Fez Places of Interest: A Friendly Guide to Exploring the City

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Fez, also known as Fes, is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved medieval cities in the world. It is the second-largest city in Morocco and is considered one of the country’s four imperial cities, along with Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat. The city is known for its stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and rich history.

Fez is home to numerous places of interest that attract tourists from all over the world. The city’s most famous attraction is the Medina of Fez, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This ancient walled city is home to thousands of narrow alleys, bustling markets, and beautiful mosques.

Historical Significance

Fez is one of the most historically significant cities in Morocco, with a rich cultural and architectural heritage. The city’s Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest and best-preserved medieval cities in the world. The Medina is home to a number of historical landmarks, including the Al Quaraouiyine Mosque, which is considered to be the oldest university in the world.

Fez was one of the four imperial cities of Morocco and has played an important role in the country’s history. It was founded in the 9th century and became the capital of the Idrisid dynasty. Over the centuries, Fez has been ruled by a number of different dynasties, including the Marinids, who made the city their capital in the 13th century.

One of the most significant aspects of Fez’s history is its role as a center of Islamic learning and culture. The city has a long tradition of scholarship and has produced some of the most important scholars and thinkers in Islamic history. Fez is also known for its traditional crafts, such as pottery, weaving, and metalworking, which have been passed down through generations of artisans.

Fez’s architecture is another important part of its historical significance. The city is home to a number of stunning examples of Islamic architecture, including the Al-Attarine Madrasa and the Bou Inania Madrasa. These buildings feature intricate tilework, stucco decoration, and other decorative elements that showcase the city’s rich artistic heritage.

Exploring the Medina

Fez’s Medina, also known as Fes El-Bali, is a labyrinthine of narrow streets, alleys, and souks that are sure to leave you enchanted. It is the largest car-free urban area in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here are some of the highlights of exploring the Medina:

Narrow Streets

The narrow streets of the Medina are a sight to behold. They are lined with tall buildings that date back to the 8th century, and they are so narrow that in some places, donkeys are the only mode of transportation. Walking through these streets is an experience like no other, and it is easy to get lost. However, getting lost is part of the fun, and it is an opportunity to discover hidden gems that you might not have found otherwise.

Souks

The souks in the Medina are a shopper’s paradise. They are a maze of market stalls that sell everything from spices and textiles to pottery and jewelry. The souks are organized by trade, so you can find everything you need in one place. The prices are reasonable, but be prepared to haggle.

Fes El-Bali

Fes El-Bali, also known as the old city of Fez, is a step back in time. It’s one of the world’s best-preserved medieval cities and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking through its winding labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways is like stepping into a time machine, transporting you back to the Middle Ages.

The city’s layout has remained largely unchanged since the 9th century and is home to the Qarawiyyin University, founded in 859 and considered by many to be the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. This old city is a bustling hub of Moroccan culture and tradition, filled with shops, food stalls, and artisan workshops.

A key attraction in Fes El-Bali is the famous Chouara Tannery, the largest of the city’s three tanneries. Despite the strong smell, a visit to this tannery is worth it for the sight alone: an array of stone vessels filled with a vast range of dyes and liquids. Here, you can see the traditional method of producing world-renowned Moroccan leather.

Another place of interest is the Medersa Bou Inania, an Islamic school established in the 14th century. The school’s intricately carved cedar woodwork, elegant marble, and elaborate tile work make it an architectural marvel.

When navigating the narrow streets, it’s easy to get lost in the intricate web of the Medina, so hiring a local guide or using a reliable GPS is recommended. Also, it’s important to note that Fes El-Bali is a conservative area, so dressing modestly is advised.

Ville Nouvelle

Ville Nouvelle, or “New City,” is a French colonial district located in Fez, the spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco. Contrasting sharply with the city’s historic medinas (old towns), Ville Nouvelle offers a more modern and cosmopolitan feel. Developed under French colonial rule in the early 20th century, Ville Nouvelle features wide boulevards lined with palm trees, modern infrastructure, and a unique blend of French and Moroccan architectural styles.

The district is home to a variety of restaurants, cafes, and shops, offering a wide range of cuisines and goods. From traditional Moroccan dishes to international fare, the eateries in Ville Nouvelle provide ample options for food enthusiasts. The shopping scene in this district is also diverse, with high-end boutiques, local artisan shops, and sprawling supermarkets.

While in Ville Nouvelle, don’t miss out on the beautifully landscaped Jardin Jnan Sbil. This public garden offers a tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Another notable site is the Royal Palace of Fez, although non-Muslims cannot enter the palace, the grand golden doors make for a fantastic photo opportunity.

Key Landmarks

Fez is home to many historical landmarks that attract tourists from all over the world. Here are some of the most notable ones:

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, or Dar el Makhzen, in Fez is an impressive display of Moroccan architectural splendor and a significant symbol of the country’s imperial history. Although the palace grounds are not open to the public as they are still used by the King of Morocco when he visits Fez, the grand exterior of the palace is itself a noteworthy attraction.

Spanning an impressive 80 hectares, the complex is surrounded by high walls, adorned with an intricately designed gateway. This gate, also known as the King’s Gate, is truly a sight to behold. It features ornate, gold doors, surrounded by intricate zellij tilework and carved cedar wood, making it a fantastic backdrop for photos and a testament to the detailed craftsmanship synonymous with Moroccan architecture.

