Fes is the fourth largest city in Morocco and also known as one of the ancient imperial cities. It is separated into three parts, Fès el Bali (the old, walled city), Fès Jdid (new Fes, home of the Mellah), and the Ville Nouvelle (the French-created, newest section of Fes. The Medina of Fes el Bali is believed to be the largest contiguous car-free urban area in the world.
To enter the medina, you will pass through the Bab Boujeloud gate, with its decoration of blue and green faiences. You will explore the medina’s narrow streets lined with local shops and stalls of fresh fruit, mounds of spices, intricately woven Berber carpets and many other Moroccan handicrafts and home goods. Fès has two main streets, “Rue Talaa Kebira “ and the “Rue Talaa Seghira “ which are utilized as the main throughways when exploring the medina and the mysterious maze-like streets in between. The Fès medina is a labyrinth of sloping, winding alleyways are crammed full of stalls and workshops. This area is known as the famed Kissaria the commercial center. A multitude of locally produced goods are on sale including cotton fabric, silk, brocade work, slippers, and many more. Each district in the Fès Medina produces its own specialty goods: cobalt blue enameled pottery, carpets, wrought iron ... one looks on as the dyer stirs his yarns, steeped in their multitude of colors, as the tanner tramples his skins under an open sky -skins that the leather-worker will eventually adorn with fine gilt for book-binding.
Fès’ Ville Nouvelle is where the major government ministries of Morocco reside. Fès is a city that will impress you with its culture and stimulate your senses with its extraordinary sounds, smells and visual elements. The people of Fès, referred to as Fassis, are most hospitable. Declared a world heritage site by UNESCOFès is also considered one of the most spiritual and religious cities in Morocco. It has stood at the heart of Moroccan civilization for over five centuries and was a major cultural and intellectual center, competing with those of Europe.
Fès, once a small village on the right bank of the river, was founded by Moulay Idriss in 789. Then in 808 his son, Idriss II built another town, El-Alya (High Town) on the left bank. By allowing Muslim families expelled from Cordoba, Spain and later 300 refuge families from Karaouiyine, Tunisia to use his land as a refuge, Idriss II is responsible for Fès becoming the center of Islamization and Arabization. Fès’ rich cultural history continued in 1145, when the Almohads conquered the city and helped build its prestige to become Morocco’s major economic metropolis. Fès’ development was also influenced by the Merinids who established the Fès El Jdid (new city) and raised Fes to imperial status.
Fes’ achievements and prestige made it the apple of every leader’s eye. In no time it was re-conquered by the Alaouities in 1666. However, after Moulay Ismail rejected Fès as his capital, choosing Meknes instead, Fès went into a decline until the early twentieth century when the French established the Protectorate. Today Fès is a bustling city inhabited by Moroccans and Westerners. A tour of Fès is an exciting opportunity to learn about its fascinating cultural history, visit ancient landmarks and discover the ancient medina. Fès is also a great base for taking day trips to Meknes, Moulay Idriss and Volubilis/ Walili.
What is there to see:
The 14th Century Palace Gates of the King - The Royal Palace in Fes is one of the oldest (14th Century) and largest in Morocco.
- Jewish Mellah - The Mellah is a Jewish quarter located in the old cities of Morocco with a walled boundary. The Fes Mellah is also walled and it has a fortified gateway. These Jewish quarters are located near the royal residencies which enabled its inhabitants to be protected from the wrath of the Muslim populace. The Fes Mellah was once solely inhabited by Jews. This was the first "mellah" in Morocco and originated in 1438. In the early 14th century it was founded by the Merinids, beside Fes. In contrast with the young Mellah of Casablanca, the mellah of Fes is over 650 years old. This picturesque neighborhood adjoins the royal palace, noted for its recently constructed bright brass doors. Jews took shelter in this palace during the 1912 pogrom.
- Ibn Danan Jewish Synagogue - Fes was once home to a flourishing Jewish community during the 17th century and was also the location of two well known temples. Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Danan Synagogue was built and founded by the Ibn Danan family, and the nearby Mansano Synagogue. The Ibn Danan synagogue has been added to the 1996 World Monuments Watch List and Fund.
