Fez – the royal city, is the center of crafts and a pearl in the Arab world. The diversity and variety of Fez will inspire you. Fascinating palaces and museums and the colorful life invite you to several visits of the old royal city. Fes is the third largest city in Morocco and the oldest of the four royal cities (Fez, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat). The city was founded in 789. The old town of Fez, a prime example of an oriental city, has been protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1981. When you explore it, you are taking a trip back in time to the Middle Ages. The narrow streets are often only wide enough for a donkey cart to pass through. Fez has a lively souk, which is divided into four areas: the ceramic, leather, wood and metal souk.
Tip 1: Karaouyine Mosque
The most important building in Fez is the Karaouyine Mosque. Within the mosque is also the eponymous Karaouyine University, founded in the 9th century, which is the oldest university in the Islamic world. Today it still houses two faculties of the university for theology and Islamic law.
Before the Hassan II Mosque was built in Casablanca, the Karaouyine Mosque was the largest mosque in the Maghreb, the territory which includes Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. It can accommodate an incredible 20,000 people.
The mosque spans an area of 16,000 m² and 270 columns support the prayer hall. That is quite impressive. However, you can only guess how ornately the mosque is equipped when you look through the gate, because access is reserved for Muslims only.
Tip 2: Bab Bou Jeloud
A walk through the medina of Fez is best started at the magnificent main gate Bab Bou Jeloud, the most beautiful city gate in the old city of Fez. The name translates as the “Blue Gate”.
And that’s exactly how it shows: the huge gate is decorated with beautiful shiny blue tiles. The blue represents the city of Fez.
However, appearances are deceiving, because when you step through the gate and turn around, the picture changes. From the inside, green mosaics now decorate the gate. Green is the color of Islam.
The gate, built in 1913, is today THE landmark of Fez and probably the most popular photo motif of the city. Behind the city gate opens the oldest district of Fez: Fez el Bali.
Tip 3: Fez el-Bali
The oldest part of the city, the Medina Fes el-bali (Arab. “The old Fes”) was founded in the 9th century. This part of the city is the most interesting, because almost all important sights are located here. Here you will feel transported back to the Middle Ages.
Approximately 200,000 to 250,000 people are said to live and practice their crafts in the narrow winding streets of Fés el-bali. In these winding alleys only donkeys and mules are allowed as means of transportation. Here you can see professions that have long ceased to exist elsewhere.
Tip 4: Tarbouche
Fes is considered a true center of traditional craftsmanship. In the medina of Fes you will find the best craftsmen of the country. So it is no wonder that in Fes the traditional Tarbouche are made – the typical hats made of red felt and usually with a black tassel. These also bear the name “Fez hat” and were once common throughout the Orient.
Tip 5: Tanneries
A visit to the tanneries is a highlight of any tour of the medina of Fez.
The tanner’s trade has a long tradition in Morocco and Fez is renowned for the particularly good quality of its leather goods. As early as the 12th century, they were exported as far as Baghdad for this reason. The tanneries are hidden in the courtyards of the medina, but you can have a look from different places.
Right next to the Nejjarine Museum, the roof terrace of the store adjacent to the left offers a great view into the Sidi Moussa tanneries. It’s the oldest tanner’s quarter in Fez, and the work seems to have changed little over the centuries.
Below you, you see the tanners doing the heavy manual labor. In large vats they lime, tan and dye the animal skins.
Larger and better known is the tanners’ quarter of Chouara, right on the Oued River, north of the center of the medina. There are even guided tours of the tannery here. But be prepared for a terrible stench.
If the stench is too intense for you, which I can well understand, better climb up to the terraces of the neighboring leather merchants. For a tip, you can watch the hustle and bustle from above with a little distance. You don’t have to buy anything in the stores.