Fez: UNESCO World Heritage Series

Fez: UNESCO World Heritage Series

Fez, one of Morocco’s most enchanting cities, is a treasure trove of cultural heritage. Steeped in history and boasting a rich tapestry of architectural wonders, Fez has been recognized by UNESCO for its exceptional universal value as early as 1981. For amateurs of history, architecture, crafts and arts alike, the several Fez UNESCO World Heritage sites are very well deserving of a spot on any bucket list.

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Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Sahara Desert

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Sahara Desert

There are very few places on Earth that compare to the incredible landscapes you’ll see visiting the Sahara Desert. Running roughly north-south along Morocco’s eastern border with neighboring Algeria, the Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert. In fact, the Sahara covers an area roughly the size of the entire United States. Many travelers visit Morocco specifically with the intention of venturing off into the desert and spending a night under the stars. And we can’t blame them! A desert adventure is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you shouldn’t miss out on. (more…)

The Old Capital: Fez, Morocco

The Old Capital: Fez, Morocco

Although demoted from the position of Morocco’s capital city, there is little doubt that Morocco’s former capital, the city of Fez, remains one of the most important cities in the entire country. Fez was the capital of Morocco for over four centuries, and it still remains the cultural center of the country, as well as one of the most important religious centers. The city was founded in the late 8th century, and a large part of Fez remains a medieval city in design, a visual proof of the city’s history and culture.

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Top 10 Posts to Read Before You Visit Fez

Top 10 Posts to Read Before You Visit Fez

Until 1925 Fez was the modern capital of Morocco and it retains its prestige as one of the most enchanting and enriching cities in the country. Home to the world’s largest car-free city center and the world’s oldest functioning university, it’s no surprise Fez is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and a must-visit on tourist radars. Before you pack your bags and visit Fez, here are ten articles for you to read, get prepared, and make sure you get the most out of your visit to this ancient city. (more…)

JBT’s Ultimate Guide to the Quranic Schools of Morocco

JBT’s Ultimate Guide to the Quranic Schools of Morocco

The long, storied history of learning and scholarship in Morocco is often surprising to first time visitors, and even to some longtime inhabitants. In fact, Morocco boasts the world’s oldest university – the University of al-Qarawiyyin (also written as: Al Quaraouiyine or Al-Karaouine). Recognized by UNESCO and the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest university, al-Qarawiyyin was founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant family who immigrated to Morocco from modern-day Tunisia. (more…)

Merenid Tombs (Marinid Tombs) in Fez, Morocco

Merenid Tombs in Fez Morocco
Everyone loves a little mystery, and that is exactly what you will get when you visit the enigmatic ruins of the Merenid Tombs (also known as Marinid Tombs). Located on a hill just above the bustling city of Fez, there is very little that is actually known about these tombs besides the fact that they were built in the 14th century. The time period suggests that these were built during the Merenid dynasty, but it is not certain who specifically was buried there and why. All of this mystery only entices us even more, and the tombs are one of the most visited sites in Fez. The spectacular panoramic views of the city and mountains may also have a little something to do with it. (more…)

Al-Qarawiyyin (al-Karaouine) Mosque and University in Fez, Morocco

Hand-drawn illustration of Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez, Morocco

For over 1200 years, the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque (or al-Karaouine) has been one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim World. With a history dating back to the 9th century, this mosque and university have been the selected congregation space for various Muslim saints and scholars throughout the centuries.

Today, the university continues to function as an excellent school of religious and physical sciences, and the mosque is considered Morocco’s holiest place, governing the time of all Islamic festivals across the country. On your next visit to Fez, make sure you head into its old town and take your time discovering this magnificent treasure chest of history that has much more to it than meets the eye. (more…)

Fondouk el-Nejjarine in Fez, Morocco

An illustration of the Fondouk el-Nejjarine in Fez, Morocco showing the ancient woodwork and craftsmanship of this UNESCO city

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. (more…)