- Jewish Cemetery & Tomb of Solica -The cemetery contains the tombs of more Jewish saints than any other cemetery in Morocco. One of the more important saints is Lalla Solica, who was killed for refusing to convert to Islam. Solica was born in Tangier in 1817. At the age of 16, she was courted by a Muslim man, but refused to marry him. To force her hand, the man went to the caid, the local government official. The man told the caid that Solica could not refuse his offer of marriage because she was no longer Jewish, having converted to Islam of her own free will. When called before the caid, she refused to acknowledge having converted. The Sultan called her to Fes, where she again denied her conversion. As a result, she was condemned to death for apostasy and killed in 1834.
Walk through one of the oldest and most beautiful preserved Jewish streets in Morocco from the time of the inquisition. Then, enter the Bab Boujloud Gate (The Blue Gate of Fes) and walk to Palais M’nebhi.
- The Bou Inania Medersa - The Madrasa Bou Inania is a madrasa founded in AD 1351–56 by Abu Inan Fais, who also founded the Madrasa Bou Inania in Meknes. It is widely acknowledged as a major example of Marinid architecture. "Bou Inania" comes from the first part of the sultan's name "Abou Inan". The madrasa functioned as both an educational institute and as a congregational mosque at the same time. It is the only madrasa in Fes which has a minaret. According to history, religious leaders of the Kairouine Mosque advised Abu Inan Faris to build this Madrasa. It was the last madrasa to be built by the Marinides. The Marinid dynasty or Benemerine dynasty was a Zenata Berber dynasty of Morocco. The madrasa became one of the most important religious places of Fes and Morocco, gaining the status of Grande Mosque. The madrasa was renovated in 18th century.
- Pottery & Zellij Tile Cooperative- A cooperative where old techniques of how zellij and pottery is made. Option to participate in making zellij tile or pottery making. Great for shopping for a purchase of fabulous pottery, zellij tiled tables, zellij fountains and more.
- Dyers souk of silk, wool and cotton - The dyers market, located along Rue de Teinturies, is the best place to see the dying vats which have been used for centuries to soak the skins of sheep, goat, cows and camels after they have their hair and flesh removed. You will see many tanned hides colored with natural pigments ranging from shades of brown, black, turquoise fuchsia, yellow and orange.
- Seffraine Square - Place el-Seffarine - this kisseria is the most important center for the production Fasiss style ceramics, brass-ware and silverware in Morocco.
- The Tannery - The Chourara or the Tanner’s Quarters is the most lively and picturesque souks in Fès. The Tanneries are often located near watercourses like the Wadi Fès and at a distance from residential areas due to the strongly unpleasant smells they produce. See the wide array of leather work, a tradition of Fes.
- Weavers Cooperative - Visit the Weavers Cooperative located in a residential neighborhood off a main shopping street. The workshop specializes in weaving the ﬁnest jellaba fabric, made of silk and wool threads imported from Italy. The shop also makes a quality jellaba fabric from locally spun, textured wool thread called hubba -sometimes referred to as couscous, because it’s nubby texture resembles Morocco's national semolina dish of the same name.
- Mausoleum - Zaouia Sidi Ahmed Tijani - The Zawiya of Sidi Ahmed al-Tijani contains the tomb of an 18th centry Sufi Shaykh, founder of the Tijaniyya order. The Zawiya presents a street facade highly ornamented with carved wood, stucco and glazed tile.
- University of Kairouine - Founded in 859, this university is one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world and is considered the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning in the world.
- Mausolem - Zaouia Moulay Idriss - A zaouia (shrine) dedicated to and the tomb of Moulay Idriss II, who ruled Morocco from 807 to 828 and founded the city of Fès for the second time in 810.
- Nejarine Square - This interesting square is dominated by the beautifully restored Nejjarine Wood Museum housed in an 18th-century funduq. There's also a superbly decorated wall fountain. Browse the shops before venturing into the carpenters' souk with its amazing array of glitzy wedding chairs.Cross the carpenter area go through the Attarine street filled with scents of Fes such as spices, oils.