The area around the palace, known as the Jewish Quarter or Mellah, is also worth exploring. Founded in the 14th century, it was home to the Jewish community in Fez for centuries and is filled with narrow streets, balconied houses, and historic synagogues, offering a different cultural perspective within the city.

Borj Nord

Borj Nord, also known as the North Tower, stands as a significant historical landmark in the city of Fez, Morocco. Built in the late 16th century during the reign of Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour of the Saadi Dynasty, Borj Nord is one of the largest Marinid fortifications in the city. Its original purpose was to serve as a strategic outpost for monitoring and controlling the city.

Constructed on a hill overlooking the old Medina, the fortress offers panoramic views of Fez, making it an ideal vantage point for capturing stunning photos of the city. On a clear day, you can see the entirety of Fez El-Bali, the oldest part of the city, and its surrounding areas.

Since 2016, Borj Nord has housed the Museum of Arms, which features an impressive collection of military artifacts. With more than 5,000 pieces from various periods of history, ranging from prehistoric times to the 20th century, the museum is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. The collection includes weapons, armors, and military accessories from different cultures and regions, providing a captivating look into the evolution of warfare and weaponry over the centuries.

Bab Boujloud

Bab Boujloud, also known as the Blue Gate, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Fez, Morocco. Serving as the main entrance to the Fes El-Bali, the city’s historic medina (old town), Bab Boujloud is a striking symbol of the city’s rich architectural heritage. The gate was built in the Moorish style in 1913, replacing the original 12th-century gate.

The gate’s intricate design is a visual treat, with its horseshoe arches and detailed mosaic tilework, known as zellij. The gate is blue on the outside, symbolizing the color of Fez, while the inside is green, the color of Islam. This vibrant contrast adds to the gate’s visual appeal and makes it a popular spot for photography.

The area also offers easy access to many of the medina’s key attractions, including the Medersa Bou Inania, the Chouara Tannery, and the Qarawiyyin University.

Marinid Tombs

Perched on a hill overlooking the city of Fez, Morocco, the Marinid Tombs, also known as the Merenid Tombs, are a popular destination for visitors, even though the tombs are in a ruined state. Dating back to the 14th century, these tombs are believed to be the final resting place of the rulers of the Marinid dynasty, who ruled Morocco from the 13th to the 15th centuries.

The tombs themselves are largely deteriorated due to the passage of time, with only the faint traces of their original structure remaining. Despite their ruinous state, the site still attracts visitors because of the breathtaking panoramic views it offers. The hilltop location provides a perfect vantage point to admire the sprawling old Medina of Fez, the olive tree-dotted plains, and the distant Atlas Mountains. This vista is particularly stunning at sunrise or sunset, when the city below is bathed in a golden light.

Other Places in Fez

Fez is rich in historical sites, cultural landmarks, and interesting places to visit. Here are a few more significant sites that are worth mentioning:

  1. Al-Attarine Madrasa: Constructed in the 14th century, this Islamic school is famous for its stunning architectural design, featuring intricate cedar wood carvings, beautiful mosaic tile work, and ornate plaster decorations. It’s considered one of the finest examples of Marinid architecture in the city.
  2. Dar Batha Museum: This museum, set in a former palace, houses a vast collection of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts. Exhibits include ceramics, metalwork, woodwork, textiles, and antique musical instruments. The museum is also home to a beautiful Andalusian-style garden.
  3. Fondouk el-Nejjarine: This beautifully restored 18th-century fondouk (a historic inn for traders and travelers) is now home to the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts. It showcases a range of traditional wooden artifacts, and the rooftop terrace offers great views over the Medina.
  4. Fez Mellah: The Mellah is the old Jewish quarter of Fez, filled with narrow streets and balconied houses. Here, you can visit the Ibn Danan Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery, which are both significant sites for the Jewish community in Fez.
  5. Mount Zalagh: For those seeking a bit of nature, a hike or drive up to Mount Zalagh offers breathtaking views over Fez and the surrounding countryside.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top attractions to visit in Fes?

Fez is a city full of history and culture. Some of the top attractions to visit in Fez include the Medina of Fez (Fes el-Bali), Bou Inania Madrasa, Al-Attarine Madrasa, Dar Batha Museum, and the Royal Palace of Fez.

How many days do you need in Fez?

To fully explore and experience Fez, we recommend spending at least 2-3 days in the city. This will give you enough time to visit the top attractions, explore the medina, and try some of the delicious Moroccan cuisine.

Is Fez Morocco worth visiting?

Absolutely! Fez is one of the most fascinating cities in Morocco, with a rich history and culture. The city is known for its beautiful architecture, delicious food, and vibrant markets. If you’re interested in experiencing the authentic Moroccan way of life, Fez is definitely worth a visit.

What is the city of Fez famous for?

Fez is famous for its ancient walled city, Fez el Bali, which is the best-preserved medina in the Arab world. The city is also known for its beautiful mosques, madrasas, and palaces, as well as its vibrant markets and delicious Moroccan cuisine.

What are the most popular things to do in Fes with kids?

Fez has plenty of activities that are perfect for families with kids. Some of the most popular things to do in Fez with kids include visiting the Fez Medina, exploring the Jardin Jnan Sbil, taking a cooking class, and visiting the Batha Museum.

Are day trips from Fes worth it?

Yes, there are several day trips from Fez that are definitely worth it. Some of the most popular day trips include visiting the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, exploring the blue city of Chefchaouen, and taking a camel ride in the Sahara Desert.