Fez, the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, is a must-visit destination for travelers looking for a glimpse into the country’s rich history and culture. With its stunning architecture, vibrant markets, and friendly locals, Fez is a city that will leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits.
As the spiritual and cultural center of Morocco, Fez is home to numerous historic palaces, museums, mosques, and fountains that are sure to captivate visitors. The city’s medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest and most well-preserved medieval cities in the world, offering an immersive experience into the past.
Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s history, trying local cuisine, or simply soaking up the vibrant atmosphere, Fez has something for everyone. In this Fez travel guide, we’ll take a closer look at some of the top attractions, best places to stay, and most delicious foods to try during your visit to this fascinating city.
Fez, the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, has a rich history that dates back to the 8th century. It was founded in 789 by Idris I, who was fleeing the Abbasids of Baghdad. He led local Berbers in conquest of the region and established the Idrisid Dynasty, which lasted until the 11th century.
Under the Idrisid Dynasty, Fez became an important center of trade and learning. The city was known for its beautiful architecture, including the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque, which was founded in 859 and is considered the oldest university in the world.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, Fez experienced a Golden Age under the Marinid Dynasty. During this time, the city grew in size and wealth, and many of its most famous landmarks, such as the Bou Inania Madrasa and the Dar Batha Museum, were built.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fez came under French influence. The French established a protectorate over Morocco in 1912, and Fez became the capital of the French-controlled area. During this time, the city underwent significant changes, with new roads and buildings being constructed.
Today, Fez is a vibrant and bustling city that is proud of its medieval heritage. Visitors can explore the winding streets of the medina, visit the many historic landmarks, and experience the unique culture of this fascinating city in North Africa.
Fez is located in the northern part of Morocco, nestled in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The city is divided into two main parts: the ancient medina and the modern Ville Nouvelle.
The medina of Fez is the oldest and most famous part of the city. It is a maze of narrow streets, alleyways, and souks that have remained unchanged for centuries. The medina is home to many historical sites, including the oldest university in the world, the University of Al Quaraouiyine. Visitors can explore the medina’s many mosques, palaces, and riads, all of which are decorated with intricate mosaics and other traditional Moroccan art.
One of the most famous landmarks in the medina is the Bab Bou Jeloud, a stunning blue gate that marks the entrance to the old city. Visitors can also visit the Kairaouine Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Africa, which is located in the heart of the medina.
The Ville Nouvelle is the modern part of Fez, built during the French colonial period. It is a stark contrast to the ancient medina, with wide boulevards, modern buildings, and open spaces. Visitors to the Ville Nouvelle can enjoy a range of activities, from shopping in modern malls to dining in trendy restaurants.
Cultural and Religious Significance
Fez is a city that is rich in cultural and religious significance. It is known for its beautiful architecture, vibrant culture, and deep spiritual heritage. Here are some of the most important cultural and religious landmarks in Fez:
Fez is home to some of the most famous religious schools in the world. These schools, known as medersas, were established centuries ago to provide education to students from all over the Islamic world. The most famous of these schools is the Medersa Bou Inania, which was built in the 14th century. It is known for its beautiful architecture and intricate tilework.
Another important religious school in Fez is the University of Al Quaraouiyine. It was founded in the 9th century and is considered to be one of the oldest universities in the world. It has produced many famous scholars and has played an important role in the development of Islamic scholarship.
Mosques and Palaces
Fez is also home to many beautiful mosques and palaces. The Kairaouine Mosque is one of the most important landmarks in the city. It was founded in the 9th century and is considered to be one of the holiest mosques in Morocco. It is also home to the University of Al Quaraouiyine.
The Dar Batha Museum is another important landmark in Fez. It was originally built as a palace in the 19th century and is now a museum that showcases traditional Moroccan art and design.
Festival of World Sacred Music
Every year, Fez hosts the Festival of World Sacred Music. This festival is a celebration of music and spirituality and brings together musicians and artists from all over the world. It is a unique opportunity to experience the rich cultural heritage of Fez and Morocco.
In addition to these landmarks, Fez is also known for its Sufi traditions and spiritual lineage. The city has a rich history of Islamic scholarship and has played an important role in the development of Islamic thought and culture.
Fez is one of the most fascinating cities in Morocco, with a rich history and stunning architecture. There are so many things to see and do in Fez that it can be overwhelming, but with a little planning, you can make the most of your time in this enchanting city.
Markets and Souks
One of the best ways to explore Fez is by wandering through the markets and souks. The medina of Fez is home to some of the largest and most vibrant markets in the world. You can find everything from spices and textiles to ceramics and jewelry. The souks are a great place to shop for souvenirs and gifts, but be prepared to haggle for a good price.
The tanneries of Fez are a must-see attraction. The tanneries have been in operation for centuries and are still using traditional methods to produce leather. You can watch the process from start to finish and see the colorful dyeing vats that have become an iconic symbol of Fez.
Fez is home to many other attractions, including historic mosques and madrasas. The Kairaouine Mosque and University is one of the oldest and most important universities in the world, and is open to visitors. The Bou Inania Madrasa is another stunning example of Islamic architecture, with intricate tile work and carvings.
