12 suggestions of what to do in Fes
12 suggestions of what to do in Fes: It’s been a while since my trip to Morocco and I still haven’t written about Fez. I wrote about all the other destinations, but I put Fez off, precisely because it was the most fascinating place in Morocco, the most authentic and the most complex to explain. When the time came, I felt nostalgic and decided to list 12 unmissable tips on what to do in Fez.
A brief introduction to Fez
We hear a lot about Casablanca and Marrakech, but what people hardly know is that the real gem is Fez, a medieval city in the north-east of Morocco. Of all the cities I visited there, Fez surprised me the most. The places, the people, the atmosphere and the history fascinated me. The city seems to have stood still in time, everything is preserved and there aren’t as many tourists as in other places. Imagine entering a medina for the first time and encountering a world completely different from your own. Visiting Fez is like immersing yourself in ancient history. Here you’ll find the largest medieval city in the world, with alleys full of colors and smells. A new surprise at every turn. A real assault on the senses.
Imagine merchants selling silver, gold, goats’ and camels’ heads, tanneries, stores selling typical Moroccan clothes, Aladdin’s shoes and lamps, spices, olives, dates and mint tea. The architecture is also extremely fascinating. The mosaics and ceramics are beautiful. Religious monuments such as mosques, mausoleums, temples, synagogues and historical ones such as madrasahs, riads, souks and palaces are incomparable.
Fez is known as the most Moroccan city in the country. The guardian of the faith, the Imperial City is the spiritual heart and the third most important Islamic city in the world from a cultural, artistic and scientific point of view. It is also the oldest city in Morocco. It was founded in 789 and has been the country’s imperial capital many times over the years. By 1100, it was considered the largest city in the world, with 200,000 inhabitants at the time.
What to do in Fez in Morocco
12 suggestions of what to do in Fes: It’s no coincidence that Fez is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fez is enchanting! It’s home to the best-preserved historic center in the Arab world and the oldest university in the world. Shall we find out what to do in Fez?
Start at the Bab Bou Jeloud portal
The adventure begins at the Bab Bou Jeloud or Blue Gate, which is the main entrance to the medina of Fez El Bali, separating the old part of the city from the new. La puerta se construiría en 1913 en la época del protectorado francés. Its columns are ornate and decorated with blue mosaics, the color that represents the city. In front is a square where markets are held where the Berbers, Moroccan nomads, sell their products.
Discover the Medina of Fès el-Bali
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, Fes el-Bali is Fez’s enormous medina. It covers an area of 350 hectares, surrounded by a wall that stretches for 15 kilometers. More than 180,000 people live there in 25,000 houses. There are 250 mosques and thousands of stores, distributed in 10,000 alleys that are tangled in a way that looks more like a dead-end labyrinth.
It’s a huge open-air market. The first impact is strong, you will feel overwhelmed by so much information. Chickens and roosters hanging casually past you, camel heads hanging in the butcher’s markets, silk being dyed on the steps of the alleyways… It’s a sight to behold.
You’ll find everything to buy. Dried fruit, spices, souvenirs, clothes, scarves, ceramics, tapestries, date sweets, carpets, leather goods, metal jewelry and fabric bags. There are thousands of houses, shops, mosques, fountains and community ovens that are still used to bake bread. There are no cars inside. All transportation takes place on the backs of mules, bicycles, motorcycles, handcarts and carts, which share the narrow streets with thousands of people.
The Medina is divided into numerous neighborhoods. In each neighborhood there is at least one mosque, a furnace and a pharmacy. It’s incredible to see that since the 9th century they have continued to use the ovens collectively.
Venturing into the medina on your own can seem a little daunting. In my opinion, it’s worth getting to know it with a guide. There are so many alleys and labyrinths, even the locals get lost in them. But this can be both funny and risky… I warn you, there’s no point in trying to use your cell phone’s GPS, it’s not accurate enough to deal with such narrow streets.
Visit the Al Attarine Madrasah
12 suggestions of what to do in Fes: In the heart of the Medina of Fez is the Madrasah Al Attarine, a school where the Koran was taught and memorized. Students studied there before graduating from the Al-Qarawiyyin University next door, considered to be the oldest in the world. The Madrasah el-Attarine is no longer active and can be visited by non-Muslims.
It is considered one of the best examples of Marinid dynasty architecture. Carved from cedar wood, it is full of arabesques and mosaic tiles. The marble columns, colorful tiles and Arabic inscriptions are true works of art. The architecture of the madrasa is so old, preserved and rich in detail that I can only be grateful for having had the privilege of seeing it up close.
Visit al-Quaraouiyine University
Right at the entrance to the old medina is the former faculty of theology, politics and natural sciences for Muslim intellectuals. Founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, a young Tunisian woman who took Moroccan citizenship, received a high level of education and was deeply devoted to Islam. She used her inheritance to build a mosque and educational center where the Shiite community could learn and pay devotion to Allah. Over time, the site expanded its activities. Al Quaraouiyine began to offer classes in Arabic linguistics and calligraphy, Islamic law, politics, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, natural sciences, music and Sufism.
