The city of Fez (often spelled: Fès) in Morocco is a medieval world treasure. Fez is roughly divided into three parts: Fez El Bali (the “old part of the medina”), Fez Jdid (the “new part of the medina”) and the New City (or Ville Nouvelle). The old city of Fez, Fez El Bali, is the world’s largest car-free urban space and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is where most travelers spend their time in Fez. As you walk through this medina, you are literally walking through 1,300 years of Moroccan heritage that has only recently been touched by the advent of globalization and the recent influx of tourists. Through these narrow streets, children play, donkeys carry wood, grain and other wares, and the general thrum of people can be found everywhere – much like it was 1,300 years ago.
Fez was founded in 859 A.D. The origin of the name is unknown. Some scholars believe it comes from the old Berber name of the Middle Atlas mountains, “Fazaz.” Other stories trace the name back to a tale of a golden axe that divided the river of Fez into two halves. In Arabic, a “fez” is an axe. Fez is also known as the “Athens of Africa and the “Mecca of the West.” It is the spiritual capital of Morocco and a major destination for Muslims around the world. Besides the thousands of spiritual masters who call Fez their final resting place, there is Moulay Idriss II, the founder of Fez and heir to Moulay Idriss I, the founder of Morocco buried at the Moulay Idriss Mosque. Fez is also the final resting place of Tijani, who brought Islam to Senegal, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, and much of West and Sub-Saharan Africa. Many West Africans make a pilgrimage to Fez to visit Tijani. The University of Al-Qarawiyyin is another large attraction. It is often referred to as the oldest university and degree-granting Institution in the world.
Map of Fez Medina
Here is a map of the Fez medina. We include a similar map of Fez in each itinerary packet that travelers receive before their tour takes place with us at Journey Beyond Travel.
Fez is a medieval city, a heritage site, and for centuries life has largely gone on unchanged. You’ll find that with globalization, Fez has become a melting pot of languages. Most store owners, waiters and other workers know and understand Arabic, French and English. More and more, Moroccans are happy to practice English and will be happy to tell you that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States of America as an independent country. There is a continuous play between the bustle of small, winding medina passages and the quiet, reflective interior spaces that give Fez its charm. Today, the past now mixes with the present in some unexpected ways. Fez is a must-see destination for anyone in Morocco wanting to travel through history.
What to Do?
Get Lost! – The old city of Fez is a medieval labyrinth of small, winding streets. Many kids will tell you if you are reaching a dead end. An easy way to find your way out of the medina maze is to understand that Fez is shaped like a bowl. You will be walking downhill to enter the maze, which means you will have to walk uphill to get out… though you may find yourself somewhere unexpected. If you can plan for a day to “get lost” in Fez, you will have a day to remember for a lifetime.
Stroll the Talaa Kebeera – Talaa Kebeera is the largest “street” in Fez. It begins shortly after Bab Boujeloud, the large, blue gate marking one of the main entrances to Fez, and continues on through the much of the medina. Many different shops, souks and sights are located just off this main artery. Though often crowded by locals and tourists alike, it is a nice taste of old Fez.
Take a Guided Tour – Though less adventurous than getting lost, a guided tour through Fez is a great way to learn some of the history and orient yourself to this confusing medina. This is one of many included activities that one can enjoy on a trip to Morocco with our experts where, in Fez, you’ll chat with the guide about your interests before heading out for a full-day of exploration.
Go to a Hammam (A Traditional Moroccan Bath) – After a couple of days in Fez, there is nothing like scrubbing yourself clean. There are several local hammams (or “public baths”) if you are interested in a local experience. You can ask the staff at your lodgings for the closest local hammam and they will happily show it to you and tell you the hours, they vary by location. You will need to bring your own soap, towel, scrub brush and other amenities. Most riads offer a more upscale experience with private and couples spa and massage.
Sacred Music Festival – Held every June, the Sacred Music Festival is one of the largest music festivals in Morocco featuring music from around the world. In 2013, the festival will be held from June 7 – 15th with an Andalusian theme. Visit the Fez Sacred Music Festival website for up-to-date details.
