Fez (sometimes spelt as Fes) is a former capital of Morocco, a medieval gem that was founded way back in 789. Fez has one of the best-preserved old cities in the whole of the Arabic world, and many people come purely to enjoy the atmospheric and at times chaotic medina. You will notice a difference between the old part of the city and the newer parts, with donkeys toiling to pull carts along the narrow dusty streets of the medina and sweeping tree-lined streets sitting proudly in the new town. The blend of modern and ancient cannot help but enchant visitors to Fez. One of Morocco’s top tourist destinations, here are some of the best things to do in Fez:
One of the big tourist draws to Fez is the tanneries, where hard manual labour turns leather to different colours, ready for the animal skin to be turned into various products, such as wallets, shoes, bags, and belts. Before you see the tanneries you will certainly smell them! Some shops even give you a mint bouquet as you enter to take away the pungent odours. Skilled labourers work with the hides of cows, camels, sheep, and goats.
The atmospheric old Mellah (Jewish Quarter) is just north of the Royal Palace. Fez once had a fairly large Jewish population, although today there are few Jews in the city. You can still see the old synagogue, Aben-Danan Synagogue, on Rue Temara. Whilst not an active place of worship today, it houses an interesting collection of objects that show the life of a Moroccan Jew from times gone by.
The Old Medina of Fez
The Medina of Fez showcases a rich history and heritage. It was a very influential city in the past, especially between the 12th and 15th centuries. A terrific example of a medieval town, Fez initially grew during the early years of Islam reaching the North African nation. The medina has narrow lanes, some of which are so tiny that only one person can walk at any given time; others must stand aside. There are lively souks and traditional stalls selling an interesting assortment of objects.
This is probably the most well-known building in Fez and it is both a National Monument and a World Heritage Site. The historical building is square-shaped, built with a central courtyard, rather like a riad. It was previously used for storing goods and as a shelter for animals, and was also used to house travelling merchants and other travellers. In times of conflict, it was used as a refuge. Home to ornate and attractive wood carvings, artisans still work with wood today, showing their fine skills.
Amongst Africa’s largest mosques, and the second-biggest mosque in Morocco, Kairaouine can hold 20,000 people. Prayer times are busy! One of the most revered mosques in Morocco, Kairaouine governs the timings of all Islamic festivals across the country, such as the start and end of Ramadan and the dates for the Eid celebrations. It is one of the oldest Islamic places of worship in the world. Whilst non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque, it is still impressive to see it from outside. If possible, head to the roof of Medersa el Attarin for the best views of Kairaouine.
Other great things to do in Fez include visiting the atmospheric Merenid Tombs, hiking up Mount Zalagh for brilliant city views, visiting Madrasa Bou Inania, relaxing in the Boujaloud Gardens, taking pictures of the Blue Gate, and rejuvenating your senses with a traditional hammam.