shoes to stop injuries. Thanks for taking us to Fez - it's a bucket list place for me...one day...sigh...

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    1. Thank you, Jo, for reading my post and commenting. There is an organization called American Fondouk. They provide charitable vet care to the mules, donkeys, and horses in Fez. They offer free tours of their clinic but I didn't have enough time to visit.

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  4. What an amazing city to visit! Some of your photos brought back memories, like the tannery, the carpet shops and the Medina. I never did Fez justice, but it seems like you covered quite a bit of ground and immersed yourself in the history and sites. Thank you for this tour, Natalie. Your blogs are making me want to return to Morocco and see the country in depth.

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    1. Thank you, Liesbet, for your comment. I did spend more time to explore in Fez than in Casablanca. Ancient cities like Fez hold so much history.

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  5. Thank you for your insight into another exotic (to me) part of the world I haven't had a chance to visit in person.

    SSG xxx

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    1. You're welcome, SSG. It's my pleasure to share my travel stories and photos. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment.

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  6. The artwork looks so amazing Natalie! I love all your photos and feel that Fez is a place well worth a visit after reading your post :) #Lifethisweek

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    1. Yes, Debbie, the art work in Fez is amazing. Behind the simple looking doors, I usually find astonishing and very elaborate interiors.

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  7. Hi, Natalie - What an awesome city. I wouldn't know which stop to visit first! Since Richard and I are currently on the look out for a living room carpet (and I absolutely LOVE mint tea), I would probably start there! Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventures with us.

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    1. Hi Donna - The carpet shops in Fez handle international shipping so that makes it convenient for travellers. Thank you for reading my post and comment.

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  8. So good to learn more about where to go in Morocco! Thanks for the tips.

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    1. You're welcome, Sanch. Thank you for reading my post and commenting. I greatly appreciate it.

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  9. Fez looks amazing. Your pictures make me want to go there.

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    1. Thank you, Darlene, for your comment. I found Fez very interesting to discover.

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  10. My late brother used to love visiting and your post has made me see why #GlobalBlogging

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    1. Thank you, Kate, for your visit and comment. I greatly appreciate it.

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  11. Natalie, the place reminds of Turkey and I would think Turkey before the influence of other cultures it would be more like Fez now.

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    1. I'd think so, Suzanne. I see similarities in Mediterranean countries.

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  12. I would love to visit there. Very lovely pics. #MLSTL

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    1. Thank you, Patrick, for your comment. Fez offers many photo opportunities.

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  13. You are becoming my blog link up's story teller and tour guide. Wow. Again. It is awesome that you not only visit these places but share so much of your findings and facts.
    Thank you for linking up this week for #lifethisweek Next week's optional prompt is the photo-based "Share Your Snaps." Denyse

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    1. Thank you, Denyse, for hosting the link up where I can share my stories and photos. I'll prepare a post for next week.

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  14. Fantastic scenery and architecture Natalie! I always associated Fez with those cute little hats with the tassel on the top - it was interesting to learn more about the region and what else is associated with it.
    MLSTL - I've shared this on my SM :)

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    1. Thank you, Leanne, for hosting and sharing. Yes, the red fez hat. It even has the same name as the city of Fez. It's worn in special ceremonies or more formal settings. I have a picture of someone wearing it in my upcoming post.

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  15. So glad you're having a fabulous time. The architecture and those mosques look amazing. My nieces went to Morocco, so too my daughter and they all wax lyrical about it too - especially the markets and the alleyways. #MLSTL and shared on SM

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    1. Thank you, Jo, for your comment and shares. I'm glad your nieces and daughter enjoyed their trip to Morocco. When I spoke to my fellow travelers in Morocco, they all said they were having a good time.

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  16. I'm always impressed by the extent of your travels, Natalie, and everything you've seen. Thanks for sharing it with us on #MLSTL.

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    1. Thank you, Christie, for stopping by. I love to travel and try to fit in as much as I can while I still can.

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  17. What a gorgeous place to visit, it is absolutely stunning to think about how long a place has existed. #GlobalBlogging

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    1. Thank you, Heather, for your visit and comment. Fez is definitely an ancient imperial city with a lot of history and culture for visitors to explore.

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  18. That is some beautiful architecture!

    #mlstl

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    1. Thank you, Bethany, for your comment. I greatly appreciate it.

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