If you want to visit the north of Morocco then Fés is definitely worth visiting.
Not only because this city bears the name of a funny hat, but especially because Fés / Fez is the cultural city of Morocco. And not unimportant, also one of the King cities. Fortunately, this city is included in various standard tours that we offer. These standard tours start from Casablanca, Tanger, Marrakech and ofcourse Fes.
In this blog we will tell you why Fés is such a nice place to visit and what is interesting to see.
Fés is a historical city
No, we are not going to teach a boring history class, but a little knowledge of history is not insignificant to understand Fés as a city. It is a very old city, which was created in three parts.
In the beginning there was Idris I, an Arab prince from Iraq who fled his country. In 789 he arrived in Volubilis. This was originally a Roman city, but already inhabited by the Awraba, a Berber tribe. The two had very good relationship and the tribe appointed Idris as the political leader. He gained a great deal of respect from various Berber tribes and conquered a large area in the north of Morocco and built a site close to modern Fés. His son, Idris II, kept building in 808; Fés el Bali. The fact that the dynasty had both Arab as Berber blood made them tolerant to other cultures in the city.
• Fés was a real melting pot of cultures.
That melting pot has given the city its name as THE cultural and religious city of Morocco.
Even though it was a real Muslim city, many people from outside of Morocco came to live there. For example, Muslims from Córdoba and Arab families from Kairouan came to live in Fés because they were expelled from their own country. They built their own quarters: 'Adwat Al-Andalus and 'Adwat al-Qarawiyyin.
The two parts were separated by a small river but later merged Almoravids (a Berber dynasty that later came to power). The emigrants were of different religious origins, and that made the city a melting pot of cultures. And because of this there was a lot of knowledge, in terms of culture, religion, but also scientifically and was a source of inspiration for artists. In addition, all these cultures ensured that various shops, stalls and specific crafts became important. Several religious houses were built to serve all cultures.
The oldest university of the world is in Fés and was founded by a woman
Fatima Al-Fihri was one of the emigrants from Tunisia. She came from a wealthy family and was very educated herself. She had built the the Al-Karaouine mosque in 859, with a Madrasa, a school. That school became a very important educational institute with an extensive library. The university has been declared the oldest university in the world by Unesco and Guinness World records.
The mosque, containing the old university, is still in the Medina of Fés. However, only Muslims may enter. A non-Muslim, can admire the outside and see a piece of the courtyard.
The Medina of Fés, a Unesco Heritage site
The city is conquered a number of times after the Idriss dynasty. This had an effect on the city. The Almoravids, for example, ensured that the different medina's were drawn together. The following rulers: the Almohad improved the city. Old city walls were demolished and a much larger area was walled. They have ensured that Fés has the largest walled medina in the world.
This is one of the most beautiful and oldest Medina's you will ever walk through. The Medina consist a number of overflowing neighbourhoods. And each part has its own square, its own mosque and the communal oven, where inhabitants bake bread. In the Medina you can walk certain routes. These are distinguished by a small plates with a colour. These routes run from a gateway to a strategic point. Although you can find the signs, it will not always help you to find your way in the Medina. If you really want to enjoy the Medina and do not want to get lost, it is useful to hire a guide. Morocco Round Trips often works together with an official guide. Unless you want to be dragged from store to store, an official guide is the way to go. The medina is characterized by narrow streets, squares and stairs that are partially covered.
The most used gateway is the Bab-Baljoud. This is a beautiful gate, but also very touristy. The Medina has 14 access gates, if you want to start a little quieter then it is advisable to start at a different gate.
In our blog: 10 must sees: the medina of Fés/ Fez, you can read about all the stuff you should see.
Fés, a city with a Muslim city with a Jewish quarter
You have no shortage of conquests and recaptures in Moroccan history. When the Marinid ruled (another Berber dynasty) Fés grew as a city. They built 7 Madrasa and made Fés an even more important intellectual centre. The city was getting busier, with 200,000 inhabitant. In 1226 an addition was build, outside the city walls: Fés-el-Jdid.
Here was enough space to build an Jewish quarter (mellah) and a large palace. The mellah is the first real Jewish neighbourhood in Morocco. At that time many Jews lived in Morocco, but due to the increase in Muslims they became a minority. This district was therefore under the protection of the neighbouring palace.
Now this district has a wide shopping street and you can find many jewellers. This district is also special because the buildings here have large windows at the side of the street. This is unusual for most houses in Morocco, which often have no or very small windows at this side.
Fés: the decline and rise of the city.
Fés has been a rich city for years, not only in terms of culture or scientific knowledge, but was in fact rich moneywise. Many business people lived in Fés. When Morocco became independent, many of these business people leave the city. It is said that 95% of the inhabitants left Fés after the independence. When the people left the city became less maintained. The old Medina, the palaces and the houses started to decay. The medina, then mainly populated with craftsmen and new residents from the Rif Mountains, needs some love. But these residents struggle to survive, and they can’t afford to properly maintain the city. In 1980, Unesco came into action. Because of this, together with the help of many investors and funds, the Medina is saved from destruction and Fés is a thriving city again.
Experience Fes /Fez with Morocco Round Trips
If you like to read more about the medina, no worries. Just read our blog “10 must sees: the medina of Fes/ Fez”
If you want to see this beautiful city: we offer several tours that include Fés. If you you like Moroccan history; then our 7 or 8 day tours from Casablanca are perfect for you. Not so much time: join us for a 4 day Northern Morocco tour.
If you want to see all the royal cities and don't want to miss out on the Sahara experience: our 11 or 14 day tour will give you the best of both worlds. Or are you excited to see Fes and the Sahara: our 3 or 4 day tours will take you there.
We also have tours from Marrakech to Fés.