Medersa Bou Inania: A Moroccan Gem in Fez

Medersa Bou InaniaAlthough Sultan Abou Inan wasn’t the most pious of men (having killed his father, brutally murdered his rivals, and fathering over 300 offspring), he was able to devote some time towards developing one of Morocco’s most beautiful medersas, the magnificent Medersa Bou Inania (also known as Madrasa Bou Inania or simply Bu Inaniya). Built between 1351 and 1358, the medersa stands today as one of the most stunning examples of Merenid architecture in the world. Initially, it functioned as both an educational institute and a mosque. Today it is still an active religious building, and it is one of the few mosques in Morocco that remains open for all to visit, including those that are not Muslim, providing a unique experience for tourists. (more…)

A Wander in Fez

Blue Gate in FezI have a golden rule when in Fez; I never walk up either Tala’a Kbira, ‘big street’, or Tala’a Sghira, ‘little street’, I only ever walk down, working on the premise that my knees and stamina are nothing compared to those of the mules that provide much of the traffic in the Medina’s two main pedestrian arteries – and their muleteer’s, come to that. I consider the twenty dirham a taxi costs from Rcif at the bottom of the steep hill that is Fez el Bali to the Bab Boujloud, the principal entrance at the top, to be a very worthy investment. (more…)

Morocco for the Arts Buff

orange art in MoroccoMorocco’s arts scene has a storied past to match its vibrant present. In the 1950s and ‘60s, expatriate writers and artists like Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs flocked to the so-called International Zone, a cosmopolitan, semi-autonomous region in Tangier, where they were inspired to share their creative insights with the world. Bowles’ 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky makes a particularly good companion for travelers to North Africa. For a native Moroccan perspective, check out Leila Abouzeid’s Year of the Elephant, a 1983 novel that was one of Morocco’s first to be translated from Arabic into English.

Morocco is also popular for lovers of music and dance. Although the ubiquitous belly dancing is not strictly speaking of Moroccan origin, you’ll spot it along with traditional folk dancing, especially at festivals, weddings and other celebrations. Wandering heddaoua are entertaining Berber storytellers who move from town to town reciting poetry to musical accompaniment. (more…)

Top Ten Things to Do in Morocco

morocco tanneryMorocco is a country with a variety of sites to visit, whether you’re into history, adventure or relaxation. Unfortunately, those with limited time must find a way to focus their trip in order to hit the hot spots. Hundreds of books claim to supply a core list of “top ten sites.” However, among these endless lists, there are ten truly, undeniable activities that would make a Morocco holiday complete. Each of these activities is so quintessentially Moroccan that, by experiencing all of them, you are guaranteed to have a completely authentic Moroccan experience.

1. Wander in Marrakesh’s Djemma El Fna

Marrakesh’s Djemma El Fna square is Morocco’s centerpiece. Within this square in Marrakesh, there are exotic performers, Moroccan chefs cooking in open air food stands, small shops welcoming you into the Marrakesh Medina, distinctly Moroccan cafes and high-end Moroccan restaurants. Djemma El Fna square is a crowded meeting place in Marrakesh that encapsulates fine Moroccan foods, crafts and culture. Surely, any trip to Morocco should include a stop at the square, which is also conveniently located near many historic mosques and palaces. (more…)

Fez Festival of World Sacred Music 2012

Music Festival Fez MoroccoFor the past 18 years, the city of Fez, Morocco, has put on the Festival of World Sacred Music, dedicated to the traditions of knowledge, art and spirituality of the city. It began as a peace initiative following the first Gulf War but has since become an established part of the world music and art scene. This year’s event runs from June 8-16 at different venues in the city of Fez. The theme is “Re-enchanting the World,” and pays tribute to Persian poet Omar Khayyam.

