The ancient city of Fez houses within its walls an exquisite collection of monuments and sights that showcase the rich history and traditions of the Moroccan people. One of these monuments is Fondouk el-Nejjarine: an 18th century roadside inn transformed into a museum dedicated to the wooden arts and crafts typical of Morocco.
Fondouk el-Nejjarine proves to be a unique experience that reveals the past and present simultaneously: while inside you’ll be able to view beautiful pieces of wooden art on display; once you step outside you’ll have the opportunity to witness modern-day carpenters chiseling and carving their own creations.
A Historic Building
Fondouk el-Nejjarine was built as a rest stop for travelers on often arduous journeys. These caravanserai, or traveler inns, were popular all throughout the Muslim world and can be found on well-known ancient trade routes. They provided travelers, traders and missionaries with shelter and supplies. These inns also often served as platforms for communication and exchange between diverse passersby.
Morocco contains a number of these roadside inns which were traditionally built in a square or rectangle shape around an inner courtyard featuring a fountain to shelter guests from the heat. However, Fondouk el-Nejjarine proves to be exquisitely unique in its architecture and interior decoration. Indeed, the roadside inn’s name originated from its famed wooden embellishments which can be found all through the building (“nejjarine” means carpenter).
Inside, visitors can stroll through the recently restored arches and observe the intricate wooden carvings on the various columns that line the museum’s inner courtyard. The museum’s elegant fountain within the courtyard is a testament to the careful craftsmanship that is so prominent in Moroccan works. With three floors of extensive exhibition rooms, Fondouk el-Nejjarine takes visitors on a journey through time displaying domestic, architectural and liturgical wooden artifacts that date from the 14th century to the present day.
An Ancient Art Form
Fondouk el-Nejjarine is dedicated to the wooden arts and crafts of Morocco, an art form once unique to this part of the world. Morocco’s history of woodwork dates back thousands of years and it is considered today one of the country’s major crafts along with carved plaster (or geps as it is known locally) and ceramic tile work (known as zeillij).
Woodwork in Morocco varies in technique and in the types of timber used which can include oak, mahogany, acacia and cedar – the latter being the most popular due to its durability and abundance in the Middle Atlas region. Used mostly in architecture, the practice of carpentry originally stemmed from Islamic culture and tradition and gradually developed into a geometric form of artistic expression. This ancient skill flourished particularly in the cities of Fez, Marrakech, Essaouira, Tetuan, and Meknes and has since been passed down from generation to generation. In the 20th century, the Moroccan government recognized the historical significance of woodworking and declared the Fondouk el-Nejjarine a national museum.
A Unique Experience
Venturing into the museum is an opportunity to get to know one of Morocco’s most ancient and beautiful art forms. Make your way to the top terrace for a stellar view of the city (and a drink here will only cost you 10 dirhams). History then comes to life as you step outside to witness present-day carpenters working (and honing) their own works.
Fez is a true treasure chest that never ceases to surprise travelers from all over the world. Within the city walls, visitors will be able to discover numerous local attractions that uniquely showcase the rich history and traditions of Morocco. The impressive Fondouk el-Nejjarine is just one such sight that simply cannot be missed!
Exploring More of Morocco’s Beauty
Visiting the Fondouk el-Nejjarine doesn’t require one to get off the beaten path entirely; it’s a sight easily found (at least with a guide in the labyrinth of the medina). If you’d like to see this sight (and many others) with our team at Journey Beyond Travel, please feel free to contact us to help you put together a memorable, extended itinerary of the country.
This article was co-authored with Maria Inês Pinto, a young Portuguese freelancer born with a passion for writing and travel.She has spent her life hopping around different countries, having lived in Canada, the US, India and Ireland. Now residing in Portugal, she is planning to move to Mozambique soon to pursue her third passion: humanitarian work. In her free time, she travels and writes about her adventures.