Unfortunately, only Muslims can visit the university and the mosque inside. But you can see the beautiful courtyard, with its traditional fountain and mosaics, hand-carved walls, cedar mashrabiyas (wooden lattice screens) and impressively large doors.
Although it was founded by a woman over 1,160 years ago, it was only recently that women were able to attend university. In recent years, fortunately, the female presence has been growing as the value of education and culture has increased.
Before you leave, take a stroll to the friendly Seffarine Square, also known as the Square of the Boilermakers, who work bronze by hand to make trays, pots, basins and kettles. Be amazed by the deafening sound of the copper hammers used by the craftsmen to shape the containers.
Stop by Nejjarine Square
12 suggestions of what to do in Fes: This square is home to architecture dating back to the 18th century and where Fez’s most famous fountain still stands today. The locals still use this water for consumption, but it is not advisable to drink it. Take a look at the beautiful mosaic of blue tiles and wooden finishes. It is next to a collective oven used for baking bread that is still in use for the same purpose – so many centuries later.
Located near the carpenters’ quarter of the Medina, the square is the perfect combination for visiting the Chouara Tannery. This square is also home to the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts, which is a unique art from this part of Morocco.
Be amazed by the Chouara Tannery
Coming to Fez and not visiting the world-famous Chouara Tannery is like going to Agra and not seeing the Taj Mahal. It’s the largest leather tannery and one of the most iconic sights in Fez. It has been inside the medina since the Middle Ages and is still in business today.
It specializes in the whole process of making cow, goat, camel and sheep leather. The smell is horrible because they are treated with a mixture of water, pigeon droppings (believe me, that’s right), urine, animal fats and other ingredients. There are dozens of tanks where the workers first rinse and treat the leather and then hang it up to dry in the surrounding buildings. Once the hides are dry, they go back to the tanks with dye to go through the dyeing process with natural products. Saffron is used for yellow, poppies for red, henna for orange and indigo for blue.
To get a privileged view of the tannery, you’ll have to reach the terraces and go inside the leather stores. The sellers will offer you sprigs of mint to muffle the smell of the tannery, which is very strong. Before I went, I read many reports about the unbearable smell of the tanks. When I got there, I was prepared for the worst and I wasn’t so scared.
However, also be prepared for the harassment of the vendors. You don’t have to buy anything to access the terraces, but they are very insistent. You can give a small tip (5-10 dirham) for the mint and information you receive.
Visit the Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II
The Mausoleum (Zaouia) of Moulay Idriss II is a temple built in 1440 dedicated to the king who ruled Morocco between 807 and 828, Moulay Idriss II. It is where his remains are kept.
Moulay Idriss II is today the patron saint of Fez. Locals believe that visiting this place brings protection and health. So much so that his tomb is connected to the street so that anyone can touch it without having to go inside. The site is considered one of the holiest shrines in Morocco and is visited by many pilgrims from all over the country. Non-Muslims cannot enter the mausoleum, but it’s worth going to the door to see it from the outside.
Go to the Borj Nord Lookout
12 suggestions of what to do in Fes: The weapons museum in Borj Nord is located on top of a hill with spectacular views of the medina. Certainly the best place to see the city from outside the medina walls.
Built to protect Fez from invaders around 1580, the fortress houses more than 5,000 examples of rare weapons. The collection comes from a total of 35 countries and covers Moroccan history from prehistoric times to the 20th century.
Shop at the Fès Blue Ceramics Cooperative
We visited the Fez Blue cooperative, which still uses ancient techniques to produce one of the most famous ceramics in the world. The process is all manual, which has made Moroccan ceramics and mosaics so famous, used in interior and exterior decoration.
We saw how the pieces are made step by step. Everything is done by hand, all the designs are made without molds, depending solely on the creativity and skill of the local artisans. Even today, they use crushed olive stones as fuel to be used in traditional adobe ovens. The result is a finely crafted and exquisite product. A very rich work.
See the outside of Dar el-Makhzen Palace
12 suggestions of what to do in Fes: True, you can’t visit the Dar el-Makhzen Palace from the inside, but it’s worth walking around the gardens outside the palace and observing its stunning architecture. Also called the Palais Royal, it is still in use by the Royal Family and the government. It is the official residence of His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco and his family when they are in Fez.
Surrounded by high walls, the Royal Palace is adorned with blue mosaics and carved cedar wood. It has seven impressive gates carved in bronze that are a treat for the eyes.
Stay in a Riad in Fez
If you want to stay in the most authentic way, invest in one of the many riads scattered around the Medina. Staying in a riad will be a very special and unique experience. They are like small palaces, formed by a central garden or courtyard, with dining rooms all around and accommodation on the upper floors.
If you need more help, I can prepare a personalized itinerary for you with all the information and tips. Get in touch and ask for a quote.
Delight in Moroccan cuisine
12 suggestions of what to do in Fes: Don’t miss out on the classic Moroccan cuisine, which is a mixture of influences from Arab culture, Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Spices are used in abundance and the flavors are truly unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
I hope you enjoyed my tips on what to do in Fez, Morocco. If you have any questions, leave us a comment below and I will be happy to help you.