There are also many workshops in Fez where you can see artisans at work. Wood carving is a popular craft in Fez, and you can find beautiful carvings in many of the shops. Handicrafts such as pottery, textiles, and jewelry are also widely available.
While exploring Fez, be sure to take some time to wander through the ruinous pockets of the city. Many of the buildings in Fez are in need of restoration, but this only adds to the charm of the city. There are also many sights to see outside of the medina, including the Royal Palace and the Jardin J’nane S’bile.
Cuisine and Dining
Fez has a rich culinary tradition that reflects its diverse cultural influences. Moroccan cuisine is known for its bold flavors, fragrant spices, and tender meats. Visitors to Fez can enjoy a variety of dishes, from hearty tagines to delicate pastillas.
Fez is a city of street food, and there are plenty of vendors selling delicious snacks and meals on the go. Some of the most popular street foods in Fez include:
- B’stilla: a savory pastry filled with pigeon meat, almonds, and spices.
- Msemmen: a flaky, layered bread that is often stuffed with cheese or meat.
- Harira: a hearty soup made with lentils, chickpeas, and lamb.
- Sfenj: a fried doughnut that is often served with honey or jam.
Fez is home to a wide range of restaurants, from traditional Moroccan eateries to fusion restaurants that blend local flavors with international cuisine. Here are a few of the best restaurants in Fez:
- Café Clock: a popular café that serves traditional Moroccan dishes alongside international favorites. Don’t miss the camel burger, which is made with locally sourced camel meat.
- Le Jardin des Biehn: a beautiful restaurant set in a lush garden. The menu features a mix of Moroccan and Mediterranean dishes.
- Dar Roumana: a fine dining restaurant that offers a modern twist on traditional Moroccan cuisine. The menu changes frequently to reflect the seasons and local ingredients.
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite on the go or a leisurely meal in a beautiful setting, Fez has something to offer every type of traveler.
Travel and Accommodation
Fez is well-connected to other cities in Morocco by train, bus, and taxi. The train station is located outside the medina, and it’s a short taxi ride to the city center. Buses are also available, and they usually depart from the main bus station in the new town. Taxis are a convenient way to get around Fez, and there are two types of taxis available: petit taxis and grand taxis. Petit taxis are small, red taxis that can accommodate up to three passengers, while grand taxis are larger vehicles that can accommodate up to six passengers.
Fez offers a wide range of accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxury hotels. The medina is a popular area to stay in, with many traditional Moroccan riads that have been converted into guesthouses. These guesthouses offer a unique experience, with beautiful courtyards, traditional decor, and delicious Moroccan cuisine. Some of the more upscale hotels are located in the new town, and they offer modern amenities such as swimming pools, fitness centers, and spa facilities.
When choosing a hotel in Fez, it’s important to consider the location. If you want to stay in the medina, be prepared for narrow streets and steep stairs. If you prefer a more modern setting, the new town might be a better option. It’s also important to book in advance, especially during peak season, to ensure availability.
In terms of budget, Fez is a relatively affordable city, and there are many budget-friendly options available. Hostels are a popular choice for backpackers, and they offer dormitory-style accommodation at a low cost. Airbnb is also available in Fez, and it can be a good option for those who want to stay in a traditional Moroccan home.
Shopping and Crafts
Fez is a paradise for shopping enthusiasts, especially those interested in handicrafts. The city is known for its skilled craftsmen who produce some of the finest leather, ceramics, and wood carvings in Morocco. Here are some of the must-visit places for shopping and seeing these crafts up close.
Fez is famous for its leather products, especially leather bags, shoes, and jackets. The tanneries in the city are some of the oldest in the world and still use traditional methods to produce high-quality leather. To see the leather-making process up close, visit one of the many leather workshops in the medina. Most of these workshops offer free tours, and you can buy leather products directly from the artisans.
Ceramic and Wood Carving
Fez is also home to some of the best ceramic and wood carving workshops in Morocco. The city’s ceramic products are known for their intricate designs and vibrant colors, while its wood carvings are prized for their intricate details and beautiful finishes. You can find these products in the medina’s many shops, but for an authentic experience, visit the workshops where they are made. The artisans are friendly and always happy to show visitors their craft.
Language and Currency
When traveling to Fez, it’s helpful to know that the official languages spoken in Morocco are Arabic and French. While most locals speak Moroccan Arabic, French is commonly used in business and government settings. However, most people in the tourism industry speak English, so you shouldn’t have trouble communicating during your travels.
The currency used in Fez is the Moroccan dirham (MAD). You can exchange your currency at the airport or at banks throughout the city. ATMs are also widely available, and credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and shops. Keep in mind that some smaller establishments may only accept cash, so it’s always a good idea to carry some dirhams with you.
When using taxis in Fez, be sure to insist that the driver uses the meter to avoid being overcharged. Tipping is expected in Morocco, so it’s customary to round up your fare or leave a small tip for good service.