Fez Travel Guide

Fez

How about spending a couple of days in “the Athens of Africa”?  Fez is the second largest city in Morocco and is generally considered as the oldest one. For several centuries, it served as the capital of the country and gave home to the most distinguished scientists, artists, architects and artisans of their age. It still continues to be the cultural and spiritual center of the country, well deserving its nickname.
As for the actual name of the city, the name Fez derives from the Arabic word “Fes”, meaning pickaxe. It is generally taken to refer to the legendary silver and gold axe that King Idris I of Morocco used for digging the foundations of the city.

Morocco Fez old king Palace, now the most mportant tourist attraction. Artistic HDR image interpretation.

Things to see and do in Fez

Amble Around the Medina

The medina, or old city center of Fez is one of the best conserved historic towns of the Arab world, with fabulous monuments and curiously winding, maze-like streets, souks (bazaars or markets) alternating with residential areas. Wandering in the narrow alleys, looking at the stunning range of artifacts in shops and meeting the locals is arguably the most genuinely Moroccan experience – don’t miss out on it.

The medina contains one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world. You will definitely not see any cars here, but don’t be surprised if a donkey comes around the corner with color televisions strapped to its back!

The ambiance is just magical and the medina also has some really exquisite and culturally intriguing sites (see below). Although you will probably need a great deal of patience to find your way to them (the medina really is like a labyrinth), it’s definitely worth it.

Bou Inania Madrasa

This madrasa, which was once both an educational institution and a mosque, is one of the very few religious places where non-Muslims are admitted. It’s also the only Madrasa in Fez that has a minaret. The building (dating from the 14th century) is fabulous with its colorful tiles, ornate plasterwork, and marble columns. It is also historically interesting: opposite the main entrance you can see the ablutions house used for washing limbs and face before prayers, and you can take a look at old classrooms.

University of Al-Qarawiyyin

Interior of Al Quaraouiyine (or al-Qarawiyyin) Mosque and university in Fes, Morocco.

The University of Fez was founded in 859 A.D., and has been open to students ever since, which makes it the oldest continually operating university in the world! Interestingly, it was founded by a woman whose wealthy family had escaped from their homeland in Tunisia.

The university library, which was reopened in 2016, is also one of the oldest in the world, boasting several priceless documents dating from the 8-9th century.

Unfortunately, non-Muslims cannot enter the beautiful building, but it is worth walking around and peeking in through open doors.

Chaouwara Tanneries

Natural traditional tannery in Fez - Morocco.

The Chaouwara Tanneries, with freshly-dyed leather being dried on the pavement, are a real highlight of the Fez medina. You will have no difficulty finding the place – just follow the smell! The stink sometimes gets challenging and the scene is not for the faint-hearted but it’s surely a unique experience. The tanneries are surrounded by a wall, and to see the tanning process, you have to enter one of the leather shops built into this wall and walk onto the terrace at the back of the shop. For a small tip, salesmen are more than happy to guide you through the details of the tanning process, which is very much like it was in the Middle Ages. You might also be tempted to buy some nice handmade leather goods in the shops.

Visit a Traditional Public Bath (“hammam”)

If you like spas and public baths, you will find the visit to a traditional Moroccan bath, called hammam, a wonderful experience. It is a nice way to relax and also a great opportunity to socialize with locals. Hammams either have separate bathing rooms for men or women or separate days. You are expected to bring your own soap, towel and other toiletries, but a lot of hammams sell local products like black olive oil soaps and lava clay body scrubs. Don’t be surprised: it is part of the bath ritual to get scrubbed down by your friend or the hammam attendant (a modest tip is expected for the service).

Pictures of Fez

Related posts

Back to Morocco