One of the best preserved medieval Islamic cities, Fez, popularly known as the ‘Athens of Africa’ because of its stunning architecture and artistic flair, was founded in 859 AD. Fez is divided into three parts: the eighth century Fes-el-Bali, the 13th century Fes Jdid and the 20th century Ville Nouvelle (built by the French).
Historical Capital Of Morocco
The bustling cultural and historical capital of Morocco is enclosed by huge walls and is accessible only through any of the twelve city gates. A car-free zone, only pedestrians and donkey carts are allowed in the city. Although not as glamorous as Marrakech, Fez, with its winding alleys, colourful souks and mosques, has an old-world charm. Here, it is hard to miss the ornate and colourful doorways.
Best Time To Visit
For Sufi lovers, the best time is mid-summer during the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music. It’s a 10-day long celebration that takes place in the imperial city of Fez. In October, one can look forward to visit the Tissa Horse Festival, which is filled with music, dance and loads of mint tea.
The weather can be variable. It can be stiflingly hot or very cold and windy. The cooler months are from October to April, when day temperatures hover around 30 degrees and nights are cool at 15 degrees.
In Fez, why choose a regular hotel when you can stay like a king? Tourists in Fez prefer to stay in Medina, which is situated close to the main tourist spots. Besides luxury hotels, villas and small palaces, Fez has a growing list of chic restored riads (traditional Moroccan mansions) that have marble courtyards and private, interior gardens.
Travel Guide For Fez
Since medieval times, Fez has attracted several artisans, craftspeople, chefs, scholars and travellers. In modern times, the city has become a top choice for tourists who want to experience the French-Arabic culture. For solo travellers and backpackers, a trip to Fez is like playing out a Lawrence of Arabia-type fantasy. Your stay can vary from restored riads to enjoying some local food and walking the blind alleys. For solo women travellers it is advisable to avoid venturing out late at night.
Below Is A List Of Sites You Cannot Miss:
1. Old Medina
Fez has an endless labyrinth of lanes and by-lanes (some even large enough for one person to pass) that make up the Medina. Medina is overloaded with its winding alleyways crammed with stalls on both sides is a walker’s delight. The intoxicating sights and sounds of the Medina are hard to miss. In Medina you will be surrounded by the braying of donkeys, the screams of children, butcher’s shops with its hanging meats, the colourful spice souks and rug shops selling Berber carpets. Be careful of the tricky turns as no alley is a straight line. Even for navigationally gifted travellers, getting lost in Fez is normal and if you are unsure take the help of a local guide from the riad.
2. The Impressive Gateway Of Bab Boujloid
This is one of the first landmarks you can witness as you enter the bustling old Medina. It’s a monumental gateway that was built in 1913 by the French in Mauresque- Andalusian architectural style. The iconic gateway has three symmetrical horseshoe arches and is richly decorated with floral patterns and geometric shapes in blue Fassi tiles (ceramic mosaic tile).
3. The Shrine Of Zaouia Moulay Idriss II
The mausoleum of Moulay Idriss is situated near the Nejjarine Fountain and is the holiest shrine in Fez. It has a mosque on its grounds and a tomb for funerals. The shrine is believed to bring good luck and fortune. The site is the resting place of Moulay Idriss II, who founded Fez and ruled Morocco in the ninth century. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the tomb but can enjoy the ornate tile work of the facade.
4. Sacred Destination Of Kairaouine Mosque
It is the second largest mosque in Morocco (the first being the new Hassan II Mosque of Casablanca) founded in 857 A.D. by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a Tunisian refugee from the holy city of Kairouan in Tunisia. A cedar wood screen hides the main prayer hall from non-Muslims.
5. Tanner’s Quarter
Suuq Dabbaghin (Tanner’s Quarter) is one of the main attractions in Fez. The tanneries have stone vessels filled with a vast range of dyes where the hides are soaked. Men stand waist-deep in the dyes tending to the hides. The tanneries process the hides of cows, sheep, goats and camels turning them into high quality leather products. Machinery is not involved as work is done manually and the process has not changed since medieval times. The Chouara tannery (20-30 minutes by foot from the Blue Gate) is the largest, and was built in the 11th century. A word of caution for tourists: be careful of the pungent odour coming from the tannery.
6. The Royal Palace Of Fez
The impressive palace is closed to all visitors but nonetheless the outside facade is worth a visit. The palace has seven golden gates with brass knockers and is surrounded by fine zellij tile (mosaic tile) work and carved cedar wood. Beyond its gates are landscaped gardens, small mosques, and a 14th century ancient madrassa. The king (currently Mohammed VI), still stays in the palace when he is in Fez.
7. Merenid Tombs
For the best views of the bustling Medina, walk up to the steep hill outside the city in the daytime to visit the 14th century ruins of the Merenid Tombs. Not much is known about the tombs except for the fact that it was built by the Merenid dynasty. The walls of the tombs still retain some detailed carvings.
8. Relax In A Moroccan Hammam
After all the walking and sightseeing, pamper yourself in a traditional Moroccan Hammam (a traditional bathhouse). Public baths are located in every Moroccan city. But one can enjoy a relaxing scrub in a luxurious spa in a riad.
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About The Author
Sushmita Biswas is a media professional and loves meeting new people and doing creative things. She is all game for good food and great interiors. A mountain lover she plans to do Leh-Ladakh someday with her family. When she is not decoding lifestyle trends she keeps a tab on Bollywood and interviews well-known personalities.