Take a Cooking Class – Moroccan cuisine is often discussed with French and Italian cuisine as being one of the best in the world — and for good reason! Nothing brings together people like delicious food. Undoubtably, you have tried some couscous, tajine or maybe a bowl of harrira. If you want to have a fun afternoon making your own lunch, meet some great people, and have a recipe to take home, why not head for an afternoon of cooking school? Café Clock has a great cooking class that includes a short guided tour of the food medina where you will learn all sorts of things about the food souks in Morocco. 600 dhs per person. Book ahead. Email: [email protected]
What to See?
Batha Museum – Located in a Moorish palace dating from the 19th century, this museum houses many artifacts, sculpted wood, plaster, jewelry, carpets and pottery. Open seven days a week, 10am – 7pm. 10 dhs.
Bab Boujeloud – Bab Boujeloud (Bab Bou Jeloud), commonly known as the “Blue Gate,” serves as the principle entrance to the old Medina in Fez. Through this gate, you can access the Talaa Kbeera (big hill) to your left and Talaa Sghira (little hill) to your right, past a series of restaurants all serving fairly similar Moroccan-style food. Both the Talaa Kbeera and Talaa Sghira are roads that lead down through the main thorough fares into the old medina and merge with each other further into the medina. TBab Boujeloud and its immediate surrounding were all constructed around the turn of the 20th century. Notably, the French-built gate is blue on the exterior and green on the interior and bolted from the inside. Both façades decorated with elaborate zellij work and well worth a photo-op.
Medersa Bou Inania – You will see the green-tiled minaret of the Medersa Bou Inania jutting into the sky as you enter through the great blue gate of Bab Boujeloud into the old medina. The medersa is one of the greatest examples of the Marinid architecture in the 14th century. It is best to visit the Medersa with a tour guide to avoid any hassles as sometimes non-Muslims are forbidden entrance because of the prayer times, though is possible to tour the elaborately decorated courtyard.
Mellah – The Mellah, or Jewish Quarter, of Fez was established in 1438. It is the oldest of the mellahs in Morocco though very few Jewish people live here today, most of them having moved to the ville nouvelle, France or Israel. The Mellah section today is well worth a stroll with it ornate balconies and wrought-iron windows. There is a great view from the terrace of the Danan Synogogue on rue Der el-Ferah Teati and the Jewish cemetery is worth a visit, though be wary of faux guides and people asking for money at the cemetery; it’s best to go with a knowledgeable guide if you want to avoid being hassled. You can read more about Jewish areas in Morocco if you’d like.
Fondouk el-Nejjarine – The Fondouk el-Nejjarine (also known as the “Wood Museum” and the Musée de Bois) faces the old Place el-Nejjarine or the “Carpenter’s Square.” The fondouk was constructed in the 18th century and originally served as a “caravanaserai” or “roadside inn” for travelers and traders. Visitors will want to spend an hour or so in this wonderfully restored fondouk learning about the woodwork indigenous to the region while viewing artifacts dating from the 14th century. Make sure you leave time to visit the rooftop terrace, one of the best views of Fez. A beverage will set you back 10dhs. (Open 10am – 5pm daily; Entrance 20 dhs).
Henna Souk – There are many souks (usually a large square of shops) dotted throughout the medina. Toward the bottom of the medina, just off Trek K’beer, you can find the Henna Souk nicely shaded under a couple of large plane trees. Leo Africanus once worked in the now-defunct psychiatric hospital built in the 1,300s. Pottery and traditional cosmetic products can be found here. If you like the idea of argan oil or any other Moroccan goods, talk to Mohammed in the last cosmetic stall near the old hospital.
Nejjarine Square and Museum – Located near the carpenter district in the middle of the medina, this beautiful square is dotted with Andalusian-style architecture dating from the 18th century. The museum in situated in a former funduq that a former minister spent 25 million dirhams (about 3 million USD) to restore. The museum showcases woodworking tools along with a collection of wood and cabinet work, both ancient and modern from various regions in Morocco. Open seven days a week. 10am – 7pm. 10dhs.
