Fes is the second largest city in the kingdom after Casablanca. Flanked by Atlas Mountains in the northeast, the city is celebrated as the “Mecca of the West” and “Athens of Africa”.
Fes is located on the crossroads of Rabat, Tangier, Marrakech, and Casablanca. The city is surrounded by high lands and is pierced by the River of Fez that flows from the west to east.
The city was founded in the 8th-9th century, under the rule of Idrisid and bears the Arabic accent of the era. After the rule of Idrisid ended, the city was reigned by many dynasties and rulers, until the arrival of Almoravid Sultan Yusuf ibn Tashfin in 11th century. He united the two autonomous and competing settlements of the city and created the Fes el Bali quarter.
It was under his reign that the city cherished its newly found identity of a spiritual and mercantile center. It attracted philosophers, astronomers, lawyers, and philosophers from all over the world.
The second largest city of Morocco was once the largest in the world. It happened during the reign of Almohad (1170-1180). The city was also hailed as the capital of the kingdom in the Marinid-era. The era earned the city numerous madrasas, mosques, zawiyas and city gates. These Moroccan and Moorish architectural sites continue to survive even today.
At present, the city is largely a combination of two old medina quarters, namely Fes el Bali and Fes Jdid. The Ville Nouvelle was constructed during the French colonial era.
The medina of Fes is inhabited by over 90,000 people, which is more than the population of most medinas in Morocco. When visiting the old quarters, it might seem it’s in a continuous state of bedlam. You can either fall in love with the place or retreat in horror – there is no in between.
Visitors with a zest for sauntering in the centuries-old lanes will find the medina charming. Its narrow alleys lead to the fountain-studded squares. The streets are always diffused with aromatic smells of food stands. The old quarters are home to rooftop cafés that work as a wonderful viewpoint to enjoy the surreal view of minarets. Stooped doorways reveal artisans sitting on stools, banging copper and making pottery.
City’s vastness can be overwhelming. It may take up to half a day to completely explore the medina. There are many tourist attractions you can check by here.
Bab Bou Jeloud – A simple blue-hued gate standing since the 12th century.
Al Attarine Madrasa – Constructed in 1300s, the madrasa is famous for its lavish tilework and enormous brass door.
Chouara Tannery – The tanneries in Fes.
University of Al Quaraouiyine – the oldest university in the world that was founded in 859.
Zaouia de Moulay Idriss – The mausoleum venerates the founder of the Fes city. It has a minaret called Fes Medina.
Batha Museum – Also known as Dar Batha, was the summer palace constructed in 19th century. It was turned into a museum of traditional art and craft in 1915.
Fondouk el-Nejjarine – This architectural wonder was created in the 1700s as a roadside inn. It is now turned into a museum of wooden arts and crafts. Its grand entrance, vast courtyard, and coming off balconies make for a good reason to visit this building.
Souks – Medina is all about markets selling a wide range of products including household items, tourist trinkets, garments, spices, and craft.
The Royal Palace
Located in Fes Jdid quarter, the Royal Palace or Fez’ Palais Royale is the home of Alaouite sultan, who is currently ruling the kingdom. The opulence of the palace can be estimated by its grand and ornate entrance. It also a spectacular example of modern restoration. The imposing brass doors are all festooned by colorful mosaic tilework in a geometric fashion and carved cedar wood. This architectural artwork in mosaic tiles is famously known as zellige and is native to the kingdom of Morocco.
While, the entry isn’t allowed, visitors can view the palace from afar and admire its stunning architecture. The photogenic door makes for a perfect backdrop for your photographs.
Ibn Danan Synagogue
Not a lavish destination, but this 17th century holds the historical significance of being one of the several that still remain inside the walls of Fes. The building features masonry coated with plaster, a painted wooden ceiling, and tiled floor. The small windows are where the light enters from in the room. Once, the room was used to be lit with numerous memorial lamps which have now disappeared.
Supposedly, the synagogue was restored in the 1870s. Recently, the Moroccan government has been struggling for the preservation of this historic building. This place is an interesting stop post in your itinerary if you are a history buff.
Bou Inania Madrasa
Built between 1350 and 1357 by Merenid sultan Bou Inan, this madrasa is one of the few buildings in the city where non-Muslims are permitted entry. Festooned with colorful tiles, blue being dominant, Its stunning architecture shines under the golden light of the sun.
Located in the rue Talaa Kebira of Fes el-Bali, this madrasa was functioning theological school until the 1960s. Carved woodwork and stucco decoration truly standout.
This Merenid architecture is another example of stunning Moroccan architecture. Built in 1325 by Abu Said, the complex includes a wonderful display of the intricate decoration from the 14th century. Elaborate zellige and cedar wood carvings give this madrasa a traditional Moroccan character.
The upper floor of this building is made of warren of cells, which was once used as a home by students who were studying at the Qaraouiyine Mosque.
Qaraouiyine Mosque was one of world’s first universities. The rooftop of this lavish madrasa offers a viewpoint to get a great view of the mosque’s green-tiled roof.
Fes is an unmissable city if you are visiting the kingdom of Morocco. With heritage sites abound, the city is truly a tunnel to the past of Morocco. Be it the tannery lanes filled with artisans, medina souks filled with shops, or the new city with the world’s largest car-free area, Fes is full of surprises!