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.
- 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|
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.