Acts from around the world converge on Fez along with thousands of attendees there to pay homage to sacred music from around the globe. There is a heavy focus on Sufi music, however, music from all over the globe is represented. This year’s acts hail Hungary, Romania, Central Europe, Lebanon, Tunisia, India, Cuba, Pakistan, Iceland, Iran, Guinea, France, Morocco and the United States. Along with musical acts there are several poetry readings, poetry set to music and dancing troupes. (more…)

An Introduction to Zaouia d’Ifrane

Zaouia d'Ifrane MoroccoIf you are planning a trip to the Middle Atlas in Morocco, make sure you don’t miss the Berber village of Zaouia d’Ifrane. The area, located in the province of Ifrane, is known for its cedar and oak forest, waterfalls and beautiful plateaus and cliffs. The town was named after its famous shrine, or zaouia, built around the tomb of the marabout Sidi Boubker Mohammed. For many, it is enough to know that the Zaouia d’Ifrane is part of the town of Ifrane, which will guarantee all visitors an exceptional experience.

The village is visited by tourists throughout the year, due to the numerous activities it offers. Famous for its mountainous environment, many visit to hike and bike in the region. For others, watching the waterfalls while picnicking and resting is what makes a visit to the Zaouia d’Ifrane so special. Walking throughout its dense and rich forest offers a great range of views, from the stunning mountainside to the picturesque waterfalls. Its lush fields offer the perfect camping sites on which to pitch your tent and explore the area. (more…)

Top Cities to Visit in Morocco

Marrakesh MoroccoThose unfamiliar with Morocco may only know of one city—Casablanca (thanks to its namesake movie). Although the coastal metropolis offers several worthy attractions, other destinations also abound with local and foreign travelers.

Marrakesh delights travelers with an interest in tradition as well as those who prefer the comforts of modernity. History seekers flock to sites like the gardens of the 12th-century Koutoubia Minaret and the intricately designed Ben Youssef Medersa. Visitors can experience the city’s trendy side through its many nightclubs and luxury spas, or with a shopping trip to the boutiques of Quartier Industrial Sidi Ghanem. Regardless of your specific interests, plan to spend an evening participating in the festivities in Place Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s main square. Dine among the rows of dinner vendors on snail soup, sheep’s head and other traditional fare. Meander past melodies of oboes, drums, finger cymbals, chants, storytellers and henna calligraphers after dinner. Even pay a few dirham to try your hand at a carnival game. Explore beyond the city with a short excursion to the High Atlas Mountains or a night of camping in the Sahara Desert. (more…)

Superb Experiences in Morocco

Blue boats in Essaouira MoroccoWith such a rich array of historical sites, ancient traditions, geological wonders, cuisine, music and culture, it can be overwhelming to choose what to see and do when you travel to Morocco. Here are five must-have experiences in Morocco that will give you a taste of all that Morocco has to offer.

View Street Performers in Djemaa el Fna

For a first-time visitor, the streets of Marrakesh’s Djemaa el Fna will be positively overwhelming. The name Djemaa el Fna is translated as “assembly of the dead,” but the place is one of the liveliest on Earth. The city’s main square is literally an open-air theatre with snake charmers, roving Gnaoua musicians and the halqa or street theatre. ?? (more…)

Art Museums in Morocco

Morocco door

Whether you are an art history scholar or a casual observer who appreciates something that pleases the eye, Morocco abounds with awe-inspiring art such as tile mosaics, intricately carved handicrafts, woven carpets and more. While you can encounter artistic displays throughout the country’s cities and villages, art museums often tell a story more clearly than publicly placed mantles or a paragraph in a guidebook. Below are a few of the art museums in which the exhibits tell a story. (more…)

When to Travel to Morocco

man squatting in alleyway in MoroccoThe best time to travel to Morocco depends on the type of experience you want to have. Planning to visit the desert? Hoping to surf? Is skiing more up your alley?

Despite extreme summer heat, the peak tourist season occurs in July and August. Temperatures in Marrakech and Fez can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit during this time, and a day in the Sahara Desert can climb to an arid 120-degree heat.

Expecting to splash in the water?
With long coastlines along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, water sports are popular among foreign visitors, national tourists and locals alike. Coastal breezes make temperatures in these areas feel more bearable throughout the summer, making it an ideal time for a holiday spent kayaking, surfing or relaxing on the beach. Think Essaouira, Agadir or Tetouan. (more…)

Visiting a Tannery in Fez

Traveling to Morocco, the ancient city of Fez and its medina can feel very foreign indeed. The walkways wind up and down through the hilly city, too narrow for cars or all but the slimmest of carts and carriages. The medina is much like it was hundreds of years ago; the pace and structure of life still follow the old rhythms. You can feel the age of the medina—and its history—with each step. Nowhere is this truer than in Fez’s tanneries.

