Located 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.
Be sure to check out the Islamic school of Medersa Bou Inania, Dar Batha Museum and Kairaouine Mosque. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the city’s mosques, but even if you can’t go inside Kairaouine you can still see this exquisite 9th century building’s tile work by peering into its courtyards.
Practice Your Haggling Skills
Fez’s old city is one of the best places to shop in Morocco, and by visiting the workshop areas of its souqs you can often meet the craftsmen who produce the goods and buy directly from them. To get good deals, avoid large stores near the entrance of Bab bu Jeloud and go down smaller side alleys to meet local artisans. Fez is famous for its blue and white pottery, metal work (including teapots), carpets, henna, jewelry and textiles.
Visit a Leather Tannery
Whether you’re interested in buying leather or not, visiting one of Fez’s leather tanneries can be a memorable experience. Located on the outskirts of the old medina, the leather tanneries are where Fez’s leather products are treated and dyed. During a tannery visit, you’ll climb up several flights of stairs to a rooftop where you can look down on centuries-old dying vats. The smell at the tanneries is overwhelming for most foreigners, and visitors are often given sprigs of mint to stick up their nostrils.
Hike to the Merenid Tombs from Borj Nord
At night, the old city’s walls and ramparts are lit up, and many locals and tourists head to Borj Nord to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. This lookout area was built in the 16th century to allow then-ruler Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour’s men to keep watch over the city and its inhabitants. A military museum that houses a variety of Moroccan weaponry, including a 12-ton canon, is open at Borj Nord during the day, and the short hike to the nearby Merenid Tombs can turn a visit to the ramparts into a more active half-day trip. Keep in mind that the tombs are off limits after dark.
Written by Heather Carreiro.
Photo by P.J.P