Palais M’Hdani – Located just a few minutes from Bab Boujeloud. A former Prime Minister once owned this entire block. Beautifully restored. Opene during the day time to the public. 10dhs.
Merenid Tombs – Located just outside the medina, the Merenid Tombs dating back to the 14th century house many sultans and other members from the Merenid dynasty. No guide needed. About a 8dhs taxi ride from the medina and an easy, twelve or so minute walk downhill back into the medina. A nice place to pack a lunch if its not too hot out.
Tanneries – “The smell is free… but if you want to buy, you have to pay,” Thami says. You will probably hear people asking you if you want directions to the tannery. On warm days, you don’t need directions. You only have to follow the smell. There are a couple of shops that sell good dyed in the local tanneries that have terraces where you can, without cost, look down on the terraces. The cost is free, but you may get guilted into buying some handmade Moroccan leather goods. Open every day except Friday. Free.
The University of Al-Qarawiyyin (also: Al-Karaouine) – The Al-Qarawiyyin (al-Karaouine) Mosque and University in Fez, Morocco was founded by Fatima al-Fihri, a woman who had fled her homeland of Tunisia for Morocco, in 859 AD. UNESCO considers it to be the oldest university in the world. The libraries have several extremely valuable documents dating from c. 780 A.D. including the Al-Muwatta of Malik written on gazelle parchment.
Madrassa of Al-Qarawiyyin – Located next to the Qarawiyyin mosque in the middle of the medina, this is one of the only Madrassa’s opened to non-muslims. A madrassa is a school of learning and instruction. Complex zillaji and stucco decorate this wonderful madrassa. Opened all days except Friday. 10 dhs.
Where to Eat?
Some of our favorite restaurants are listed below. For a more complete selection of restaurants searchable by location, cuisine and price, check out Best Restaurants of Morocco.
Mediterranean cuisine with seasonal, local ingredients assembled by a French chef. Lunch and dinner are served in the courtyard. Around 300 dhs. Closed Sunday and Monday.
French cuisine in a minimalist atmosphere. Black and white decor, classical music, 250 for a fixed menu. Good for vegetarian options, a light lunch and afternoon tea/coffee. Closed Wednesdays.
Chez Rachid at Bab Boujeloud
Tagines and brochettes. Watch the passersby. 100 dhs. No alcohol.
Traditional Moroccan food in a family-friendly atmosphere. Menu around 200 dhs. No alcohol.
Cosmo-hippy atmosphere. Inside and terrace eating. Moroccan/Middle-Eastern cuisine. Famous for the Camel Burger. Many events are hosted here (movies, concerts and cooking classes). No alcohol. Menu around 150 dhs. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Vegetarian cuisine with some great salads and pastas. Open for lunch and dinner. A nice place to stop for non-Moroccan cuisine in the medina. About 100 dhs.
Moroccan food in luxurious courtyard, weather permitting.150-250 dhs for a menu. Reservations required. Reserve the day before for the Mediterranean menu – 350 dhs.
Located just outside of the medina. A complete bar, lounge and rooftop terrace are the main attractions here. Tapas and Moroccan dishes. 100 dhs on up.
Bistro atmosphere in nicely maintained garden atmosphere. Mediterranean-style cuisine. Lunches and dinners. 250 dhs on up.
Riad Fez (l’Ambre)
High-end Moroccan cuisine in a modern restaurant. Menu starts at 450 dhs.
Thai and Sushi. Located in the new city of Fez, outside of the medina. A fantastic stop for lunch or dinner for those craving something a bit different. It’s located across from the Jnane Palace in Fez. 150 dhs on up.
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About Our Team: Journey Beyond Travel has a variety of unique itineraries that allow you to experience the real Morocco. Our Eclectic Tour gives you an overview of the country’s highlights in both culture and landscape, while our Imperial Cities Tour takes you to the most inspiring locations including museums, UNESCO sights, and more. We also have various trips to the Sahara Desert of Morocco. Enjoy our website, quality articles, and feel free to join us on Facebook and Twitter.