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Day Trips from Fes

ruins at volubilis moroccoFez (also known as Fes) will charm you with its culture tucked into every tightly woven street corner, but it can be nice to escape—even when you’re enjoying this fascinating old city. If you’re aching to break through the city walls for a day, we’ve got you covered.

Some of the most popular day trips from Fes include Meknes and nearby Volubilis, as well as the capital of Morocco, Rabat. It’s time to plan your Morocco itinerary … you’ve got lots of places to explore! (more…)

Things to Do in Fez, Morocco

Panoramic View of Fez MoroccoLocated in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Fez serves as Morocco’s cultural and religious center. The stark contrast between the old city’s narrow lanes, where donkeys barely have enough clearance to pass pedestrians, and the Ville Nouvelle’s wide, tree-lined streets is striking for many travelers, and it is this juxtaposition of medieval and modern that makes Fez one of Morocco’s top tourist destinations.

Explore the Old Medina

The central place to enter Fez’s walled city is at the gate of Bab bu Jeloud; petite taxis can drop you off there. Before getting out of the taxi, decide if you want to explore the medina on your own or hire a guide, because, as soon as you open the car door, local tour guides, both official and non-official, will close in on you to offer their services. If you don’t have a map and don’t speak French or Arabic, it can be worth hiring a guide for a walking tour so you don’t get lost. (more…)

Traditional Handicrafts of Morocco

crafts souvenirs moroccoIf there is but one travel tip Journey Beyond Travel can impart before your Moroccan adventure, it would be this: pack light. After all, the less you pack, the more room you’ll have for the endless number of crafts and souvenirs you’re bound to pick up along the way!

Morocco is a treasure trove of breathtaking landscapes, dynamic colors, and amazing diversity, all of which comes through in its art. Even if you think you’re not the type to get weighed down with trinkets, be prepared; your first glimpse of a Tafraouti slipper may convince you otherwise.

Moroccan handicrafts are as diverse and unique as the country itself, and the perfect memento of Fes will be altogether different from what jogs your memory back to Essaouira. What’s more, what you find will truly be in the spirit of the place. After all, Morocco has not fallen prey to mass-produced goods. Indeed, almost everything you see will have come from just a few yards away, where traditional artisans still ply their trade in small workshops and community cooperatives. (more…)

Exploring Morocco’s Souks

Morocco soukWhy bother with shopping at a mall when you can wander the stalls of Marrakech or Fez (You can view our Fez travel guide like a local? Souks—the outdoor bazaars found in Morocco’s cities that are packed with spices, rugs, clothing, handmade soaps and other goods—do not allow vehicle traffic, so the only distractions are other people and the occasional donkey. These stalls display their wares from the ground up just as they did in ancient times.

If you know what you want to purchase you can do so right away or you can just walk through the souk until you get a feel for the way business is performed. Large souks can be very confusing and people have gotten turned around so it may be a good idea to hire a local guide to escort you. The smaller souks are more easily navigated; this may be a good place for people new to the environment to begin. (more…)

10 Reasons to Vacation in Morocco

morocco things to doWhen you travel, do you like to poke around palaces, indulge yourself in history at a museum or sip coffee at a local café? Do you prefer to take part in extreme sports or wander through the wilderness?

The beauty of Morocco as a vacation destination is that it’s a country diverse in adventure, culture and heritage, and regardless of your travel style, you’ll find something here that suits you. Whatever your preferences when it comes to travel, here are ten good reasons you’ll want to make Morocco your next holiday destination:

1. Trekking experiences are plentiful. The main mountain ranges in Morocco are the Rif Mountains, Atlas Mountains, Middle Atlas Mountains and Anti Atlas Mountains. The Rif Mountains, located in the northern section of the country, are covered with cascades, forested land and caves. Expert trekkers will find more challenging terrain in the High Atlas Mountains. (more…)